Windows HPC

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Tue Aug 6 10:01:27 PDT 2002

On Tue, 6 Aug 2002, Paul Redfern wrote:

> FYI .
> Cornell Joins Forces with Dell, Intel, and Microsoft to Expand Usage of
> High Performance Cluster Computing in the Corporate Data Center
> Aug. 5, 2002 - Cornell Theory Center (CTC) today announced an agreement
> with Dell, Intel, and Microsoft to develop and deliver CTC
> High-Performance Solutions, a suite of industry standards-based
> high-performance computing (HPC) solutions and services for business,
> government and academic clients. The agreement provides $60 million
> worth of resources over the next four years to aid in solutions
> development.

Microsoft discovers the beowulf concept?  Again?

$60 million worth of "resources" -- would that be $30 million worth of
hardware and $30 million dollars worth of full retail Microsoft software
(which costs them nothing but media to provide)?  Let's see, 425 new
Dell servers at an absolutely insane highball price of $5K each is all
of $2.5M, adding $5K in infrastructure costs including gold-plated
networking -- hard for me to see more than $5 million in hardware, $10
million if they completely replace the other 425 "servers" (with enough
slop in my estimates to likely build a building just to house all this).

So how about $10M in hardware and infrastructure, $10M in salaries
(that's enough salary money for at least 10 full professors and their
students for four years even at Cornell:-) and $40M in MS software?
Enquiring minds like to know...

Hmmm, Win2K server licenses for (say) 1000 seats -- ooo, that's a lot of
money.  Compilers and programming tools are expensive.  No compute node
is complete without Office;-).  And so forth.

Now the interesting question is -- who in their right mind would ever
buy into this?  A linux cluster can be installed completely over the
network from PXE boots in an unbelievably short period of time, and its
software maintenance is completely automatable.  A single person can run
a cluster with hundreds of nodes, and we can build a cluster with
hundreds of nodes for around $2500/node INCLUDING the cost of building
server-level infrastructure (AC and power).  Software costs scale
perfectly (ranging from marginal costs of perhaps 3-5 minutes of human
time per node per month after configuring the cluster servers and
installing the first node, all opportunity cost and $0-100 per node for
software per se, depending on what you choose to install and how many
nodes you've got).

All the source is open, so one can FIX the numerous problems encountered
trying to write and implement HPC parallel code running over a network.
Or at least understand them and work around them.

Then there is security.  WinXX security is legendary.  Really.

Finally, there are all the lovely aspects of Microsoft's rumored future
pricing models.  Not only will one have to buy the original software,
but (whether you like it or not, or need to or not) one will have to
repurchase it all over again, year after year, and the joy of being
locked in by the outrageous DMCA for anything "interesting" that you
ever develop that uses proprietary libraries or tools to implement.

Not to mention the personal satisfaction that comes from helping
perpetuate the largest and most ruthless monopoly that the world has
ever seen, which quite literally reduces your personal freedom as it
manipulates the political process to protect its "right" to squash
competition and have the use of Microsoft products mandated by law.

I'm not impressed.  I can hardly blame Cornell for taking the money --
even an inflated $60M undoubtedly makes them a lot of money, and
starving professors do have to eat (I'm being serious here, not
facetious -- I'm a starving professor myself:-).

Still, give me TWENTY million dollars and I will install a cluster with
many times the capacity implied here and run it four years and do all
sorts of cool research and development, especially if I get actual cash
and not the preconfigured servers that Intel/Dell tends to give away in
these projects, which have heavily inflated price tags and heavily
deflated price/performance.  Oh, and this includes spending $1M or two
building or remodelintg a facility for the cluster.


> CTC High-Performance Solutions will be based on Dell PowerEdge servers;
> IntelR XeonT and ItaniumR family processors and tools; and running
> Microsoft Server software. This combination is designed to provide
> customers with the performance and availability once only achieved by
> proprietary supercomputers at a fraction of the price. CTC will double
> the size of its existing 425-server Dell, Intel and Windows-based HPC
> clusters as a result of this agreement. With the standards-based
> technologies in CTC's clusters, it can provide users with documented
> high performance, reliability and security while functioning at
> significantly reduced total cost of ownership when compared to the
> proprietary supercomputer CTC previously used. 
> HPC clustering has been successfully used in university and research
> environments for years to solve complex problems, but also has many
> practical applications for business such as scalable online transaction
> processing with Web clients, decision support systems, engineering
> design and analysis, bioinformatics and more. CTC High-Performance
> Solutions will apply its Windows HPC expertise to accelerate the
> deployment and scale out of Windows-based IT infrastructure in the
> private sector. 
> CTC High-Performance Solutions will develop robust Windows HPC solution
> stacks for broad industry deployment, and will include HPC services such
> as UNIX to Windows code porting, optimization, and porting to parallel
> environments; systems planning and integration; systems and applications
> training and testing; benchmarking. CTC will also offer high-performance
> Web services based on Microsoft's .NET software and SQL Server. CTC's
> TechExchange Consortium will provide members with more immediate access
> to IT technologies and will help drive the evolution of Windows HPC. 
> In addition, CTC will establish a technology showcase for
> proof-of-concept applications for HPCC in the financial district of New
> York City. This facility will be linked to related activities in CTC's
> Ithaca, N.Y., laboratories and will serve as the setting for customers
> to pilot projects. 
> "Establishment of CTC High-Performance Solutions comes at a time when
> all sectors of the economy face increasing competition, pressure on
> margins, and the need to demonstrate strong and quick returns on
> investment," said Thomas F. Coleman, CTC director and Cornell computer
> scientist. "With our expanded relationships and combined strengths, we
> can show companies, government agencies, and academic institutions how
> to expand their technical computing environment, while reducing their
> overall IT budget. They can take their existing expensive, proprietary
> systems, which are often islands of performance requiring extra systems
> staff, and replace them with a more flexible, scale-out clustered
> environment that is expandable and that fits in the overall
> Windows-based office environment." 
> "Cornell Theory Center is playing an important leadership role in
> Windows Server-based high-performance computing," said Brian Valentine,
> Microsoft Senior Vice President, Windows Division. "They were first to
> move completely to Windows for HPC. They have shown that it works in the
> most demanding settings. And they will be instrumental in moving HPC out
> of the research environment and into the mainstream industry. As we work
> together with CTC, Dell, and Intel, the efforts coming out of this
> agreement will very clearly show Windows brings the highest value to
> high-performance computing applications and companies' business systems
> on an industry standards-based IT platform."
> "The flexibility, performance and cost-effectiveness of Dell PowerEdge
> servers with Intel technology is becoming more and more attractive to
> customers in research-intensive industries outside of the university,
> due in part to initiatives like CTC's Windows program," said Russ Holt,
> vice president of Dell's Enterprise Systems Group. "Through Dell's own
> HPCC program, we continue to see customers replacing legacy, proprietary
> systems with Intel-based HPC clusters." 
> "Intel continues to invest in HPC to propel the industry forward and
> drive innovation using Intel's volume economics model - delivering
> absolute performance, price/performance, flexibility and choice to
> enable supercomputing for the masses," said Mike Fister, senior vice
> president and general manager, Intel Enterprise Platforms Group. "Using
> the industry-leading floating point performance of the Intel Itanium 2
> processor and the world-class price/performance of the Intel Xeon
> processor, CTC High-Performance Solutions will help accelerate the
> migration of leading-edge computational research into the corporate data
> center of the future."
> "This tremendous investment by Dell, Intel and Microsoft in the Cornell
> Theory Center is a true vote of confidence in the intellectual power of
> one of our State's finest academic institutions," said Governor Pataki.
> "Industry, university and government collaboration is critical to
> economic success in our State and throughout the nation, especially in
> the fast-paced world of information technology. This project is a prime
> example of how expertise at New York State's top-flight universities can
> help industry solve complex problems that will benefit all sectors,
> public and private." 
> For more information about CTC High-Performance Solutions, visit
> About the Cornell Theory Center
> CTC is a high-performance computing and interdisciplinary research
> center located on the Ithaca campus of Cornell University. CTC currently
> operates a Dell/Intel/Windows cluster complex consisting of more than
> 900 processors. Scientific and engineering projects supported by CTC
> represent a vast variety of disciplines, including bioinformatics,
> behavioral and social sciences, computer science, engineering,
> geosciences, mathematics, physical sciences, and business.
> About CTC Systems
> CTC's Systems are configured into general purpose, strategic
> application, and dedicated clusters. Among the dedicated research
> clusters housed at CTC are a 64-node system devoted to computational
> materials, 64 nodes for computational biology solutions, 32 nodes to
> support the USDA-ARS Center for Agricultural Bioinformatics, and 32
> nodes dedicated to social and economic research. CTC also provides a
> novel Windows/Dell/Intel 3D, stereo immersive CAVE environment for
> scientific visualization. 
> Note: Intel, Itanium and Xeon are trademarks or registered trademarks of
> Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other
> countries. Dell and PowerEdge are trademarks or registered trademarks of
> Dell Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. Microsoft,
> Windows, SQL Server, and .NET are trademarks or registered trademarks of
> Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries. Other names
> and brands may be claimed as the property of others.
> Paul Redfern            
> red at

Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

More information about the Beowulf mailing list