Q&A: Microsoft Launches Windows HPC Server 2008 at Leading Wall Street Event

New York – Sept. 22, 2008 — In an increasingly turbulent market, newer technology in high-performance computing (HPC) can be a tool to analyze risk. Microsoft demonstrated some of these applications of HPC today at the 2008 High Performance on Wall Street event in New York, where it Formally launched Windows HPC Server 2008. Microsoft showed attendees how its latest HPC offering can provide a platform for rapid development of financial services applications that can be deployed quickly, managed centrally and scale seamlessly from workstation to cluster.

Vince Mendillo, Director, HPC Marketing Group, Microsoft

To learn more about Windows HPC Server 2008 and what it means for financial services firms, PressPass spoke with Microsoft’s Craig Saint-Amour, U.S. capital markets industry solutions director, and Vince Mendillo, director of the HPC Marketing Group .

PressPass: How is high-performance computing (HPC) technology used on Wall Street now, particularly given the current climate?

Saint-Amour: Capital markets firms have enormous pressure to uncover risk and determine their exposure in today’s economic climate. Wall Street firms are using high-performance computing (HPC) solutions to perform more real-time or intra-day risk analysis of trades and their impact on portfolios.

Computational finance can especially benefit from the speed improvements of HPC. Although credit derivatives and exotic investments are popular, an obvious cost is associated with this trend. As new alternative investment products are introduced, risk or portfolio managers need analysis tools to get an accurate and timely view of a funds worth and value at risk (VaR). However, advances in pricing, advanced analytics and risk and margin analysis tools now require computational horsepower that exceeds the power of a desktop computer.

PressPass: What are the benefits of Windows HPC Server 2008 for financial services firms?

Mendillo: Financial services firms have less to spend on IT projects, but still need to maintain their position in a competitive marketplace. They simply can’t afford to have an IT project that fails to deploy successfully. Windows HPC Server 2008 dramatically decreases deployment times, improving the ability for firms to bring new products to market. It’s easy to setup and easy to use. Also, many financial services firms have gone through a series of mergers and acquisitions in recent years, and this has led to a myriad of systems to manage. Windows HPC Server 2008 can integrate with existing infrastructures and works with tools such as System Center, which can manage mixed operating system environments.

PressPass: In general, how do you see the uses of HPC changing on the street?

Saint-Amour: Earlier this year, Microsoft released its “HPC in Capital Markets Survey 2008” that showed, due to the credit crisis, firms are facing increased overall demands to run real-time market risk analysis (33 percent), middle-office risk analytics (42 percent) and portfolio-related calculations, such as rebalancing and hedging strategies (49 percent). Firms are turning to their growing HPC resources to assist with these activities, with companies reporting “a lot or some” demand for HPC to handle real-time market risk analysis (57 percent), middle-office risk analytics (54 percent) and portfolio-related calculations (63 percent).

In this tough economic environment, lowering operational costs and increasing overall productivity at all levels of a firm’s HPC value chain – end user, developer, operations staff – is at the forefront of every manager’s mind. While outright performance (27 percent) continues to be a primary purchase factor when selecting an HPC operating system, capital markets firms ranked price (15 percent), ease of deployment (21 percent) and support of existing third-party applications (15 percent) of similar importance. By comparison, in a similar Microsoft HPC survey released last year, 37 percent of respondents reported performance as the most critical factor, with price and other factors in single digits.

PressPass: You mentioned mixed environments earlier. How can Wall Street firms feel comfortable adopting Windows HPC Server 2008 with so many customized in-house applications that now would require porting to a new platform?

Saint-Amour: Windows and .NET developers are actually very common on Wall Street, and Windows HPC Server 2008 improves a developer’s productivity through integration with Visual Studio 2008, which provides a comprehensive parallel programming environment for Windows HPC Server 2008. In addition to supporting standard interfaces such as OpenMP, MPI and Web services, Windows HPC Server 2008 also supports third-party numerical library providers, performance optimizers, compilers and debugging toolkits.

In the past, financial services firms needed very specialized developers to redesign single-threaded applications into multi-threaded codes enabled for HPC. This came at an enormous expense to firms and required highly complex and time-consuming IT projects. Windows HPC Server 2008 includes the ability to create new service-oriented applications that are well suited for financial firms, building upon existing .NET development skills and using familiar Visual Studio libraries.PressPass: HPC platforms are only as good as getting the right data into the right people’s hands. Does Windows HPC Server 2008 have an advantage in this case?

Mendillo: The growing influx of financial data, such as managing data feeds and conducting complex event processing, places a burden on firms, which must move and analyze this data in near-real-time and present it in a logical way to the people who need it most – including brokers and high-net-worth individuals. We believe Windows HPC Server 2008 has an advantage here because it’s built to seamlessly integrate with collaboration tools such as Office SharePoint Server 2007, providing the ability to audit documents as part of regulatory requirements. And by integrating with products like Microsoft Excel – which is the most common analytical tool on the Street – customers can model in a familiar, easy-to-use environment then go into production with as little rework and technical risk as possible.

PressPass: Many financial services firms use Linux as the foundation for their HPC platform. Is Windows HPC Server 2008 scalable enough to take on Linux?

Saint-Amour: Yes, Windows HPC Server 2008 is so scalable that it debuted recently in the top 25 of the world’s top 500 largest supercomputers with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), which ranked at No. 23 with 68.5 teraflops. This scalability enables trading desks, portfolio managers and compliance teams within financial services firms to use tools such as Excel with the highest performance capabilities ever offered in a Windows environment. Now, tasks such as Monte Carlo simulations, “what-if” scenarios and counter-party credit risk analysis can be scaled effectively within Windows. Windows HPC Server 2008 is unique in this ability to allow firms to build on existing skills in a familiar environment – and in a powerful way.

PressPass: What industry partners have come onboard to support the Windows HPC Server 2008 launch?

Saint-Amour: Windows HPC Server 2008 provides a broad platform for independent software vendors (ISVs) and an expanded playing field for original equipment managers (OEM) to enable new innovations in high performance computing. Microsoft has worked with dozens of partners, including AMD, Cray, Dell, HP, IBM and Intel, to continue to drive high-performance computing further into the mainstream. In fact, last week, Microsoft announced a new partnership with supercomputer leader Cray to introduce a new compact supercomputer, the Cray CX1. With costs staring at US$25,000, the CX1 running Windows HPC Server 2008 is easy to purchase, deploy operate and upgrade. The solution will enable companies in various industries to unify their Windows desktop and server workflows.

PressPass: How important is success in HPC to Microsoft’s overall business?

Mendillo: Windows HPC Server 2008 is very much a part of our total server family, which represents an $11 billion business for Microsoft. It’s no secret that currently our HPC server business is one we’re working to build, but make no mistake: Microsoft is committed to high-performance computing.

Windows HPC Server 2008, along with other Microsoft applications, servers and tools, will together take HPC mainstream. Our goal is to make it a part of mainstream computing, make it available to companies that could previously not afford it, to IT pros who found HPC too daunting to consider and to users who have problems that require supercomputing performance but have never had access to it before.

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