While recently published internal emails about  Windows Vista may have some Microsoft executives reaching for the Excedrin PM bottle at bedtime, other parts of Microsoft seem to be moving ahead at full speed. Such is the case with the Windows Server Division, which released Windows Server 2008 to positive reviews, and announced this weekend that the Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 Beta 2 was released.

Vista may be getting an unfair share of slings and arrows from the press these days, but Windows HPC Server 2008 has quietly been gaining steam in a greenfield market for Microsoft: High Performance Computing (HPC). I've blogged a bit about HPC Server 2008 before, but the recent beta release reinforces the good news that has been coming out of the Windows Server Division these days.

Microsoft HPC Group Manager Ryan Waite broke the news on the Windows Server Division team blog on Saturday, May 17th, and pointed out some key bug-squashing and node-spanning milestones for the code:

It’s been a hard push since November when we shipped our last beta. Since then we’ve done test runs on a cluster with over 1000 nodes, fixed over 1000 bugs, coded a bunch of new features, and made a bunch of design changes based on customer feedback.

Waite also discusses next steps for the code, including news that Microsoft's TAP partners have been primed to begin beta testing this release:

Now that Beta 2 is finished our Technology Adoption Partners (TAP) will put this beta into production environments. We’ll carry pagers to help them out if they run into a crit-sit after hours. Actually, we have cell phones. Pagers have gone the way of sock punch cards, teletypes, and sock garters. I suspect there are teenagers wandering around that don’t know what a pager is.

I do know what a pager is--I've actually used one--but I'm not sure how we got from pagers to sock garters. (And no, I haven't worn sock garters. Honest.) Wasn't the latter the bee's knees (or the cat's meow) back when Herbert Hoover heard hail to the chief every time he entered a room?

Sock garters (and obscure Herbert Hoover reference) aside, this latest release of Windows HPC Server 2008 shows demonstrates why Microsoft is still the company that most other vendors in the IT space wish they were. Microsoft clearly saw untapped market potential in the HPC market, which has long been dominated by a hodgepodge of computing environments based on Linux, UNIX, and other non-Windows platforms. As processing power continues to skyrocket (and RAM and storage costs continue to collapse), the cost of entry in the HPC market is getting dramatically lower. There was a time when only the largest of companies and government agencies could support (and maintain) a HPC cluster of thousands of machines.

Windows HPC Server 2008 changes that: While HPC will likely remain the province of only the largest organizations, Microsoft's foray into this lucrative market could translate into hundreds (if not thousands) of companies using HPC for the first time to help them solve pressing business needs. As derided as Windows may be by open source critics, creating and maintaining an HPC solution in a Windows environment will be a far less costly undertaking for many of the Fortune 500, firms that already have large, Windows-savvy IT departments. With HPC Microsoft has proven once again that it is willing to spend lots of time, sweat, and greenbacks to hit pay dirt in a promising (albeit distant) new business opportunity.