Microsoft releases Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003

Microsoft has announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, the company’s first software offering designed to run parallel, high-performance computing (HPC) applications for customers solving complex computations. The product was first announced last November, and will spear straight into the Linux heartland.

Launched in the U.K., WSCCS03 sits on the Server 2003 codebase and is designed to speed what Microsoft calls “time to insight” by providing an HPC platform that’s simpler to deploy, operate, and integrate with existing infrastructure and tools. The company said the product is aimed at clusters that a department or even a single researcher might put together, rather than large mainframe-style applications.

Marketing manager Zane Adam said that the product was targeted at automotive, aerospace, life sciences, geo-sciences, and financial services markets. The initiative to develop the product followed the falling cost of high performance hardware and the demand for a standardized OS, rather than the multitude of Unix codebases that exist today, according to Adam.

He said customer demand for HPC is being driven by a combination of increased performance in processors per compute node, low acquisition price per node, and the overall price and performance of compute clusters. These trends are driving new customers to adopt HPC to replace or supplement live, physical experiments with computer-simulated modelling, tests and analysis.

According to Microsoft, WSCCS03 will deliver a more standardized way for engineers, scientists and researchers to solve scaled-out business and scientific computational problems using Windows applications. Microsoft said it had made a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment in joint projects at academic institutions to help guide ongoing software research and product innovation at Microsoft to address the most challenging technical computing problems.

Microsoft wheeled out a couple of U.K. customers in support the product. Jamil Appa, group leader of defense and aerospace firm BAE Systems’ technology and engineering service said: “Today’s products are complex and have a long design process. We use CCS for workflow orchestration, and its developer tools for interoperability. It’s a secure design platform and cuts design cost and time to market.

Simplifying our fluid dynamics engineering platform will increase our ability to bring solutions to market and reduce risk and cost to both BAE Systems and its customers. It also brings lower hardware and maintenance costs.”

Another example is Queen’s University Belfast which wants to attract new research users group to HPC. “We are seeking to expand the use of high performance computing to user groups who do not have the in-depth Unix or Linux skills usually associated with high performance computing”, said Queen’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof. Ken Bell. “These users have requirements that go beyond the capability of their desktop systems to run financial modelling, imaging and engineering applications. Windows Compute Cluster Server offers Queen’s University users the ability to solve complex computational problems in a user friendly environment.”

Microsoft buttressed its case with market research figures. According to analyst firm IDC, the high-performance and technical computing (HPTC) market grew about 24 percent in 2005 to reach a record US$9.2 billion in revenue, which is the second consecutive year of 20 percent-plus growth in this market. The HPC cluster market share continued to show growth, representing over 50 percent of HPTC market revenue in the first quarter of 2006.

IDC reported that worldwide x86 HPTC cluster revenue grew 70 percent year over year (2004 to 2005). IDC said it expected these trends to continue.

However, many of those running and using clusters today are Linux users to the core, attracted to it not just by its robustness but by its ethos of openness which resonates with the spirit of academia — so it remains to be seen just how much traction Microsoft can achieve with this highly technically aware audience.

The product will be generally available in August, and evaluation versions will be provided to attendees of the Microsoft Technology-Ed 2006 conference, June 11 to June 16 in Boston.

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