One month ahead of the next round of Top 500 supercomputer rankings, Microsoft has released online its Beta 2 for its high-performance data center version of Windows. But is Windows accelerating fast enough to keep up with Linux clusters?
Windows has historically not been considered the fastest operating system among supercomputers, but there is no doubt it's working to climb the ladder. Microsoft's best performing trial supercomputer to date has been given the nickname "Rainier." It's a cluster of Dell PowerEdge 1855 blades, which are currently running Microsoft's latest test builds of HPC Server 2008 -- its successor to Compute Cluster Server 2003.
In June of 2007, Rainier placed #106 on the University of Mannheim's Top 500 supercomputers list, with a peak performance (Rmax) ranking of just under 9 teraflops. In just five months' time, Microsoft's later builds helped the same system accelerate to 11.75 teraflops, though that boost was pretty much in line with its competition: it placed #116 on the November 2007 list.
The big improvement Microsoft is trying to build -- maybe as important, at least, as being faster -- is making feasible an easily administered system. Taking some cues from its latest improvements to the admin console for Windows Server 2008, Microsoft is adding an Outlook-like front end to HPC Server, which unlike almost any other Microsoft product is apparently keeping its nickname: "Cluster Rocket" will serve as the main admin control panel, giving data cluster admins access to tools such as temperature maps, network configuration maps, and failover clustering itineraries.
And for anyone -- especially in academia -- who preferred Linux because the command line seemed more "native" somehow, HPC Server throws in PowerShell -- the tool that reduces colossal scripts to two or three lines of code.
But the real tale of the tape for HPC Server could come next month, when Mannheim U. reveals its latest semi-annual Top 500 results. Microsoft appears to be setting a benchmark for itself for 30% performance improvement with each new list, which would help it keep pace with the rest of the industry. Any less than that amount, and academic customers could fail to be impressed.
How does 11.75 teraflops compare on an even playing field? Rainier has 2,048 Intel processors. The Maui High Performance Computing Center, an Air Force-managed research center at the University of Hawaii, claims to be running a 5,120 processor cluster of Dell PowerEdge 1855 blades, running Linux. Although it's not officially chronicled on the Top 500 list, MHPCC boasts an Rmax score of 64.2 teraflops, which would put it at about #13 if it were a Top 500 participant.