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It's golf Jim, but not as we know it

Russel Winder, Concertant LLP

As most people in the computing industry will know, Microsoft has not traditionally been a player in the HPC world. Over recent years they have been trying to become a player in this arena. They seem to be spending rather a lot of money, and not just on advertising. At SC08 though they are spending a lot of advertising money, mostly on being the comedy stand of the show.

For some reason, Microsoft have decided that golf simulation is what excites the world of HPC. Most other applications are things like fluid dynamics, structural mechanics, pharmaceuticals and 3D modelling. Microsoft are coming in on games and entertainment. A strong area true, witness a number of people at SC08 interested in supporting massively multiplayer online games (more on this in a later article). Microsoft have made their presence at SC08 unique in being the only stand that has kitted staff out in silly uniforms. Your correspondent did at first think leprechaun, but when asked one of the the greenly clad said “No nothing like that, just golf.” When pressed further, your correspondent was forwarded to one of the stand chiefs (as being the person whose idea the uniform was) but that person immediately invoked the PR supremo (who has yet to phone me back). The people on the stand were very amiable, but just how it all fits together as coherent marketing remains a mystery.

What are Microsoft actually pushing? HPC++ apparently – well the signs are very big and ever present on the stands not just of Microsoft but also of every one of their partners at the show. I suspect someone at Microsoft's marketing department is taking a very big gamble, since for old stagers such as your correspondent, HPC++ is a venerable and well respected C++ variant coming out of Indiana University (http://www.extreme.indiana.edu/hpc++/index.html). Interestingly, or not, this page is number one on Google for the query HPC++ where the Microsoft pages come second, third, fourth, etc.

So assuming Microsoft have reasonable rights to usurping the label, what is their offering? Well it seems to consist mostly of “Windows HPC Server 2008”. Till recently Linux, UNIX and custom operating systems had a stranglehold on supercomputing. Actually Linux took over from custom operating systems as the leading choice some years ago, since Linux is very good at enabling resource control – it became the natural choice because it is a good choice. Microsoft is spending what seems to be a very great deal of money to try to enter this market, and dent Linux's position. Judging by searches on Google, and wandering round the show at SC08, a cursory glance indicates that the Microsoft marketing department is going flat out to indicate that Windows has far more market share than it really has.

So the questions are: “What does Windows HPC Server 2008 have that can attack the position of Linux and Unix in the market?” and “What does Windows HPC Server 2008 have that Windows Server 2008 doesn't?” It is not entirely clear that the answer to the first is anything other than “Nothing.” and the answer to the second appears to be “The letters HPC in the middle of the name.”

Windows is fundamentally an end-user client operating system, and as such it is the majority player. Its internal structure ties it intimately to use for GUIs. Vista and Windows 7 do not change this. Windows Server has at its heart the same architecture, which is why your server has to have virus protection. Whilst this is the case, Windows cannot be taken seriously as a server operating system, and certainly not in the HPC arena. Microsoft appear determined not to let this stand in the way of buying market share. It will be hard to forget the green women and men, and the rather dreadful golf strokes of the person demonstrating the simulator. It will be rather easier to forget the product.


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