[Beowulf] MS HPC... Oh dear...

Vincent Diepeveen diep at xs4all.nl
Mon Jun 12 09:43:15 PDT 2006

We will confront you with your statement in a few years from now.

If microsoft doesn't price their server/cluster stuff too expensive then in 
X years from
now they'll dominate the highend market. Microsoft always has just taken 
markets by
storming in giving away copies of their software for near free initially.

Competition is hardly possible against that from software viewpoint.

>From my multiprocessor product i'm not releasing a linux multiprocessor 
version, to
give 1 obvious example.

Porting the GUI to linux is simply too much work, even though we are open-gl 
at the
moment and porting should be theoretically possible with just X weeks work.

Microsoft dominates because all GUI's are running under windows in a way
that users can work with it.

That said, their huge advantage is dissappearing a bit, as lately i'm under 
the impression they
no longer have the best programmers onboard now that their stock/shares 
don't yearly double.

>From roughly 28$ to about 22$ right now.
So earning yourself some options to buy microsoft shares will probably not 
be so popular
among microsoft employees unlike the past.

Some things of them are becoming real nerd products, such as their server 
edition 2003
is an impossibility to be used by normal users.

Basically i see a few big issues that are all USB related that can 
crash/lock up windows
completely, apart from that their reliability has been greatly improved. It 
can run without
crashing for a few weeks now.

So if they put out a 'cluster product' now, you can laugh, but basically it 
means money for companies
who produce software to run under that OS, so they WILL produce software for 
the cluster expert edition,
as microsoft WILL sell ten+  million of copies of their server editions.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Robert G. Brown" <rgb at phy.duke.edu>
To: "Geoff Jacobs" <gdjacobs at gmail.com>
Cc: <beowulf at beowulf.org>
Sent: Monday, June 12, 2006 3:30 PM
Subject: Re: [Beowulf] MS HPC... Oh dear...

> On Mon, 12 Jun 2006, Geoff Jacobs wrote:
>> Joe Landman wrote:
>>> To a degree this is my point.  Microsoft (I am not arguing their case,
>>> just my impression of it) is going to try to make all this work out of
>>> the box for you.  It remains to be seen how well it works.  I can't wait
>>> for the first support calls about the ch_p3/p4 device though ....
>> I can't wait for the Apple ad.
>> They'll probably change them to what Windows users are used to. I've
>> always found Microsoft's error codes entertaining - cryptic,
>> uninformative, useless. An error code from a Microsoft product usually
>> requires google to translate.
> Sigh.
> The issue here is strictly one of commercial software.  I very much
> doubt that you'll see many folks who roll their own parallel software
> migrating in droves to MS clusters for precisely these reasons -- they
> have to write their own code, debug their own code, and haven't the
> time, the staff, the budget to deal with cryptic error codes and
> commercial support mechanisms with built in obfuscation and delay.
> Remember also that the "advantages" of being able to run MS-only are
> largely illusory, since MCSEs are largely clueless about advanced
> networking and parallel computation and parallel scaling and MPI and...
> so WinXX clusters will face precisely the same support and programming
> challenges that Linux clusters face without the rather huge base of
> coders, the beowulf list for distributed (free) support, a wide
> selection of consultants and turnkey vendors, magazine columns and
> websites such as the Monkey.  This is an "if we build it, they will
> come" moment for MS.
> So will they come?  Companies that are trying to SELL ready-to-run
> parallel applications will simply love this.  It gives them a definitive
> target platform to code for (unlike the plethora of rapidly evolving
> linux based distros and their associated clusters).  It is also an a
> priori given that any customer who contemplates an MS cluster in the
> first place for longer than thirty seconds (long enough to see the price
> tag) is willing to spend money like water in order to run their mission
> critical parallel application (whatever it might be).  If you're
> spending hundreds of dollars per node on the operating system, are you
> likely to balk at the notion of spending hundreds of dollars per node on
> the application software?  Compared to linux -- the entire OS and all
> these apps were FREE, right?  One can install an entire cluster for the
> cost of setting up a PXE server/repo, and even boot and run the whole
> thing diskless, in as little as one day.  Only people who really don't
> give a rodent's furry behind about money will be willing to spend a ton
> of money for a product where it takes days for your cluster-ignorant
> MCSEs just to figure out the licensing arrangements for the nodes (and
> to learn what a node IS).
> So IMO the MS move is targeted at a very carefully specified market,
> with little or no interest or hope of expanding beyond that market.
> Their potential customers are those who will build large to very large
> clusters to run very specific, commercially sold and supported software,
> and will have very deep money-is-no-object-because-it-is-not-our-own
> pockets.  NIH comes immediately to mind, as does Hollywood (less so).
> These are folks that are happy to spend money like water as long as
> things "just work" according to their particular definition of the term,
> which generally means "so that our team of six FTE MCSE admins can keep
> it running transparent to us".  They won't even care if things work
> OPTIMALLY and many will not even understand how to assess things like
> parallel scaling -- they just want them to work, and probably to dump
> their results directly into Office Pro so they can make their power
> point presentations with nifty excel figures without any intermediate
> data import step or the hassle of managing two operating systems.
> Will Microsoft's move succeed?  Probably.  If and only if they get
> ENOUGH commercial software ready to plug and play AND somebody willing
> to buy it, although they could lose money on this for years and still
> fund it just to be able to claim market presence and not think twice
> about it.  IMO nobody is going to buy MS clusters to write their own
> (real) parallel code unless they plan to sell it, though. MAYBE they
> will find some entre into the grid (embarrassingly parallel) market
> where people will be willing to write and compile code to run on a
> MS-based grid for free; maybe they'll get some gaming companies to use
> their platform to manage multitasking on a dual-core dual-cpu box to
> improve game performance or the like (again on a shrink-wrap basis).  I
> don't think that they'll find a lot of takers for the system as a
> research-level development platform if the real costs are passed back to
> the users, though, both because those costs will be close to twice what
> they are for linux clusters and because MS code development doesn't
> really favor the unix-derived posix environment for moving data around
> -- its biggest advantage is in visual/windowed stuff, e.g. VB.  What
> good is VB in a grid, where your application CANNOT do anything
> whatsoever with a GUI?
> So programmers will be reduced to writing in raw C, C++, Fortran,
> POSIX-style code regardless.  So do they really want to do this using a
> compiler that costs a node (or two), an operating system that costs a
> third of a node (per node), parallel extensions that cost even more (per
> node), library issues, complex licensing arrangements (how IS Microsoft
> going to control cost scaling inside the cluster, especially if the
> cluster itself lives inside a firewall, hmmm?) and ALSO have to deal
> with BSOD every time some exotic feature of their code that probes a
> part that is NEVER explored in MS's more traditional applications
> generates a terminal fault?  With any POSSIBLE hope of real optimization
> largely beyond their grasp, since the OS will absolutely hide all
> details of the network interface that might be used to optimize (given
> that permitting tuning here might destabilize the OS and increase BSOD
> occurrences and give a bad perception of the stability of MS's product)?
> Even those NIH folks are likely to start counting nodes vs cost at some
> point -- getting a cluster 1/2 the size because you want to run MS
> clustering software just won't cut it, I don't think.
> So, naaaaa, not likely to be a popular development platform for real
> researcher's writing their own code or using open source code.
> Commercial only.
> So the real (rhetorical:-) question is:  Who is writing the commercial
> software that will run on this? and: Is anyone out there going to buy it
> at rates that scale per node, given that one is basically SPENDING nodes
> to get it?  It isn't about the OS, it's about applications,
> applications, applications.  One has been able to develop and run
> parallel applications on WinXX systems for a long time now, really --
> pretty much as long as on linux if not longer.  PVM for WinXX existed
> back when Linux was but a gleam in Linus's eye.  There is a REASON that
> even way back then, when WinXX was much CHEAPER than commercial Unices,
> it was a most unpopular platform for parallel code development, and that
> reason hasn't really changed.  If "enough" parallel killer apps are
> written for MS clusters and "enough" people actually buy them, MS will
> survive in this market.  If not, hey, they probably won't lose money on
> it given that any sales at all are likely to carry a high profit margin
> relative to direct costs, and it isn't really that difficult to build a
> "cluster" on top of ANY operating system that groks "network".  The
> clustering team is probably tiny and cheap, as MS project typically go,
> and at the moment is probably spending more time ensuring that there are
> commercial apps ready to go than they are ensuring that there is
> anything particularly "cool" about the clustering environment itself.
>     rgb
> -- 
> Robert G. Brown                        http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
> Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
> Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
> Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu
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