Microsoft Preps Windows Variant for High Performance Computing

There’s a new contender on the high-performance-computing block: Windows

Move over AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, and Linux—there’s a new high-performance computing (HPC) operating system on the horizon: Windows.

Microsoft Corp. last month laid to rest months of speculation and confirmed that it will deliver an HPC version of Windows Server 2003 in the second half of 2005. When it appears, Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition will comprise a Windows-based solution that offers customers a single environment for developing HPC applications, as well as deploying and managing HPC clusters.

"The high performance computing market around parallel clusters, it's always been kind of looked at as a niche market," says Dennis Oldroyd, a director of Windows Server product management at Microsoft. "If you look at what IDC reports, these days it's maybe 3 percent to 4 percent of shipping servers. But it's growing rapidly, and we think that adoption by enterprises is going to be one of the factors in taking this mainstream."

To be fair, Windows isn’t an entirely unrepresented in HPC circles. The esteemed Cornell Theory Center (CTC) has tapped several Unisys ES7000 servers running Windows to support HPC applications, and there are also some Windows-based systems on the Top 500 list of supercomputers. That list is still overwhelmingly populated by Unix or Linux systems, however.

In the past, when Microsoft has entered a market for the first time, it has sometimes been less than mindful of prevailing standards, preferring in some cases to "embrace and extend” (that is, introduce proprietary extensions to) existing standards. In this respect, Microsoft says that the HPC Edition will support the Message Passing Interface (MPI), which is an interface for sending messages, text, and data among machines in a cluster.

Microsoft confirms that the HPC Edition requires additional software components (e.g., job scheduler, cluster manager) between the hardware and the clustered application itself, but Oldroyd says the software giant has not decided how much of the stack to include in the operating system. What has spurred Microsoft’s interest in an HPC market that’s traditionally been dominated by Unix or Unix-like systems? It’s simple, says Oldroyd: Corporate customers are approaching Microsoft about what it can do for them in high performance computing.

ENT editor-in-chief Scott Bekker contributed to this report.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.