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8/1/2006
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Microsoft's First HPC Offering Expected To Drive New Service Opportunities

Windows Cluster Server, Redmond's first so-called high-performance computing offering, could give the software giant new ammunition in its battle against Linux.

Microsoft's high-performance Windows computing software will enable the software company to take market share from Linux and give service partners new opportunities for integrating and scaling out .Net applications across the Windows infrastructure, industry observers say.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, the Redmond, Wash., company's first high-performance computing (HPC) offering. Microsoft had announced the product's release to manufacturing at Tech Ed 2006 in June.

Though the HPC market has traditionally been served by large, specialized systems integrators, the integration of the new HPC platform with current Windows infrastructure--as well as easy-to-install features and scale-out application clustering capabilities--will allow ordinary partners to offer new integration and application development services to their customers. It also will give them an alternative to the multitude of Linux clustering solutions in the market, according to ISVs.

Oakland, Calif.-based ISV Digipede, for example, is working with Microsoft Services and large systems integrators, including Hewlett-Packard, to deploy its solution on Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. But Digipede CEO John Powers believes the high-end market also affords opportunities to traditional service partners.

"We see a lot of opportunities for services because Microsoft built something that can be integrated with the larger Windows infrastructure within an organization and that's where the big opportunities lie," said Powers, whose company is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and targets the financial services industry. "Stand-alone clusters are great, but the way Microsoft will beat its Linux competition is by integrating its solution with the rest of its infrastructure, such as Active Directory and its development tools."

The recently announced Digipede Network grid compuitng platform, for instance, will allow customers and their service partners to distribute .Net applications across Windows cluster nodes, according to Powers. "We think it's a big opportunity for service providers because there's a large number of .Net architects and developers who need the ability to scale out across many boxes but haven't had a convenient way to do it on Windows," he said.

"A lot of work has been done on Linux," Powers explained. "There are opportunities for systems integrators and application architecture and consulting firms to pulls things together now that tap into the scale-out capabilities. There are many Linux cluster builders out there. But this is a strong entry by Microsoft, and I think most businesses would prefer something that integrates more smoothly with their infrastructure. A lot of businesses have a Windows infrastructure and a separate Linux compute cluster, but that's not what they want."

Avanade, a services firm owned jointly by integrator Accenture and Microsoft, aims to grow an HPC services practice but is waiting to see more customer demand before dedicating marketing resources to the platform.

"We're not targeting customers specifically with Windows Compute Cluster Server [WCCS] 2003 but believe it provides capability in a market segment currently underserved by Microsoft," said Tyson Hartman, CTO of Avanade Americas. "Avanade has built HPC solutions prior to WCCS, mostly in financial services, so we know the business need exists. We plan to leverage WCCS when the business need requires it. And there are an increasing number of opportunities across a number of industries: financial services, manufacturing, oil and gas and GIS."

Andrew Kaperonis, IT systems engineer at Northrup Grumman Space Technology, said the Redondo Beach, Calif., high-tech company was a beta tester of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 and, with its large installed base of Windows applications, is interested in the possible economies of scale and efficiencies offered by a Windows-based supercomputing solution.

In an interview with CRN last fall, Kaperonis said the platform's "uncomplicated" installation, support and maintenance will make it possible for the firm to deploy it using in-house staff. "Increasing productivity through tight integration with Microsoft development environments and single sign-on access and security via Active Directory shows very promising indications of lower total cost of ownership," he said in the interview.

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