[Beowulf] Redmond is at it, again

Robert Myers 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.


More information about the Beowulf mailing list