Microsoft Opens Windows for Supercomputing

The giant software vendor is quietly building a Windows-based high-performance platform it says can stand up to any mainframe on the block.
Microsoft Corp. is breaking away from its small server image and is working on a version of Windows to run very large, very high-powered supercomputers.

Known for its presence on the desktop and in 2-way and 4-way servers, the company confirmed Tuesday that it is exploring high-performance computing and developing a Windows HPC edition.

''This is an interesting area for us,'' Ilya Bukshteyn, Microsoft director of product management for Windows Server System told, ''one where we think we can have some value for our customers.''

At its conference this week, attendees donned 3-D goggles and stepped in front of a double screen made of two panels set at right angles. Holding a wireless mouse, they could fly over, around and through a virtual building, zooming around the parking garage, rising up to the lobby, circling the staircase. Right-clicking the mouse changed the view to an architectural model that could be rotated and tilted. It was almost like being there.

DaimlerChrysler created the visualization using Covise, a software application developed by the Visualization Department of the High Performance Computing Center (HLRS) of the University of Stuttgart, Germany. Covise uses Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), a specification for interactive three-dimensional graphics, to create 3-D navigable models. According to Covise lead developer Uwe Wossner, the software can help designers understand how people will react to a space. It also can simulate a wide variety of natural and mechanical operations.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft also is working with HLRS on various initiatives relating to high-performance computing on 64-bit architectures. During its recent Win-HEC conference, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates demonstrated a Web-based visualization of a water flow simulation developed by the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Hydraulic Machinery, using Covise.

Bukshteyn said the server group is working with Microsoft's R&D group to investigate how Microsoft can bring its Dynamic Systems Initiative to bear on supercomputing.

''When we do announce it, it will be very tied into what we're talking about today: Windows Server System and MOM,'' he said. Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) is a set of tools that let IT administrators monitor the events, health, and performance information of a Windows Server infrastructure and application environment.

The Dynamic Systems Initiative, which Microsoft announced at its Tech-Ed show this week, is a plan to make it easier to design, deploy and manage complex distributed computing systems. It kicked off the Dynamic Systems Initiative with the release of Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003, Windows Storage Server 2003 Feature Pack and release candidate code for MOM 2005 ''Express.''

Bukshteyn said that the next major version of SQL Server, code-named Yukon and due next year, will include better support for very large databases and for running on clustered systems.

Although it's somewhat of a niche market, engagements can be lucrative. In May, supercomputer maker Cray landed a five-year, $43.2 million deal with the Korea Meteorological Administration. Cray will help develop the Earth System Research Center for advanced atmospheric modeling in the East Asia Pacific region. Its supercomputer will be used to improve the accuracy of severe weather forecasts.

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