Our pal Timothy Prickett Morgan recently revealed details behind Dell’s agreement to resell Cray’s CX1 entry-level supercomputer. It’s a blade-based box that utilizes Intel Nehalem processors and high-end NVIDIA graphics cards. This agreement is good news for Cray, as it could definitely benefit from more feet on the street …
HPC and Windows
They do not mix. Windows licensing makes for large clusters to be very costly. And HPC software for Windows opens non free opportunities too.
So indeed, what the hell WERE they thinking?
Wouldn't surprise me
"It also could be that MS is subsidizing Dell’s efforts in a bid to seed the market with Windows HPC solutions." - that wouldn't surprise me. That's what they did with the Toshiba NB200 - according to the Toshiba sales rep.
If I didn't want Windows on it, I'd have to pay more .. and they wouldn't have done it even if I was stupid enough to say, "Sure! I'll fork out more cash"
Of course, XP was replaced with Linux within a couple of heartbeats of having the thing ... makes a bit of a joke of MS sales figures, but what the hey ... if MS wants to pay for my hardwre, then I'm happy to take their money.
Or it may just be...
It may just be that they can't afford to bring in the volume of Linux support staff required until they've tested the waters.
I do like that support hypothesis...
... but ultimately I'd still bet on a shady deal with redmond marketeering.
I heard a MS speaker...
at the Open Fabrics conference a few years back. They were talking about clustering on a scale that might have been impressive 10 years ago, but it definitely wasn't much today. Yes, they did want to license by the core. No, nobody really cared what they had to say.
This is the price Dell has to pay
in order to be allowed to sell Linux PCs.
If you were Dell, and Microsoft said ...
If you were Dell, and Microsoft said "sell this Cray box with Windows, or we may have to have that talk down the golf course we mentioned when you last looked at non-Windows stuff", what would you do? Your company's survival depends on visible and invisible kickbacks from its two most expensive component suppliers, Intel and Microsoft. Therefore, as is normal in these circumstances, when the monopoly supplier says "jump", the customer says "of course. how high would suit you today?".
Dell sales limitations, not just support
I mean, let's face it, who would trust your average Dell salesteam to even SELL a clustered Linux solution, many of which have to be very tailored for their app and environment? At least MS gives their sales team an easy to pitch, limited options list that they would be hard pressed to screw up - and would take limited time to learn.
Ultimately, that may be what gives MS a foothold and perhaps even a victory in HPC - it's a much easier solution to train your sales team for and to sell. There are simply too many competing Linux options for cluster provisioning, management, montoring, etc. It takes VERY specialized resources to get it done right. Setting up an MS HPC cluster probably looks no harder than to install other MS enterprise services - and the manuals re-assuringly say "Microsoft" on them, not "O'Reilly".
... Dell flog the boxes with Windows on knowing that their customers will ditch the OS for Linux.
That way, they don't actually have to support the software after the sale.
If they flogged Linux ones, then you would have to support the OS.
Dell had no choice
Dell: We gonna sell supercomputers. Yay!
MS: They must have Windows installed.
Dell: What? No one wants Windows on a supercomputer.
MS: Doesn't matter, check your contract. 99.99% of all your sales MUST be Windows and any non-Windows sales MUST be on crippled hardware.
Dell: We won't comply.
MS: Then we'll raise the unit price of Windows to an unsustainable level. You must ensure that our dominance continues. You have no choice. Obey.
I'll pay a little extra for a Linux box. I specifically don't want to be tallied as a Windows user, helping Microsoft perpetuate the myth that "everyone" uses Windows. So far I haven't had to though, the models I've been looking at have been the same or less with Linux. I wonder what Toshiba would say if you went to return your unused software? Would they be like "Microsoft paid *us*, you owe an extra $20"?
Anyway... this seems an odd move on Dell's part. Microsoft's been trying to get into the HPC market for at least 5 years, with little luck. Scientific computing doesn't involve any of Windows traditional strengths such as video and 3D driver support (visualization is usually done on a seperate frontend system from the actual computations), support for slapping on random hardware (Windows hardware support is overblown, but in this case doesn't apply at all), or having a large pool of existing software (no-one's going to run Quickbooks, games, etc. on a HPC). Particularly in this market, the OS is to stay out of the way and let apps run as quickly and efficiently as possible, which I think Linux does much better. Well, anyway, I guess that leaves Cray to sell most of them...
"manuals re-assuringly say "Microsoft" on them, not "O'Reilly""
You don't happen to think that in one of the last bastions of decision-making for engineers and scientists by scientists and engineers, rather than by clueless Powerpoint-driven PHBs , the people making the buying decisions may actually have a clue about what they're buying, unlike in most of the MS-centric IT world where the PHBs and the Powerpoint jockeys have taken over full control of the operation's budgets (but taken no responsibility for its failures)?
 Where's Lewis when you need him: "a PowerPoint culture ... that glosses over hard questions and detailed evidence, and sacrifices safety to incompetence, sloppiness, complacency and cynicism. The catastrophe was caused as much by organisational culture as the faulty fuel seal." That's the Grauniad, paraphrasing the Nimrod enquiry which said: "PowerPoint was used to ‘demonstrate’ engineering rather than explain a proper technical analysis. When engineering analysis and risk assessments are condensed to ﬁt on a standard form or overhead slide, information is inevitably lost. ... PowerPoint can ... be dangerous, mesmerising, and lead to sloppy (or nil) thinking.".
@The Indomitable Gall
Because obviously, the Dell Gold script-readers can handle support on the wee baby supers, right? I can hear them now...
Q Can you read me your Windows license serial numbers?
A All of them?
Q Yes please.
A I already keyed in my account number
Q I'm sorry, but I have to have the numbers.
A Sigh, Very well QAWXV YTRFW ... ... ...
45 minutes later.
Q Thank you sir, now how may I help you?
A Okay well, I can't get my (insert name of pricey software here) to use more than one core, and I think a disk has died.
Q Oh, I'm not sure about the software problem. Have you run Disk Defraggler? Click the Windows icon to begin.
I reckon support would be done by Cray in either case, maybe with Dell warehousing a few parts.
@Henry Wertz 1
"Windows traditional strengths such as video and 3D driver support"
Excuse me, I laughed so hard I need to wipe up the tears of mirth that fell onto the PowerMac workstation and flowed towards the Linux servers.
Thanks, I needed the laugh.