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Microsoft testing Excel for supercomputers

At the SC09 conference, Microsoft releases an updated version of Windows Server for high-performance computers as well as a compute cluster version of its Excel spreadsheet.

At a key supercomputing conference on Monday, Microsoft released a test version of its Excel spreadsheet redesigned to run on powerful clusters of servers.

By engineering Excel to run better on such clusters Microsoft said that customers are seeing spreadsheets that normally would take weeks to calculate now run in a few hours.

The software maker also released a beta version of Windows HPC Server 2008 R2--the latest version of Windows Server designed to run in high-performance compute clusters. The announcements were made at the SC09 conference in Portland, Ore.

Microsoft has taken the standard version of Excel 2010 and combined it with new Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 technology, allowing Excel to run on the cluster. The final version of Excel compute cluster and Win HPC Server 2008 R2 is expected to be ready in summer 2010. The capability has been in development for about 18 months.

The announcements are the latest in Microsoft's push over the last few years to better compete against Linux in the market for compute clusters--high-performance systems built by linking together large numbers of standard servers. Last year, for example, Microsoft managed to crack the upper echelons of the supercomputing ranks, landing in the top 25 rankings for the first time.

Microsoft also said the next version of its developer tools--Visual Studio 2010--will help ease the task of writing software that can run efficiently on such systems.

"Until now, the power of high-performance and parallel computing has largely been available to a limited subset of customers due to the complexity of environments and applications, as well as the challenges of parallel programming," Microsoft senior director Vince Mendillo said in a statement.

As for the new version of HPC Server, Microsoft said it offers the ability out-of-the-box to support clusters of up to 1,000 nodes as well as diskless boot and improved management and diagnostics abilities.