Just a year ago, the best Microsoft could do was 116th place based on rankings from Top500.org, which has been benchmarking supercomputers since 1993 with its bi-annual tests it calls "runs."
[ Read more on how pressure from Microsoft is affecting the HPC market. And discover the top-rated IT products as rated by the InfoWorld Test Center. ]
Windows HPC Server 2008, a 64-bit system that shipped Nov. 1, came in at No. 10, achieving 180.6 teraflops with 77.5 percent efficiency at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center and Dawning Information Industry Co.
Despite the high ranking, Microsoft's biggest high-performance computing challenge is likely in front of the vendor -- creating easy-to-use developer tools for writing applications for the platform.
The company's HPC strategy is to simplify high-end computing by cutting cost and complexity, and surrounding the platform with Microsoft's collection of applications, management wares, development tools, and independent software vendor (ISV) community.
Microsoft currently lays claim to less than 5 percent of HPC server market revenue, according to IDC. Those numbers compare with 74 percent for Linux and just over 21 percent for Unix variants.
In addition, competitors such as Red Hat have been offering its Enterprise Linux for HPC Compute Nodes since last year. IBM is also in the mix and Sun late last year re-entered the HPC fray with its Constellation System.
The next major milestone for Microsoft will come in the next year when it releases Visual Studio 2010, which was introduced last month at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) and includes features that make it easier to design for parallel computing.
"The importance that development tools play in all of this can't be overestimated," says Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. "The money and the effort Microsoft is putting into developing Visual Studio and other tools is really critical to making this work. Clustered systems have been around quite a bit, but one reason Linux has been such a popular platform is due to the complexity of writing for environments and the easy customization of Linux allowed people in the know to get in there and design, build and tweak the system to maximize performance."