November 28, 2004

Windows to Skip Itanium for Supercomputing

MICROSOFT CORP. will support only x86 processors with 64-bit extensions when it releases a version of Windows Server 2003 for high-performance computing (HPC) applications next year, putting off support for Intel Corp.'s Itanium 2 chip to a still-undefined date.

The HPC market is currently dominated by Unix and Linux operating systems. Microsoft is looking to break into the market but feels that ltanium 2-based hardware is too expensive and too powerful for the small clusters that it expects users to build around Windows Server 2003.

"When you look at our target market the departmental clusters - ltanium 2 is a bit outside the reach [of users] in terms of budget and in terms of needed computing power," said Greg Rankich, a senior product manager at Microsoft.

Microsoft this month updated its rollout plans for the Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition, which previously was called the HPC Edition. A first beta release of the software was due this year but has slipped to March or April, Rankich said. The commercial release is still slated for late 2005. Support for ltanium 2 will be added in the second release of the operating system, Rankich said, but a shipment date for it hasn't yet been set.

Officials at Hewlett-Packard Co. understand that Microsoft chose to first support x86 processors because they have higher sales volumes than ltanium 2, said Ed Turkel, manager of product marketing at HP's HPC division. But HP, which uses ltanium 2 in its Integrity line of servers, is pushing Microsoft to add support for the 64-bit chip "as quickly as possible," he said.

Microsoft is clearly aiming for the sweet spot in the HPC market in terms of volume, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif. HPC is one part of the IT industry where Microsoft doesn't enjoy an installed-base advantage over its rivals, Brookwood noted. "Microsoft is going to have to fight tooth and nail for every HPC sale it gets."

- Joris Evers, IDG News Service

Copyright Computerworld Inc. Nov 22, 2004