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Microsoft Rolls Out Beta Version Of Supercomputing Software

Microsoft has released Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 Beta 2. The High Performance Computing (HPC) beta lets financial services, life sciences, digital content creation and other companies cluster together standard hardware to build high-powered compute environments. The beta is available now for download. New to this release is the ability to use free compute cycles of Windows 7 clients in compute jobs, to run Excel-based computations using HPC services and partnerships to let organizations build compute clusters that can run Linux or Windows. Microsoft released a previous beta in November 2009.

"Microsoft has come a long way from where they were several years ago," says Earl Dodd, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Centers, Inc (RMSC). The RMSC, which provides supercomputing services to businesses and academia, runs supercomputing clusters on both Linux and Windows, and is a beta tester for HPC Server 2008 R2. "In the past, there was a time when Linux ran faster. That's pretty much gone now." He says an engineering customer using an HPC Server 2008 compute cluster reduced the time it took to run an air-flow modeling job from two weeks to two hours.

New to the Beta 2 release, organizations can add free CPU cycles on Windows 7 workstations to a compute cluster. Administrators can install a small piece of software on each workstation to add it to the cluster, and the job scheduler in the cluster will send jobs to available workstations. This lets organizations take advantage of client machines with spare cycles, as well as PCs that stay on but remain idle overnight. A user interface lets administrators control when client machines are used for compute jobs.

Another upgrade for Beta 2 is the ability to use HPC services to run large-scale computational jobs in Excel. "Scientists, engineers and analysts load up Excel workbooks full of data, and it can take time to compute them," says Ryan Waite, product unit manager at Microsoft High Performance Computing group. He says one beta user, an actuary at a life insurance company, would run Excel jobs that could take seven days to run. "We brought it down to just a few hours with a cluster behind it," says Waite. Another new feature of the new beta is that organizations can build a single cluster that can boot either Linux or Windows, depending on the job. Waite says Microsoft has partnered with Adaptive Computing, Clustercorps and Platform Computing to provide this capability.

The HPC Server 2008 R2 lets organizations build compute clusters using standard hardware. Waite says as long as a server is certified for Windows, it can run HPC Server 2008. RMSC runs its clusters on IBM BladeCenter HS22. Waite says the company has built clusters on the Cray CX1, which can next to an employee's desk and plugs into a standard electrical outlet, to clusters of 1,920 servers and 30,000 cores. Waite says a production version of the software will be available this summer. The company declined to share pricing information.