Microsoft visits Wall Street to roll out HPC Server 2008

Microsoft visits Wall Street to roll out HPC Server 2008

This may seem like a weird time to go to Wall Street to announce a new operating system, but that's what Microsoft Corp. did Monday. At a technology conference in New York, the software vendor formally detailed its Windows HPC Server 2008 software, a high-performance computing version of Windows offering some features that may appeal to bailout-seeking financial services firms.

First, the new release -- the successor to Microsoft's Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 technology -- will do far less damage to corporate bottom lines than bad subprime mortgages have inflicted. HPC Server 2008, which can scale from two to 2,000 or more server nodes, costs US$475 per node, with each consisting of between one and four processor sockets.

Second, HPC Server 2008 includes new management and diagnostics functionality designed to improve the ability of systems administrators to identify performance issues, such as system latency and its root causes. The software also is integrated with desktop applications; for instance, a user working in Excel can send a processing job to an HPC cluster with just one mouse click, similar to what it takes to launch a printing task.

And third, Microsoft said that HPC Server 2008 will enable users to run complex algorithms, such as those used to determine the amount of risk in investment portfolios, in a parallel environment on multiple server cores without having to rewrite their application code.

Financial services firms are increasingly adopting HPC technologies, something Microsoft pointed out in its announcement that HPC Server 2008 has been released to manufacturing.

Among the people quoted in Microsoft's press release was Jay Dweck, global head of strategies and technology for the institutional securities group at Morgan Stanley, an investment banking firm that late Sunday received permission from the Federal Reserve to become a more regulated bank holding company. "We are closely evaluating Microsoft's Windows HPC Server 2008 to provide Morgan Stanley with the ability to maintain our competitive edge," Dweck said in a statement.

The ability to run some existing application code without rewriting it to support the Message Passing Interface (MPI) communication protocol may be the most important feature in HPC Server 2008 for financial services firms.

MPI support is needed for parallel applications in which pieces of computing processes running on different servers must communicate with each other. But it isn't required for so-called embarrassingly parallel workloads, in which computations can run independently of each other -- an approach that is often used in financial services workloads, said Kyril Faenov, general manager of high-performance computing at Microsoft.

Making it possible for users to run applications in parallel without having to rewrite them is a move toward broadening the use of HPC technologies, Faenov said in an interview. That capability is a "first step in the much longer path for us to make parallelism easier," he said.

Microsoft has made improving parallelism one of its key HPC goals. For instance, the company is working to enable F#, a functional-programming language that eventually will be integrated into Visual Studio 2008, to be used for parallel development.

Microsoft, which issued a "feature-complete" beta version of HPC Server 2008 in June, said today that evaluation copies of the new software can be downloaded from its Web site. Last week, hardware vendor Cray Inc. said it was teaming up with Microsoft and Intel Corp. to offer a desktop supercomputer that runs HPC Server 2008 and starts at $25,000.

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