Microsoft Moving Quietly into Cluster Computing

Microsoft has been making small inroads into technical computing with their Compute Cluster Server, according to C|Net.

Microsoft, recognizing the interest by scientists and researchers in having the compute capabilities of a small cluster at their disposal has been going after that market with their Compute Cluster Server (CCS). The target is those users who are already using Windows for their research.

"We think thatis fertile ground that nobody else has hoed yet," said Gartner analyst John Enck. "We were pretty skeptical when they came to market with this, but theyire doing much better than we anticipated."

Traditionally, high performance computing clusters and supercomputer of all sizes have run some variant of Unix or Linux. A few notable supercomputers run Mac OS X. However, not all researchers are experienced in the tools and technologies of cluster computing. Saifur Rahman, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said using Linux would have required new expertise. His group is using CCS in a 16-node cluster used for cancer related research.

"We wanted to remain within the Windows environment so that we could use our existing applications and did not have to retrain our graduate students who have been working in this environment for several years with data from end users," Dr. Rahman said.

Microsoft continues to struggle against the heavily entrenched Unix market in cluster computing. "The HPC community has been Unix- and Linux-based for decades," said Gartner analyst Carl Claunch. "The university environments in which most have trained are heavily Linux-centric. The domination of Linux in HPC and in clusters is quite strong."

While Microsoft has negligible presence in the Unix dominated Supercomputing top 500, they have been slowly targeting the small cluster market suitable for small research teams. Meanwhile, Apple has been providing a small cluster system aimed at scientific research for years, called the Apple Workgroup Cluster. These Apple clusters are available in 4 to 32 node configurations.