Microsoft to simplify parallel-computing development

HPC market is growing dramatically

The importance of high-performance computing was starkly revealed this week by some numbers released by IDC: One in four of all microprocessors shipped Thursday are being installed in HPC systems.

The market has grown dramatically: In 2004, about 16% of processors, or 1.65 million, were shipped for HPC systems; last year, it was 3.35 million processors, or just over 26%, reported market research company IDC.

These numbers explain, in shorthand, why Microsoft this week said it is planning a new development effort in parallel computing to make it easier to program for multicore and large systems. The numbers also explain why Hewlett-Packard has put a blade system on wheels for office use that it calls a "supercomputer in a box" and why Intel is pitching its new Xeon Penryn family processor to HPC users.

But if you want to know why HPC matters to these vendors, someone who can illustrate that is Eric Morales, an engineer at golf club maker Ping. in Phoenix. Ping installed a Cray Inc. XD1 supercomputer three years ago and cut processing time for design simulations from 13 hours to 20 minutes. It turns out that this system was just the appetizer.

"I think we've done as much as we can with what we have, but I feel that we need to expand," said Morales. "I think there is more that we can do."

Morales wants to apply HPC's ability to show, in colorful and exacting detail, what happens to a golf club when it makes contact with a ball. Price and performance improvements help make possible HPC's expanded role in golf-gear manufacturing.

Morales said that while he was walking around the show floor at the SC07 supercomputing conference in Nevada this week, he saw systems for US$20,000 with the processing power that he paid US$100,000 for several years ago. HPC systems "keep getting more and more advanced, but they are also coming down in price," he said.

The worldwide technical HPC server market is expected to hit US$11 billion this year. And by 2011, it will be more than US$15 billion, an annual growth rate of nearly 9%, according to IDC.

HPC systems run applications, such as fluid dynamics, that need lots of compute power. They use applications designed to run in parallel, which means they can use multiple processor cores and clusters simultaneously. With the continuing development of multicore chips, the need for applications that can run in parallel is increasing.

That's why Microsoft this week announced a new initiative, along with its updated cluster server, HPC Server 2008, to build out a development environment for parallel applications, as well as make it easier for its customers integrate these applications in their existing environments.

"We're consistently seeing the HPC market growing beyond the traditional focus," said Kyril Faenov, general manager of HPC at Microsoft, to "commercial adoption of HPC systems at a broad level."

But HPC is heavily dominated by Linux and Unix systems. Microsoft began attacking this market in earnest in 2005, when Bill Gates spoke at this supercomputing show two years ago to underscore the company's interest in this market.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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