Microsoft will release a beta version of Windows Server 2003 tailor-made for the high-performance computing (HPC) market by the end of the year.
The product, called Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition, will integrate Microsoft's Windows Server with other software that is considered standard in high performance computing, including a cluster manager, a scheduler and an implementation of the Message Passing Interface protocol, said Dennis Oldroyd, a director in Microsoft's Windows Server Group.
Microsoft hopes that by creating a standard HPC edition it will simplify things for system administrators and software developers and make it easier to create Windows clusters. The product is being developed by a relatively small, 20-person team within Microsoft's Windows server division.
"What we're going to be delivering here is a pre-configured environment for HPC, so that ISVs [independent software vendors] can build applications for it and IT professionals can be trained to administer it," Oldroyd said.
"There's a broad range of middleware that is supported on Windows, but you've got to build your own environment, so there's not a lot of predictability in terms of the capabilities of the product."
Oldroyd declined to say whether the product would support 32-bit systems or 64-bit systems built with Intel's Itanium 2 or Advanced Micro Devices's Opteron processor.
At present, the HPC market has been dominated by the Unix and Linux operating systems, but as high-performance clusters have become more widely used in areas such as financial services, life sciences, and the petroleum industry, they have begun to attract the attention of new players such as Microsoft and Apple Computer.
Earlier this week, Apple announced the sale of a 1,566-processor system based on its Xserve G5 servers to US Army contractor Colsa.
"It's an interesting proposition for Microsoft because it is a market where it has some opportunity to penetrate," said Christopher Willard, a research vice-president at the IDC research firm.
The HPC market also tends to serve as an incubator where new technologies can be tested and developed before they are sold to different types of customers.
"Companies that enter this market get a side benefit of having people work with, and sometimes on, their technologies," he said.
The market for HPC hardware and software, which was worth $2.4bn (£1.3bn) in 2003, is expected to grow to $5.1bn by 2008.
Microsoft has already seen Windows HPC deployments in areas like digital media and financial services, Oldroyd said.
"We see the market moving from niche into more mainstream as it moves out of academia and research, and into the enterprise, he said.
The production version of Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition is expected to ship in the second half of 2005. Pricing information has not yet been released.
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service