[Beowulf] Redmond is at it, again
rmyers1400 at comcast.net
Tue May 25 10:03:57 PDT 2004
Eugen Leitl wrote:
>Yeah, think of all those power Excel hydro code users who're going to
>For now, Linux has the upper hand, owing to its affinity with Unix--the OS
>environment the high-performance crowd is most comfortable with--and the
>open-source model, which lets users turn directly to source code for answers
>to problems. But a Microsoft product would theoretically integrate better
>with Windows desktop machines, and if the company can serve up an impressive
>offering, Linux could be in for a tussle.
Gates will have to explain that personally to the graduate students and
postdocs who actually do the work, I would think. I wouldn't put it
beyond him to try to do that, actually, and it could conceivably be
worth his trouble.
>In a recent interview, Bob Muglia, a Microsoft senior vice president who
>leads the development of Windows Server, said the company is interested in
>two particular areas: building high-performance computing clusters and
>harvesting the unused processing power of PCs.
>Although Microsoft is a comparative newcomer to the market, the company could
>bring several advantages:
>. Machines running Windows HPC Edition could seamlessly connect to desktop
>computers, providing instant power for someone such as a financial analyst
>performing calculations on an Excel spreadsheet, said David Lifka, chief
>technology officer for the Cornell Theory Center, Microsoft's premier
>high-performance computing partner.
>. And Microsoft could build software into its desktop version of Windows to
>harness the power of PCs, letting companies get more value from their
>computers. It's a technology that's applicable to tasks such as drug
>discovery and microchip design.
If there is a way to take this seriously, I thought, it is in
"harvesting the unused processing power of PC's." The annual market for
HPC is about $5 billion and for PC's about $200 billion. Taking the
market price of an "HPC CPU" to be ten times that of a "PC CPU"
(starting from an estimated $100 million for 10000 Red Storm
processors), that would put 400 times as many "PC CPU's" entering
service each year as "HPC CPU's".
From the point of view of HPC, 400 is not a very interesting number,
especially if you account for even the tiniest bit of the difficulty
you'd encounter in trying to harness any serious fraction of so many
more available CPU's.
Even if the price disparity between a "PC CPU" and an "HPC CPU" were
more like a hundred, roughly the difference between a mainframe CPU and
a PC CPU, that still only makes 4000 times as many available
CPU's--still not a very interesting number.
Were I Microsoft, I'd be aiming to tell the world that Microsoft is not
making money, it is solving the problems of science with the untapped
power of PC's. We will probably see something along those lines from
Microsoft. If it stood up to scrutiny, it might be in the interests of
science, even if not in the interests of those who have built their
careers around linux clusters. It's a great marketing line, and, if
anyone would have the resources to make such a thing happen, it would be
Thinking again rather cynically in the interests of science, having
Microsoft adopt such a marketing posture and making it stick to any
extent at all might actually be a good thing, since it would be
difficult for Redmond to be a fairly obvious market predator at the same
time as it is being the salvation of mankind.
Had Microsoft the wisdom to see it though, it could probably work around
the graduate student/postdoc problem by artful use of Windows Services
for Unix. A _really_ smooth Microsoft would even give the appearance of
supporting the use of Linux for science while in reality using that
support as a way of keeping Linux contained.
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