Will Windows Compute Cluster open HPC doors for VARs?

BOSTON – Not so long ago, the high performance computing (HPC) muscle needed to calculate financial models or build complex animations was the realm of mainframes, or of vast clusters of Unix or Linux systems.

No more. At its annual TechEd conference this week, Microsoft‘s senior vice president of the server and tools business, Bob Muglia, announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 (CCS) during his keynote, promising general availability via volume licensing and the channel in August.

CCS allows Windows servers to run massively parallel HPC applications, effectively, in the words of Microsoft’s director of product marketing in the Windows server division, Zane Adam, “knitting multiple servers to look like one server.

“CCS clusters look and feel like Windows,” he said. They use Active Directory for authentication, and are managed with standard tools such as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).

The market has huge potential, according to IDC figures cited by Microsoft. It says that the high-performance and technical computing (HPTC) market grew approximately 24 per cent in 2005 to reach US$9.2 billion in revenue, which is the second consecutive year of 20 per cent-plus growth in this market. The HPC cluster market share represented over 50 per cent of HPTC market revenue in the first quarter of 2006, and IDC indicated that high-performance computing clusters in the lower-end capacity segments of the market will see substantial customer adoption in the coming years.

However, Warren Shiau, lead analyst in IT research at The Strategic Counsel, has some reservations about the opportunities for resellers. “The movement to HPC on x86 presents a market opportunity for HPC on Windows as well. For resellers, it depends upon the success of Microsoft or anyone pushing it as a volume solution rather than on specialized big iron,” he said. “As long as customers remain with big scientific applications it will probably be a small market for the reseller.”

Doug de Werd, technical marketing manager for HPC clusters in HP‘s Industry Standard Server group, said that trying to manage the complexity of running multiple clustered applications, each of which may require a different version of the Linux kernel, is a big problem given the lack of one operating system vendor as a rallying point. He sees Microsoft becoming that rallying point. But, he added, “ISVs will be key leaders in this, with the development tools Microsoft has provided.”

Glenn Bontje, business development manager for enterprise storage and HPC at HP Canada agrees. HP has had inquiries from people like researchers who currently use shared computing facilities but want access to their own dedicated resources and tools, many of which only exist in the Windows environment.

“(HPC) will be one of the most exciting plays for resellers,” he said. “Selling a workstation with a small blade cluster behind it (compared to just selling the workstation alone) probably is 10 times the dealer opportunity, and makes (the system) more useful to the researcher.”

Shiau added, “For anyone that has a need for higher than usual computing power, it makes sense to adopt this implementation of an HPC solution, but whether or not that immediately or short-term leads to another market is another question. It boils down to what Microsoft’s real world implementation of the solution is. It certainly sounds good.”

To HP’s de Werd, the reseller’s opportunity is clear. “For the reseller channel, the sweet spot is between sixteen and thirty-two nodes,” he said. “Everyone likes to talk about 1000 node clusters – they make great press releases – but the opportunity for eight or sixteen or thirty-two node clusters is huge, and very much within the realm of the reseller. We are actually looking to resellers to help with that.”

And Microsoft is providing tools and training to partners who want to move into this arena.

“Partner readiness will be a key focus for Microsoft Canada,” Whittman said. “We will be encouraging all Gold Certified Microsoft partners in the Advanced Infrastructure and Networking Infrastructure competencies to participate in an upcoming High Performance Computing “Airlift” to take place at Microsoft Canada’s Mississauga headquarters in early September. The focus of this training will include a deep dive into the product, the market opportunity, and sales support resources to drive adoption.”

And that, said Shiau, is what Microsoft is good at. “They always come up with a good business proposition. They have so many resources to set up programs and support for the channel that when they get serious about something it tends to become attractive to the channel.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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