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Microsoft Reshuffles HPC Organization, Azure Cloud Looms Large

For the past few months, there have been rumors of a substantial reorganization in Microsoft's high performance computing group. Indeed this has happened. Kyril Faenov, who led the Technical Computing Group, is now in an advisory role, focusing on long-term planning centered around their HPC/technical computing strategy. In his new position, Faenov answers directly to Satya Nadella, the president of Microsoft's Servers and Tools Business (STB), which encompasses Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center and the Windows Azure Platform.

In that sense at least, HPC has become more of a first-class citizen at Microsoft. But the HPC business itself, now under the direction of Ryan Waite, the general manager for High Performance Computing at Microsoft, has been folded into the Server and Cloud Division, which itself is under the purview of Nadella's STB. The integration of HPC into the server-cloud orbit reflects the company's overarching strategy to use the Windows Azure cloud platform as the basis for its enterprise business.

But according to Waite, that doesn't mean they're abandoning the stand-alone Windows HPC Server offering. We asked him to elaborate on the direction of high performance computing at Microsoft, and although some of the responses lacked specifics, it is clear Microsoft is looking to Azure as a way to re-energize its HPC business.

HPCwire: Has there been an evolution of thinking with regard to how Microsoft intends to deliver high performance computing to customers since the company first entered the HPC market? If so, explain what that vision is today.

Ryan Waite: Microsoft’s commitment to high performance computing remains strong as the industry’s needs evolve. Since we started we’ve focused on democratizing the HPC market, that is, growing the HPC market by making HPC solutions easier to use. What has evolved is how we can help our community with democratization. I believe the emergence of cloud support for HPC workloads will reduce the cost and complexity of high performance computing for what has been called the “missing middle.” These are the organizations that have tough computational challenges to solve but don’t have the capital, access, expertise or desire to manage their own HPC clusters.

HPCwire: What is the roadmap for the Windows HPC Server product?

Waite: Central to our future strategy is support for hybrid environments. These are environments where some HPC computing is running on-premise and some computing is running in the cloud. We will support customers that run all their computing on-premise or run all of their computing in the cloud but in the short term, hybrid models will dominate. We’ve also seen the emergence of a new HPC workload, the data intensive or “big data” workload. Using LINQ to HPC customers can do data-intensive computing using the popular LINQ programming model on Windows HPC Server.

HPCwire: What other technical computing offerings are key to Microsoft's HPC strategy?

Waite: On June 29th, Microsoft announced the availability of Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP2, which provides customers a comprehensive HPC platform. This latest release provides our customers with a number of new tools that focus on three main areas that are key to Microsoft’s HPC strategy, hybrid deployments with Windows Azure, new scenarios for on-premises clustering and the availability of the LINQ to HPC beta.

HPCwire: More specifically, how are you integrating HPC capabilities into Windows Azure?

Waite: Microsoft has put a strong emphasis on HPC in the cloud, as demonstrated by our latest HPC release, and we will do more over the next year in order to put supercomputing resources within reach of every business, organization, and user who needs them. Windows HPC Server 2008 R2’s support for Windows Azure includes:

  • A single set of management tools for both local compute nodes and Windows Azure compute instances.

  • Integration with Windows Azure APIs that makes provisioning compute instances in Windows Azure simple.

  • A tuned MPI stack for the Windows Azure network.

  • Support for Windows Azure VM role preview.

  • Automatic configuration of the Windows Azure Connect preview to allow Windows Azure based applications to reach back to enterprise file servers and license servers using a virtual private network connection.

HPCwire: Will Microsoft continue to maintain standalone technical computing offerings alongside the Windows Azure platform? If so, do you believe most of Microsoft's HPC business will migrate toward Azure?

Waite: We’re committed to the on-premise business and will offer it alongside a fully cloud-based solution. Some of our customers require an on-premise solution. Other customers, particularly HPC ISVs, are considering what it means to offer cloud-based versions of their applications, and for them we will provide an Azure-based solution. We are positioning ourselves for success as more and more customers run their simulations in the cloud.

HPCwire: How would you characterize the reorganization of the technical computing group at Microsoft?

Waite: We reorganized this month to better support HPC Server. My HPC engineering team is now part of the Server and Cloud Division and this change allows better synergy with the Windows Server and Windows Azure teams. This change allows us to go bigger as we drive on-premises growth while taking an increased emphasis on helping existing and new customers harness the power of cloud computing.

HPCwire: Are there more changes ahead?

Waite: I love working in such a fast moving market. We will continue to adjust our strategy as both the traditional HPC market and the cloud-based HPC market evolve. As we move into the second half of the year, we are excited about what Microsoft is offering the HPC community and our next release of Windows HPC Server.

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