Window Azure Getting High-Performance Computing Improvements

Microsoft today announced some coming Windows Azure improvements for organizations engaged in high-performance computing (HPC) analyses.

The efforts include beefed-up hardware and new management software to help organizations carry out HPC analyses using either Windows Azure, on-premises clusters or a combination of those resources. On the software side, Microsoft plans to roll out its new HPC Pack 2012 in December. HPC Pack 2012 provides job scheduling and monitoring tools for computation-intensive workloads. It works with Windows Server 2012 and integrates with the Windows Azure virtual private network.

Microsoft is also testing improved Windows Azure hardware configurations with its partners, with plans to provide public access to enhanced "big compute" capabilities in Windows Azure sometime next year, according to an announcement. Microsoft claims it will be rolling out the first "virtualized InfiniBand RDMA [remote direct memory access] network capability for MPI [message passing interface] applications."

"For applications written to use the message passing interface (MPI) library, RDMA allows memory on multiple computers to act as one pool of memory," a Windows Azure blog post explains. "Our RDMA solution provides near bare metal performance (i.e., performance comparable to that of a physical machine) in the cloud, which is especially important for Big Compute applications."

This InfiniBand architecture helps support computationally intensive workloads that may have to scale across other machines, according to the blog post. When available, two customer offerings for HPC scenarios will be offered by Microsoft. One configuration will consist of Windows Azure hardware with eight cores and 60 GB of RAM. The other configuration will have 16 cores and 120 GB of RAM.

Microsoft's Windows Azure blog post claims that a LINPACK benchmark test of the new hardware running Windows Server 2012 in virtual machines atop Windows Azure ranked the system within the top 500 supercomputers. Performance was 151.3 teraflops on "8,065 cores with a 90.2 percent efficiency." So that sort of computing power will be available to rent sometime in 2013, although Microsoft hasn't specified when.

Microsoft also announced this week that five support options are now available for Windows Azure customers, and that its free Windows Azure support will end after December 31, 2012. The five support options, priced per month, are developer ($29), standard ($300), professional direct ($1,000) and premier (no price listed). Incident response time becomes faster for the higher priced support options. The service-tier details are broken out by Microsoft here. Support is now offered in "English, Chinese, Korean, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese," according to Microsoft's Windows Azure blog.

Microsoft's Windows Azure announcements this week are setting the stage for an all-day "Windows Azure Conf" Webinar, which starts on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. The Webinar, mostly aimed at the Windows Azure development community, will have a keynote Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business division.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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