Microsoft unveils first high-performance OS

Microsoft Tuesday released Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, its first high-performance operating system.

Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, which rose from a Microsoft Research project introduced in 2000, is Microsoft’s entry into the battle with Linux to provide platforms for research and other compute intensive workloads. Linux is clearly the dominant player in the market and experts say Microsoft will face an uphill battle to prove its mettle.

“Up until a month ago we had no product in this space, and therefore we had no penetration into the market,” Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the server and tools business at Microsoft, told financial analysts last week during a daylong meeting at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. With the release of the server, Muglia said, Microsoft is set to change the market dynamics in the next few years.

“Customers see it fitting into their IT environment in a better way than Linux does, an easier-to-manage way, an easier-to-deploy way.”

Microsoft hopes to make the platform affordable and drive it into workgroups or departments of companies that run computational intense programs.

The software is priced at US$496 per server, or node in a cluster, and is only available through volume licensing programs and OEMs. In additions, licensing for the server will be restricted to computers that are used as dedicated computational servers only.

Microsoft is targeting financial markets, and corporate business intelligence and data mining. Combined with features in Office 2007 called Excel Services,

Microsoft also hopes to bring a common interface to the server’s capabilities allowing people to set up jobs on the client and have the computational work take place on the cluster. It has also added special features, such as a parallel debugger, into Visual Studio 2005 to support applications built for the cluster, and the forthcoming Vista client OS is touted as a workstation for the Compute Cluster Server.

Microsoft also is tying the server into the identity, access control and user management features of Active Directory, the Microsoft Management Console, Remote Installation Services, Systems Management Server and performance and monitoring capabilities supported by Microsoft Operations Manager.

Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 combines the operating system with a message passing interface (MPI) and a job scheduler from Platform Computing into a single package. Users must deploy a minimum of two of the 64-bit only servers. The first server installs itself as a “Head” node and each subsequent server installs itself as a Compute node and attaches to the Head node.

Thirty-five companies have committed to release by year-end products that run on the platform, including Cisco, IBM, Hitachi, and HP.

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