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Can Windows Server HPC broaden Azure's appeal?

Microsoft’s Azure platform has generally received good reviews from many IT shops and third party developers and appears to be gaining mindshare despite a band of fierce competitors including Google, IBM and Amazon.

Redmond officials, who mentioned to me at Tech Ed last week they now have 30,000 Azure customers, can’t afford to take anything for granted. They will have to stay aggressive and focused if they hope to maintain the platform’s momentum in a fast moving market.

The company could get some help sustaining this momentum from an unexpected source — Windows Server HPC 2008 R2. Typically focused on the higher-end technical computing markets, some company officials want to promote and make the platform available to a much broader IT and developer audience. And by getting IT shops developers to deliver a more diverse set of commercial apps for HPC, they believe it can drive higher usage of Azure.

“There are more than a few Fortune companies and developers that can benefit from (HPC’s) parallel and clustering capabilities. These apps would be a natural fit for Azure,” said one Microsoft official who preferred not to be quoted at last week’s show.

A couple of months ago Bill Hilf, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Technical Computing Group, said he believes HPC R2 applications will drive higher usage of Azure across many IT data centers. He went as far as to say that technical computing workloads and other compute intensive applications would prove to be the killer app for Azure.

I’m not sure I would go that far, but it gives you an idea of what Microsoft’s hopes and dreams are for HPC R2 as a general purpose mainframe in the cloud.

Further evidence Microsoft wants to lift HPC R2 out of its niche and into the much bigger cloud arena was its reorganization earlier this month. That reorg moved the HPC R2 team into the Azure organization run by Bill Laing.

Also earlier this month, Microsoft delivered Service Pack 2 for HPC R2 that, not surprisingly given the above evidence, contains several new features pertaining to Azure including the ability to add Azure VM roles to clusters and the ability to add MPI-based jobs on Azure nodes.

Another bridge Microsoft will build to connect HPC R2 and Azure is Dryad — a competing technology to Google’s MapReduce and Apache Hadoop. Dryad helps developers create distributed programs that can be used in both small clusters up to large datacenters. The company hopes to deliver Dryad for HPC R2 by year’s end.It will be interesting to see how many IT shops with a number of compute intensive workloads Microsoft can attract to its cloud strategy using HPC R2 as the incentive.

If you are using Windows Server HPC 2008 R2 in your datacenter to host cloud applications, or just exploring some possibilities, let me know.

Ed Scannell is Executive Editor with He can be contacted at

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