High Performance Computing Made Easy with Windows HPC Server 2008

by Joe Lee

In the old days, High Performance Computing (HPC) implies extremely expensive hardware and software installations, intensive training to get accustomed to unfamiliar tools and working environment, heavy administration costs for daily operations, only relevant to complex, large scale and long-running number crunching applications, and so on (please refer to the Network Computing article “Supercomputing Made Possible on Campus” for details). However, as technologies have advanced rapidly in recent years, HPC becomes viable and practical through the combination of affordable hardware boxes and Microsoft software products. HPC is no longer a term for discussion but has become a fundamental enabler of innovation in projects ranging from scientific to business to social sciences. This article addresses a simple HPC environment that is built on top of commonly used servers and the Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 software.

Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008

Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 features fast deployment, simple administration, easy application development, highly scalable, and cost-effective, enabling researchers to be more focus on data analysis and hence, more productive. With this, researchers can now have yet another choice of high performance computational needs in addition to the traditional HPC technology. Many successful stories have been made available for reference in Microsoft’s HPC website. For details, please visit the following link: http://www.microsoft.com/hpc/en/us/case-studies.aspx .

Obviously, it is straightforward to build a Windows HPC Server 2008 cluster by using the Windows Deployment Services. Once the head node (or a cluster of head nodes for high availability) has been installed, the set up of compute nodes can be very quickly in parallel on all nodes. Subsequent configuration and testing are simple as integrated tools are available. Throughout the whole installation process, administrators require no assistance or training from the vendors due to the familiarity of the Windows infrastructure and interface. When the whole cluster is up and running, administrators simply use the graphical user interface to schedule jobs and manage resources. They can perform proactive adjustments by checking the status of the compute nodes with built-in monitoring tools. As enhanced reporting tools have been built into the system, there is no need to manually pull together statistics to produce reports.

As the Windows HPC cluster uses the existing corporate infrastructure and Microsoft Active Directory for security, account management and operations management, the environment can be easily maintained by administrators. The integrated environment has sufficient security features to authorize cluster use, safeguard data, and allow remote access, facilitating researchers to continue working on their projects outside of regular working hours and sharing results no matter where they are. Therefore, precious resources can be more accessible, better collaboration and information sharing is achievable, and shorter project timeline can be foreseen.

The Windows HPC cluster provides a more friendly and recognizable computing environment for end users. Working with such a familiar HPC environment has distinct advantages, including saving the effort to master sophisticated command lines to harness the power of HPC, predictability of how the tools look, feel and work, troubleshooting problems through ample resources and comfortably addressing the problems to technical support. Researchers and application developers can use Visual Studio (which supports the Microsoft Message Passing Interface) to easily develop, debug, and run parallel programs on the HPC cluster. Besides, there are a wide variety of third-party applications for selection to meet project requirements. Furthermore, users can specify the resources required for running a job, such as amount of memory, number of cores, sockets, nodes, and software licenses. As a result, the HPC releases researchers from management of the system as well as search of user-friendly tools to tackle problems, making them possible to concentrate on data analysis, experiment with more data sets, and produce high quality output.

CSC Potential Applications

The Computing Services Centre (CSC) is planning to start out with a simple HPC setup of 8 to 16 nodes as a proof-of-concept for this technology. The application in mind is a simple data warehouse for collected system performance data. If the setup is successful, the technology can be introduced to departments, adding one more dimension to the choices for HPC. The potential uses will include scientific and business applications requiring high computing power such as simulations.


The Microsoft claims that the Windows HPC Server is fast to set up out of the box, easy to use, and with high-throughput capacity. It is equipped with a comprehensive set of tools that are easy to deploy, manage, and integrate with existing infrastructures, increasing productivity on the one hand while reducing complexity on the other. While minimal training is required for experienced administrators to build and operate the cluster, end users feel at ease working in the familiar Windows environment. If this proved to be true, researchers can focus on their research work, resulting in greater productivity. This will be one of our moves to support research requirements which are important for University advancement.