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Gates Outlines Microsoft's High-Performance Computing Plans

Microsoft's entry into the scientific computing market could yield less expensive, easier-to-use supercomputing systems and pave the way for advances in business computing, chairman Bill Gates said during a keynote speech at a supercomputing conference in Seattle Tuesday.

Microsoft next year plans to release a version of Windows for small supercomputers, and is funding 10 universities in the United States, Europe, and Asia to help develop a set of high-performance computing products that includes operating systems, middleware, and development tools. As computer technology becomes integral to advances in biology, physics, medicine, and earth science, there's demand for simpler tools that can speed up scientists' "time to insight," Gates said during the speech at the SC05 conference.

High-performance computing techniques are also finding their way into industrial applications, including consumer product design and automobile crash testing. Microsoft's upcoming high-performance computing software, its first designed for the market, could help tie together the desktop and powerful clusters of computer servers in new ways, said Gates.

"Computation has become a tool for all the sciences," Gates said. "We need an approach that scales from the smallest supercomputer up to the largest."

Microsoft Tuesday released a second beta version of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, a version of its operating system designed to run on clusters of perhaps a few dozen machines. The product is due in the first half of next year, and will compete with the open-source Linux operating system that dominates cluster installations today. Using clustering technology, users can chain together dozens or hundreds of inexpensive PC servers with special cabling to run software that distributes work among the processors. The approach has let universities, supercomputing research centers, and corporate IT departments access supercomputing power at much lower costs than specialized supercomputing architectures have allowed. Microsoft is also designing new capabilities for its graphical development tools that could help scientists program clusters.

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