Microsoft to talk up Windows for clusters

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will tout Windows for high-performance computing next week at Supercomputing 05 in Seattle.

Microsoft will tout its version of Windows for high-performance computing at the Supercomputing 2005 show this week in Seattle, but observers said the company faces a considerable challenge in selling the OS for compute-intensive environments already dominated by Unix.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will keynote at the show on Tuesday to reinforce Windows' position as a platform for large compute clusters. Microsoft is planning to ship an OS tuned for high-performance environments, Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, as soon as January, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

Microsoft originally hoped the OS would be available in time for the show next week, but plans were pushed back earlier this year. Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Windows server division at Microsoft, unveiled the first beta of Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition in September at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, and said the full release would be available in the first half of 2006.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft's public relations firm Waggener Edstrom said in an e-mail message Friday that Microsoft aims to release the OS in the first half of 2006.

Microsoft also could unveil a new build or another beta of the product next week, depending on the early feedback it has gotten on beta 1 so far, sources 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.

With Windows Compute Cluster, Microsoft aims to compete against Unix and Linux to run server clusters in compute-intensive environments, such as those running multiple simultaneous transactions or computations involving large amounts of data.

To make sure the company is building a competitive product, Microsoft has been working with university researchers to fine tune the OS, said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Citigate Hudson, a consulting company in New York.

"If they want something credibly competitive with Linux, going to academia is a good idea," he said. "Most cluster stuff has historically been on Unix and more recently Linux, and that's come out of the academic environment."

Brust said Microsoft hopes to expand Windows' presence in financial markets and also in enterprises for data mining and business intelligence with Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

Phil Papadopoulos, program director of grids and clusters computing at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, said that engineers in compute-intensive environments are very comfortable working with Unix and Linux because it is easier to remotely manage these environments than it is to manage Windows. It's unlikely they will be inclined to switch to a Windows environment unless there is a considerable valuable proposition, he said.

"Microsoft has somewhat of an uphill battle coming into the supercomputing market because it's so dominated by Unix and Linux," Papadopoulos said. "It doesn't mean they couldn't do it, it just means they have their work cut out for them."

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