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SGI To Resell Windows in Grid Computing Systems

Microsoft and SGI announced Thursday that they have inked a deal that makes Redmond's high-performance computing (HPC) server an option for the hardware maker's grid computing systems.

Beginning March, SGI customers will be able to pick Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 on several grid servers. To date, customers could only pick between Red Hat and SuSE Linux on SGI's HPC boxes.

The move means that customers that want to simplify their IT architecture while at the same time including HPC capabilities into their mainstream IT management structure will be able to run grid systems on Windows, company officials said.

"Most scientists want to focus on science and not on IT," said Shawn Hansen, Microsoft's director of marketing for Compute Cluster Server, in an interview.

For Microsoft, landing an OEM agreement for its fledgling high-performance cluster computing edition of Windows with SGI, a significant player in the technical computing market, may provide a leg up in an arena that Microsoft has hopes to both enter and expand.

The agreement marks a return for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SGI to an OEM relationship with Microsoft, according to a spokeswoman. SGI offered Windows NT-based workstations at one time.

SGI will sell Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 on SGI Altix XE cluster systems based on quad-core and dual-core Intel Xeon processors. The systems will be available beginning in March at a list price beginning at $3,500 per node.

SGI will continue to offer Linux as an option alongside Windows.

Microsoft released Windows Compute Cluster Server over the summer and at the time announced pledges of hardware and software support by the end of 2006 from more than 30 partners, including AMD, Broadcom, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, NEC and Wolfram Research. (See "Get Yer Red-Hot Compute Cluster Servers Right Here," Aug. 2, 2006.)

While Linux-based grids dominate the hundreds-to-thousands-of-node implementations performing scientific and high-end commercial work, Microsoft officials say they see an opportunity for Microsoft to play a role in that market. What's more, Microsoft officials imagine a larger market in the enterprise for performance clusters, where smaller grids that are very easy to set up and manage can tackle midrange workloads -- more than a single workstation but less than a full-fledged grid at a university or research lab.

"[SGI is out to prove that] HPC does not equal high cost," said Victor Varney, vice president of marketing at SGI, in an interview. "Even Excel customers can take advantage of Compute Cluster Server, making the HPC market more mainstream."

SGI sees an opportunity to reduce the complexity of juggling different operating systems within high-performance computing clusters. "SGI now provides solutions that bridge that interoperability gap," said Dennis McKenna, CEO of SGI, in a statement. "The Windows platform, which is core to many of these workflows, combined with our HPC expertise further expands our reach into these markets. By adding SGI Altix XE solutions with Intel Xeon and Windows Compute Cluster Server to our existing portfolio, our aim is to provide solutions that are transparent across mixed workflows and make HPC accessible to a much broader market at a lower cost of ownership."

SGI officials envision the Windows-based nodes as helping them increase their business in several enterprise vertical markets, including media data management, industrial design and health care, in addition to government and academic environments. Those markets often face what SGI calls a "mixed workflow infrastructure."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is the editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine. Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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