Supercomputing sites split on MS HPC server

The New Zealand Supercomputing Centre is talking with Microsoft about adopting HPC Server and says it will be benchmarking it soon

Scott Houston of the New Zealand Supercomputing Centre believes the new Microsoft HPC Server 2008 offers much potential for his organisation.

However, other high-performance computing organisations in New Zealand, particularly universities, remain to be convinced.

Microsoft launched HPC Server 2008, in beta form, in November. It will effectively replace Windows Computer Cluster 2003.

Business development manager Houston says his centre offers mainly research organisations an on-demand supercomputing service, with a few other customers from the commercial sector.

At present, the NZSC offers the utility computing service using the existing Cluster 2003 version from Microsoft and Houston believes HPC Server 2008 offers some “exciting features” currently unavailable.

The NZSC started several years ago as a business partnership between Weta Digital and Gen-i to market the excess computing capacity that Weta had left over after the Lord of the Rings movies.

The new software, he says, will help his organisation improve its processing capabilities and offer greater availability.

“It does support head-node fail-over. If you have a large cluster of processers, it’s like a master slave environment. If your slave fails you are okay, but if your master fails you are not.

“Server 2008 supports head-node failover so if your master fails, you are still okay. That allows for higher availability for more important tasks,” Houston says.

Another benefit, he believes, is that HPC Server 2008 and its use of clusters will also foster the development of parallel computing. The centre is talking with Microsoft about adopting HPC Server and says it will be benchmarking it “pretty soon”.

“From what we see, it’s looking pretty,” Houston adds.

However, Otago University, which uses Microsoft’s 2003 offering for its corporate environment is not so sure.

Harry Harding, team leader of its enterprise server team says the university is in discussions with Microsoft about its Server 2008 products. However, he feels they offer “minimal gains” on existing products.

“Obviously it is useful to keep up with the latest platform. But it’s a case of wait and see to evaluate the performance,” he says.

It could be a year before Otago University adopted HPC Server 2008 in a research and development environment. Much depends on Vista, which Harding says has “performed disgustingly”.

Colin McMurtie, a supercomputing services consultant and systems engineer at the University of Canterbury, says his organisation does not use Microsoft Computer Cluster 2003 on its IBM HPC hardware, so was unlikely to need HPC Server 2008.

Microsoft server and tools marketing manager Tovia Va’aelua admits the HPC market is niche and one Microsoft hasn’t really touched.

This is why he is keen to gain the support of people like Houston to show the value of HPC Server 2008 to those needing high performance computing.

HPC Server 2008 is part of the wider Microsoft Server 2008 family of products to be launched next March, he says.

Va’aelua is keen to get potential users to join the Microsoft early adopter programme, which promises technical and resource support and gives much comfort to such early adopters.

Up to seven local customers are testing Windows Server 2008, before it goes to market, he says.

HPC Server 2008, he says, allows high-performance computing to be built into a standard infrastructure, promising reduced administration costs.

Windows Server 2008 focusses on virtualisation, with a hyper-V virtualisation layer that will sit on the hardware, with or without an OS.

It can also integrate platforms with existing management and security infrastructure and allow businesses to evolve as they need to, Va’aelua says.

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Tags technologySupercomputerhpc server 2008windows computer cluster

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