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Microsoft: Bringing Supercomputing To The Masses

At this week's Supercomputing (SC) 2010 conference, Microsoft Corp. took the next step in its self-appointed mission to bring high-performance computing - aka supercomputing - to the masses. Company officials say its "democratizing" aim is to bring supercomputing capacity into the hands of everybody who has a need for it and wants to use it. Microsoft puts the current HPC market at 15 million users, with 1 million accounting for 80 percent of the total capacity. There are another 55 million organizations that have a need - but no access - to HPC.

First up, Microsoft announced the release of NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) on its cloud platform, Windows Azure. Available at no cost, the application will allow researchers in fields such as bio informatics, energy and drug research to use and collaborate with their private data collections, as well as data hosted on Azure. At the event Microsoft demonstrated its scope by doing 100 billion comparisons of protein sequences in a database managed by the NCBI, doing the work in less than an hour and for a fraction of the cost - hundreds of dollars - it would have cost using traditional methods.

Microsoft also announced that Service Pack 1 for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2, which will ship by the end of the year, will include the capability to connect HPC systems to Azure. The company says this will provide users with on-demand scale and capacity for high-performance computing applications, resulting in lower IT costs and faster discovery.

And finally, Microsoft announced that Windows HPC Server has surpassed a petaflop of performance, something less than a dozen existing supercomputers can achieve. The Windows HPC Server-based supercomputer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology exceeded the ability to execute a quadrillion mathematical computations per second, providing comparable performance with Linux, and in power-optimized configuration, recorded over a gigaflop/watt, almost three times -- nearly three times more power efficient than a laptop.

Making BLAST available on the cloud is a significant development, says Jie Wu, research director, technical computing, IDC. "Moving this application onto the cloud will enable more users to collaborate and work more efficiently. Users can also take advantage of Azure's computing capability to run large-size problems they could not run before due to the limited computing resources available to them."

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