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SGI plans Windows supercomputers

Microsoft breaks Linux-only policy

SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc) plans to offer Microsoft's HPC (high-performance computing) cluster software on systems that have until now been primarily focused on meeting the needs of HPC Linux users.

Beginning in March, SGI will sell its Altix XE cluster systems with Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. SGI will continue to offer Linux and its own Unix-based system, IRIX on Altix.

Windows Compute Cluster, which became generally available last year, is Microsoft's first HPC product.

SGI emerged from bankruptcy late in 2006 after reorganising and has been seeking to broaden its reach in the low-end HPC market. Dave Parry, a senior vice president and product general manager at SGI, said that adding a Windows HPC product to the company's server line gives it "the opportunity to make HPC more accessible to a broader class of users".

Microsoft believes HPC will continue to expand with hardware price and performance improvements, and expects more users to take Windows applications now running on workstations and move them to cluster environments.

"What we're really seeking to do here is bring HPC to the mainstream," said Kyril Faenov, Microsoft's general manager of high-performance computing. He said the hardware capability and cost effectiveness of 64bit hardware "is really putting supercomputing class capabilities in the reach of just about everybody who needs supercomputing resources".

Addison Snell, an analyst at IDC, said the market research firm is seeing new technical computing users who are migrating from workstations to clusters. "There is definitely the opportunity for growth," Snell said of Microsoft's prospects.

He predicted that the appeal of Windows for SGI and its Altix system will be the ability to capture lower-end users. "SGI has been hemmed into the higher end," he said.

IDC forecast that the HPC market will grow about 9 percent annually, from more than $10bn worldwide last year to $14.3bn by 2010.

The Intel Xeon-based Altix XE servers start at a little above $3,000.

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