Microsoft’s booth occupied a strategic place at the Supercomputing ‘05 conference held in Seattle this month, heralding the official roll-out of the Windows Compute Cluster Server (WCCS) 2003, Microsoft’s foray into scientific computing. This technology is said to offer scientists and engineers straightforward set up of ‘affordable’ clusters of 64 bit systems. Installation scripts and automated processes ‘lead novice administrators’ through set up tasks.
Addressing the 7,000 attendees Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, traced the company’s transition to a 64-bit architecture which is ‘very important for the large data sets in the technical and scientific realms.’ Gates addressed the ‘challenge of parallelism,’ noting that microprocessor clock speeds ‘won’t be increasing at the rates they did in the past.’ A 6-8GHZ limit is here ‘for some time.’
Gates noted that many scientific computing problems can be parallelized in a very straightforward way and anticipates supercomputers of all sizes, including one that will cost less than $10,000 and which will sit at your desk or in your department and which will be ‘very, very accessible.’ Gates’ attack on the technical computing market builds on Microsoft’s installed base in data acquisition. ‘If you’re a scientist who wants to analyze a lot of information, how can we make all the steps involved far more efficient?’ For many problems, changing data formats and software tools takes many man-hours. ‘A breakthrough here would have incredible leverage, beyond the computational modeling aspect.’
Gates cited the University of Washington Neptune project that has deployed geophysical sensors over spreading plate boundaries in the Pacific. These stream ‘overwhelming amounts’ of real time XML data tagged with contextual metadata. Gates stressed that the XML revolution has changed the software industry. Microsoft now uses XML in its SQL database, in Office file formats and in Windows itself. XML is likewise used to describe a cluster’s capabilities, to invoke services and track execution.
WCCS 2003 is said to ‘remove the administrative barriers found in HPC’ offering a Windows ‘look and feel’ for cluster management. MS MPI, an implementation of the MPI-2 standard, runs over Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand.
Visual Studio 2005 has been enhanced with parallel debugging capabilities supporting MS MPI. On the downside, maximum RAM per node is capped at 32 GB and only four processors per node are supported. As for other Windows 64 bit incarnations, there is currently no support for the Itanium.
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