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Microsoft is developing a version of its Windows Server 2003 operating system that's designed to handle applications running across dozens of single- or dual-processor computers working in parallel, the company said Wednesday.
The software, due in the second half of 2005, represents a different approach to high-end computing than the company's currently available DataCenter edition of Windows. DataCenter is designed for use on symmetric multiprocessing servers, where a single version of Windows can run on up to 64 processors. Microsoft's in-development High-Performance Computing platform will split the workload across many smaller machines, each of which has its own imprint of Windows.
Microsoft plans to aim Windows Server 2003, HPC edition, at companies in life sciences, engineering, finance, and other industries where highly scalable systems built with relatively low-cost hardware are being applied to demanding applications. "Parallel-computing clusters are increasingly being seen in the enterprise," Microsoft product manager Dennis Oldroyd says. "It's been the domain of academia and research. Now, with low-cost standardized hardware, it's becoming less of a niche play."
Microsoft has been working with the Cornell Theory Center on early approaches to parallel computing, and some customers have already deployed Windows in parallel clusters using software and hardware from other vendors. Microsoft plans to create a "single simplified environment" for developing, deploying, and managing high-performance clusters.
Among the technologies required for Windows Server 2003, HPC edition, will be message-passing and cluster-management software and a high-speed interface. Oldroyd says Microsoft is looking at a number of options in how it will implement the industry-standard Message Passing Interface. Vendors coming out in support of Microsoft's approach include Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Verari.
Microsoft's goal is to have a preview version of the product available in the fourth quarter of this year. Oldroyd declined to say whether it will be turned for 32-bit processing, 64-bit processing, or both.
Microsoft's decision comes, in part, because of the growing popularity of Linux in high-performance computer clusters. "Certainly, there's been a lot of work done on Linux," Oldroyd says. "That has led to demand for Windows."