October 5, 2005 1:06 PM PDT

Microsoft gets on the grid

Looking to blunt the success of Linux in high-performance computing, Microsoft is ramping up its commitment to make Windows a better fit for data-intensive computing grids.

Microsoft is creating a "Cluster Compute" version of Windows and intends to work more closely with grid industry standards bodies, Tony Hey, the company's corporate vice president of technical computing, said in an interview with CNET News.com on Tuesday.

Grid computing is a vague term that describes ways to make several machines work together to efficiently tackle computing jobs. The reason to use grids is to get more bang for the buck--by letting multiple applications share formerly separate resources or by automatically juggling priorities.

Microsoft's competitors, such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, have each spelled out their plans for grid computing which, in general, rely heavily on the use of Linux on low-cost servers. Grid computing is still largely the purview of scientists and researchers, but businesses are increasingly using grids to make better use of their hardware.

Yet despite the growing interest in grids, Microsoft has been largely quiet on the topic apart from internal research efforts. And perhaps not surprisingly, its vision differs somewhat from that of existing grid vendors.

Hey, who joined Microsoft in June after heading up the U.K.'s e-Science research initiative, said that Microsoft intends to focus its development efforts on so-called data grids, rather than compute grids, as many companies and standards bodies are doing.

Data, or information-centric, grids are designed to let people access information from disparate sources and then combine that data as part of a computing job.

For example, a hospital could view X-ray information from its own imaging system and simultaneously access relevant patient data from different locations. Or a financial services company could do data mining analysis on multiple databases without having to send large amounts of information across the network.

"Federating data--that's the big payoff. Aggregating compute cycles to me is the easy piece," Hey said. "You won't want to move petabytes of data around. You can move (server) clusters to the data."

Microsoft is focusing on sharing information--rather than computing power--through grids because that reflects what the academic and research communities are wrangling with, Hey said. For example, researchers could cull data from sensors with satellite data when predicting weather.

He said many of the grid technologies used in academia can be applied to business applications. Hey spoke at the GridWorld conference in Boston on Tuesday.

The hiring of Hey and Microsoft's investments in high-performance computing versions of Windows are signs that the company is taking the grid software market seriously, said Songnian Zhou, chief executive and founder of grid software company Platform Computing.

"The reality is they don't want Linux to take over the world in high-performance computing," Zhou said. "Tony (Hey) is serious about being a good citizen in the grid community, where they haven't been an active participant."

But Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice was skeptical that Microsoft would embrace open standards to the degree that other vendors do.

"Tony's endorsement of open standards is quite interesting and I think significant, but I don't think it's a statement you can trust. It's open as far as open benefits Microsoft," Eunice said.

Eunice said a good first step to showing its commitment to standards would be creating a good implementation of the Globus Toolkit (standards-based software for building applications that can run a grid of several machines) on Windows, something the company has not committed to doing.

Incredible outlier
Microsoft's main product in the grid computing area is Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition, which aims to be a more viable alternative to Linux. At the company's Professional Developers Conference in September, Microsoft released a beta version of Windows Compute Cluster Solution, which is tuned for 64-bit processors and includes a job scheduler.

In another indication of the company's commitment to high performance, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in November will deliver the keynote speech at the SC/05 supercomputing conference in Seattle, which is

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6 comments

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Linux
is going to stay on 'the grid' at universities for a long time... for plenty of reasons...
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
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not at the university of washington
certainly not at the university of washington..

likely at the Evergreen State College though...
Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
tony hay?
to ny... hay? that cant be your real name... what about rob the windows installers? with all respect.. rob, your like my dad

whats with the name changes?

or is microsoft so powerful that they can simply hire people by their name and mold them to spec...

I thought only criminals changed there names...

this has got to be an American conspiracy.. finally, I have a reason to call into coast to coast..

we the people, are the fools..... .?, >?? help me out here President Bush

no no, I understand, we all want to see... thats why.. dam, what a view..

why did I wake up after all
Posted by (187 comments )
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same goes for Dan, Zack, Glen, and Matt
same goes for Dan, Zack, Glen, and Matt; especially
Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
Desktop Grid Solutions
There is a business case for providing Microsoft solutions using existing desktop computers. If you count the computers outside the server room, youll end up with a very large Microsoft count. While Microsoft is building a data grid solution to compete against the Linux clusters, Digipede Technologies already has a computational grid solution for all those underutilized desktops. The Digipede Network provides a low TOC because there is no need to buy new hardware, software (such as Excel) is already on the machines, and there is no need to hire consultants to install and configure the system.

Platform Computing also allows desktop cpu-savaging but at a much higher TOC. And although their Microsoft partnering announcement is interesting. Digipede Technologies is already a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Use the data grids... fine...
.... but watch MS try to CONTROL the data grids. MS has a core
philospphy that virtually demands that MS dominates any
technology area encountered. And the data grid concept is a
natural for MS domination attempts.

MS really has no choice. Windows is rapidly failing as a revenue
source; people are losing interest in unnecessary upgrades.
Same is thru for MS Office. The rest of the MS software offerings
tends to ignored by most computer users, with corresponding
low input to the MS coffers.

MS needs fertile ground, either for new ideas, or for a corporate
grave
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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