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Windows dual-boots its way onto a Linux stage

IBM builds large HPC system offering both Linux, Windows

June 16, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Windows may never boot Linux from its dominant role in high-performance computing, but Microsoft Corp.'s dual-boot strategy is making some inroads. IBM said it has built what may be the largest Windows/Linux HPC dual-boot system yet for a university research group in Sweden.

IBM today plans to detail a blade system running 5,376 Intel Xeon quad-core processors; each chip runs at 2.5 GHz and uses 50 watts. The system, which is capable of reaching 46 sustained teraflops (a TFLOPS is a trillion floating-point operations per second), runs a beta version of Windows HPC Server 2008.

The system was built at Umea University in Umea for a consortium of universities that use the High Performance Computing Center North, which provides computing resources for a wide range of academic disciplines.

Linux is used on about 85% of all HPC systems, according to the Top 500 computing list maintained by researchers in the U.S. and in Europe. Windows has less than 2%.

The Umea University machine would rank in the top 50 of the list of most powerful systems -- at least under the old list. An updated list will be released this week at the International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany.

Microsoft has been interested in HPC for about three years, but it hasn't seen a lot of growth in this area, said Earl Joseph, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "But we're watching it very closely because they are investing so much," he said. Moreover, Joseph said, Microsoft's cluster software has improved to the point where it's a good product.

Although most HPC applications run on Linux, some researchers do their work on Windows-based workstations, "and [this] makes it a really easy step to go from there to a server that has Windows," said Joseph. The dual-boot strategy opens the HPC for both kinds of operating system users.

"It's really a home run fit for a lot of folks," he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect location for Umea University. The story has been updated with the correct information.

Read more about High Performance Computing in Computerworld's High Performance Computing Topic Center.



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