Windows HPC platform good for small- and mid-sized clusters?

Microsoft LogoVia Supercomputingonline:

Scientists and engineers from Cornell Uni, NCAR and Uni of Cincinnati report about their experience with Microsoft’s Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

To take the site’s words, “Customers report that Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 makes it easier and more cost effective to develop, deploy and use HPC systems, and they report that a Windows-based HPC platform integrates smoothly with existing IT resources.

The whole article is a bit “Hooray, no more geeky Linux stuff!” but in the end they come to reasonable conclusions:

  1. MS focuses on small- and mid-sized clusters and not so much on large Tera-FLOPS HPC-systems.
  2. It focuses on easy integration and management of cluster-nodes into the existing infrastructure; submitting jobs to the cluster is easier.
  3. They want to make HPC-systems accessible easier for unexperienced end-users or research-groups, where expertise is non-existent.
  4. Not stated, but existent between the lines in the whole article: You can integrate existing Desktops into the Windows’ HPC-infrastructure.

And I nominate Mr. Matt Wortman from the University of Cincinnati for having the sexiest prediction in that article: He predicts that the carrier of the HPC-applications will be held on small USB- or Ethernet-connected devices which are enhanced by specialised hardware:
“Application developers will provide plug-and-play devices that integrate into your infrastructure via USB or Ethernet. These devices will be simple and capable of a small variety of very high-speed calculations. For example, a standalone bioinformatics server will store and analyze sequence data, or a drug discovery appliance will screen chemical compounds. These simple “unitaskers” will be made and supported for integration into your existing Windows-based environment.”

My conclusion: I can’t fight the feeling that this article is a bit sexed up by MS, although I can’t prove it. There are sentences which just don’t look sane to me:
Q: What business needs are you solving with high-performance computing?
Wortman: For us, the key business need was reducing costs by eliminating complexity. We did that by eliminating Linux support costs.

You decide yourself. The conclusions sound plausible though.

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2 Responses to Windows HPC platform good for small- and mid-sized clusters?

  1. Matt Wortman says:

    I understand your point but I assure you that my comments are my own. First, regarding Linux support, we don’t have enough work to support a full-time Linux/HPC technician therefore we relied on hourly on-call support. This is obviously a greater cost/hr model than employing a Linux/HPC tech but we just couldn’t justify an FTE (or a 0.5FTE). A side effect of hourly Linux support is also long waits, sometimes days, for support. Our Windows server tech had the cluster up in a matter of hours (using RIS over GigE) and has supported it since. Bottom line: No more hourly Linux bills and no more waiting for support. Second, we’re actually working on an FPGA-based appliance that does drug docking and plugs into a network. It uses the same application we ported to Windows CCS. USB comes later. Best Regards, Matt

  2. Hello Matt, thanks for your feedback. Good to hear that the article isn’t “improved” – some articles from that source are obviously advertisement but not marked as such.
    If you don’t have an existing Linux-infrastructure in your department and rely on on-call support the advantage is obvious and using the Microsoft’s incarnation of MPI is a good thing for you. The FPGA-appliance sounds lovely, are you going to buy some solution of the shelve or will it be a design engineered for your application? Thanks again for feedback, cheers from Lithuania, Alexander.

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