Customers get chance to test Windows for clusters

Redmond distributes second beta of Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition

Microsoft Tuesday at the Supercomputing 2005 show in Seattle will unveil several milestones in its strategy to becoming a serious competitor in the high-performance computing market.

The Redmond, Washington, software vendor will distribute the second beta of its Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition at the show, where Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will keynote Tuesday, said Kyril Faenov, director of high-performance computing at Microsoft.

Microsoft released Windows Compute Cluster Edition's first beta, aimed at developers, at the Professional Developers Conference in September.

Beta 2 of the product is aimed at allowing customers to test how the software will perform in their data centers, Faenov said. "It is for customers deploying evaluation versions of our product in their infrastructure," he said.

In Gates's keynote at the show, Microsoft also will reveal that it has set up 10 high-performance computing institutes around the world in universities to drive both research in those institutions as well as the company's own efforts to produce software that is appropriate for compute-intensive environments, said Zane Adam, director of marketing for Microsoft's Windows Server division.

"It's a two-way street," he said of the research centers. "Our platform is being used for a learning experience, and researchers are working on it so they can transfer their knowledge to us. It extends our research and development."

The centers have been set up at the following universities in the U.S.: University of Texas, University of Utah, University of Virginia, Cornell Theory Center at Cornell University and University of Tennessee. In the U.K., Microsoft has set up a high-performance computing center at Southampton University, and European centers have been established at the University of Stuttgart in Germany and Nizhni Novgorod University in Russia. In Asia, Microsoft has set up two institutes: one at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and one at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Microsoft has made a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment to providing software for and helping direct research in these centers, Faenov said. Each center, which is run by its own director -- often a professor at the respective university -- is responsible for participating actively in conferences within the high-performance community, providing industry training, giving Microsoft feedback on its high-performance computing software and providing technology prototypes for the next version of Windows Compute Cluster Edition.

Microsoft also will showcase support from applications vendors and hardware OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) at the supercomputing show, Faenov said. Microsoft plans to demonstrate about 20 high-performance computing applications for industries such as automotive, airspace, oil and gas and biotechnology running on Windows Compute Cluster Edition, he said.

Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 comprises both the Compute Cluster Edition of the OS and Microsoft Compute Cluster Pack, a combination of interfaces, utilities and management infrastructure. Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 is expected to be available in the first half of 2006.

Observers said Microsoft has a tough road ahead in selling a new version of Windows to a market where Unix and Linux already have a firm hold, but Microsoft believes that the prevalence of Windows clients could give it an edge.

Most servers in the high-performance computing space are sold for a price of $250,000 or less, Adam said, citing IDC research. Many of these are departmental deployments, a place where Windows already is widely deployed but in an application customers have cobbled together, he said. While Microsoft is mainly targeting this high-volume market segment with its high-performance version of Windows, the company also will play in the higher end of the market.