Windows HPC Server 2008 R2: Propelling HPC into the Mainstream

When Microsoft shipped version 3 of the Windows HPC Server operating system last month, the company called the release its most ambitious yet, comparing it to “the third stage of a rocket firing.” Indeed, like giving a rocket the final boost it needs before launch, I believe version 3, formally dubbed Windows HPC Server 2008 R2, will propel high-performance computing further into the mainstream.

The HPC market is poised for significant growth. IDC predicts that HPC spending will increase by one-third over the next five years from USD$8.6 billion in 2009 to $11.7 billion in 2014. But while there’s a lot of pent-up demand for supercomputing, some organizations have shied away from it because of the complexity of migrating from a single-node workstation to a multi-node cluster.

Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 reduces this barrier to entry by making HPC easier to use and more accessible. Because the operating system is based on the Windows platform, users can take advantage of the tools they’re already familiar with; system administrators can use Windows-based tools to deploy and manage HPC solutions; developers can build HPC applications by using an integrated set of development tools anchored around the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system; and end users can access HPC resources by using the technologies they already know how to use. Suddenly, it’s a lot easier for organizations to migrate from a workstation to a cluster environment.

At the end of the day, HPC is all about performance and the ability to get your job done faster. Used in combination with the Intel® Xeon® Processor 5600 series, Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 offers organizations the opportunity to maximize performance at a lower total cost of ownership with greater energy savings. It’s a winning combination.

Two interesting examples of how Intel Xeon processors and Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 can help drive HPC into the mainstream are the SGI Octane III and Cray CX1 supercomputers:

SGI recently announced its support for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 in its personal supercomputer Octane III, saying it wants to extend desk-side computational abilities to a broader audience of technical computer users. Likewise, Cray based its Cray CX1 line of desk-side supercomputers on Intel Xeon processors and Windows HPC Server 2008 R2, designing them to provide top performance and “ease of everything” features at an affordable price. Among the users of the Cray supercomputer is the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA, where scientists wanted a simple tool that they could use to better understand brain structure and function. Says Rico Magsipoc, the lab’s CTO, “Having the power of the Cray supercomputer that is simple and compact is very attractive and necessary, considering the physical constraints we face in our data centers today.”

By making supercomputing easy to use, Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 helps companies overcome a key barrier to HPC adoption. The operating system is part of the Microsoft Technical Computing Initiative, which is aimed at advancing technology to better measure, monitor and model the way the world behaves. My prediction is that Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 will significantly increase the market for high-performance computing. By how much, I can’t say. But I do believe it will have a substantial impact on the lower end of the market, which in turn should push HPC growth above and beyond what analysts are forecasting today.