MS eyes sub-$250,000 clusters in Asia

One company official called that price point 'the sweet spot for things we can do'

Growing demand for inexpensive, high-performance servers is creating new opportunities for Microsoft Corp. in Asia, a company official said.

"A lot of the growth has been on the less-than-US$250,000 computer clusters," said Chris Sharp, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager of server and tools products, discussing the market for high-performance computing. "We think that's the sweet spot for the things we can do."

Growing demand for high-performance computing was spurred by Linux, which helped make high-performance computing capabilities more affordable, said Lawrence Liew, the chief technology officer of cluster specialists Scalable Systems Pte. Ltd., in Singapore.

However, Linux users are not the only ones that want high-performance computing capabilities; many users running applications on Windows servers want them too, Liew said.

Windows Computer Cluster Server 2003, which Microsoft released to manufacturers last month, offers these capabilities. The operating system is designed specifically for scientific research and other applications that demand high levels of computing power. Pricing for the operating system, which will be available to end users in August, starts at US$496 per node, with one node representing four processor cores.

Microsoft's push into the high-end computing market has been helped by advances in processor technology that put powerful servers and clusters, once too expensive to be widely deployed, within reach of more users. These systems, based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron chip or Intel Corp.'s latest Xeon chips, known as Woodcrest, can start as low as US$10,000 in some cases.

One such system is Tyan Computer Inc.'s upcoming Typhoon server, which was unveiled last month at the Computex exhibition.

Tyan is offering two versions of the Typhoon, one based on Woodcrest and another based on Conroe, the next version of Intel's desktop chip. The Typhoon PSC B5372 can hold up to eight Woodcrest chips and 64G bytes of RAM on four motherboards. The B5191 houses four Conroe chips on four motherboards with up to 32G bytes of RAM.

The systems, which run either Windows or Linux, will start shipping in volume during the fourth quarter.

The availability of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 and servers like Typhoon will make heavy-duty computing power more affordable than ever for scientific researchers and corporate users, such as financial companies. This in turn opens up opportunities for Asian vendors, like Scalable Systems, Liew said.

"Today, we have maybe [worked on] one or two Windows clusters, that's about it. But we see that market exploding," he said.