Gates touts Microsoft's supercomputing move

The software giant takes on supercomputing with a beta of its first operating system for computer clusters.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Tuesday announced the company's foray into the world of supercomputing, though its first operating system for computer clusters remains in beta testing.

Speaking at a supercomputing conference in Seattle, Gates announced that the company has reached the Beta 2 stage for its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. The product consists of both a cluster-optimized version of Windows Server 2003 as well as software for job scheduling and other tasks. It is scheduled for release in final form in the first half of next year.

"Technical computing is crucial to the many discoveries that impact our quality of life--from making safer, more efficient cars and airplanes to addressing global health issues and environmental changes," Gates said in a statement. "Moreover, most sciences are becoming computational sciences, which is why advanced computing capabilities need to be seamlessly integrated into the end-to-end scientific process."

Separately, Microsoft also announced that the Compute Cluster Server and several other upcoming server software releases will work only with 64-bit processors. Such chips, which include Intel's 64-bit Xeons and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, are becoming the norm on servers, and 64-bit processors are making their way onto desktop machines.

"We are making big bets on 64-bit technology and working closely with our industry partners to enable a smooth transition for customers, so they can begin to realize the benefits of mainstream 64-bit computing," Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia said in a statement.

Other titles that will be only 64-bit include the next version of Exchange, as well as the upcoming "Centro" midmarket server and the Longhorn version of Small Business Server. Microsoft is planning a version of Longhorn Server that will work on 32-bit chips, though it expects the first major update to Longhorn Server, Longhorn Server R2, to be exclusively 64-bit capable.

Academic institutions and some industrial customers have been combining clusters of standard Intel- and AMD-based servers for some time. But Microsoft says it has seen a shift where such products expand beyond a niche market into more and more businesses. Microsoft is pitching its tools as on par with the performance of Linux. The company also claims its tools are easier to manage and integrate with the rest of a corporate computing environment.

"HPC (high performance computing) is starting to broaden out," said Kyril Faenov, director of Microsoft's HPC unit. "What that leads to is demand, on behalf of customers, to really provide this raw power in a way that is easier to consume and easier to integrate into what they are already doing."

CNET News.com reported in May 2004 that Microsoft was planning a high-performance computing version of Windows, a move later confirmed by Microsoft.

In March, a Microsoft engineer said the company hoped to have a product out by fall, though that turned out to be a beta. The new beta version will be public, unlike the one released at September's Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles, which was limited to about 1,600 testers.

In addition to announcing the new beta, Microsoft is touting the support it is receiving from hardware makers. The company will outline 19 key applications, from other software makers, which will run on the new version of Windows.

And, Microsoft also announced investments in 10 high-performance computing institutes that will serve as early customers and help the company determine where to go with the cluster-software effort.