Mired in delays with Windows NT 5.0, Microsoft officials have nonetheless begun planning for a future 6.0 version of the operating system. The plan is for Windows NT 6.0 to span the gamut from handheld devices to the most powerful supercomputers on the planet. Edmund Muth, Microsoft group product manager for Windows NT, said that NT 6.0--or features currently planned for that release--would be made available "over the next two to three years." For the most part, the company is concerned with scaling up, not down.

"Clustering and SMP \[symmetric multiprocessing\] will get much more intertwined technologically, so that there will be boxes that, from some points of view, one might think of them as clusters and some might think of them as SMP machines," Muth said. "One of our big interests is to provide a richer system infrastructure around and through clustering."

A future release of Microsoft Cluster Server will be tuned for parallel processing so that Windows NT applications can be partitioned over multiple servers.

"Once you have that base in place, in the operating system and the SQL Server, you can scale to extraordinary levels and make partitioning more granular and throw hardware at \[computing tasks\]," Muth said. "The objective here is to put a layer of software abstraction to insulate the application developer from the underlying platforms.