Monday, July 30, 2007

Gettin' Griddy Wit It on .NET Rocks!

I can't resist a Will Smith reference, especially when it comes from the keyboard of one of the esteemed .NET digirati--in this case, Richard Campbell, co-host of .NET Rocks!

Last April, Carl and Richard interviewed me to find out about this new-fangled "grid computing for .NET" thing I kept babbling about. It was a blast (and totally made me want to do that for a living)--and I found out that Richard is not only a .NET guru, but also a closet SETI@Home fan (and when I say "closet" fan, I mean he's got a closet filled with water-cooled, over-clocked machines!).

Well, it's been a year and we decided it was time to update the world on what's happening in the land of grid. It's been a big year for Digipede, we have an upcoming release, and we just won a big award...there was plenty to talk about.

As usual, the interview passed in a blur--these guys are so darn good at what they do--but I don't think I had any huge gaffes. In fact, Carl invited me (on air!) to do an episode of dnrTV (which means I can hold him to it).

If you're doing .NET development and you don't already subscribe to their podcast, you should. They both blog, too; subscribe here and here.

And in any case, make sure you listen to tomorrow's show!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Enterprise: It's the other HPC

My recent post debating the merits of Windows Compute Cluster Server as an operating system concentrated on cost and ease of use. However, the concentration on those two factors to the exclusion of other, often more important, factors was unfortunate.

Because for most of our customers, neither cost nor ease of use is what's driving their platform choice.

Robert Anderson alluded to this as he yawned about my post: "And Dan doesn’t even mention the developer-productivity story..."

Rob hints one of the major reasons that makes our customers choose this platform: Microsoft has a cutting-edge platform of development tools, and they are continuing to add and innovate. In fact, in this arena, it feels like their rate of innovation is increasing. .NET continues to improve with .NET 3 out (with WCF, WPF, and Windows Workflow) and .NET 3.5 on the way. Visual Studio 2008 will be out this year, and they're also doing great things with Iron Python (open sourced, I might add) and PLINQ.

The other major reason has less to do with the current state of the art as the history: many of our customers have a huge code base that runs on Windows. Especially in finance, these guys have been buying and developing software on this platform for at least a decade and a half. And, like many enterprise customers, they're still running some pretty darn old code. And, like many enterprise customers, they use many third party applications and libraries.

So when it comes time for them to buy a cluster, the cost in changing operating system for a new cluster is much larger than the cost of the OS, the cost of installing that OS, and the cost of managing that OS.

The much, much larger cost would be to change those back-end systems, to rewrite or port a generation's worth of code, and to retrain new developers.

So when I hear people say things like "ISVs aren't sure about clusters of Windows machines, so they're not porting yet" I can tell immediately that the person is talking about the traditional HPC world. A world where clusters were UNIX and are now Linux, and the software that runs on them the same.

That's a different world than where I come from--an enterprise software world, where most applications are running on Windows, where the most common application of all is Excel, and where it would require a port to move to another OS.

As always, I'm not criticizing either world. They just are. Lots of people are developing in .NET, lots of people have loads of COM applications, and with ever increasing data volumes they need distributed computing to do it. Compute Cluster Server is one thing that's helping them get it done.

Photo credit: rosevita via MorgueFile

Technorati tags: ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yet another poof piece

Joe Landman over at has another "poof" piece up about Compute Cluster Server. Why is it a poof piece? Because when you examine his logic, it goes up in smoke.

First, let me make it clear: Joe has serious chops. His company makes terrific, screamingly fast storage products. And he has vast knowledge and experience in HPC.

However, when it comes to Microsoft, he also has a chip on his shoulder the size of the Upper Peninsula--and that lets some faulty logic into his many posts he devotes to ripping on CCS.

In his latest, he compares acquisition costs of clusters with Linux and CCS (note he doesn't try to make any TCO comparisons, perhaps because he's read the independent studies that show Windows is cheaper in the long run).

Joe quite correctly notes that Windows Server is a commercial OS that costs money; no secret there--Microsoft charges money for software. I'm not sure if the $469 is correct for volume purchases, but it's probably close enough.

But then he starts adding spurious costs...

As the size of the system scales, so do per unit costs. In the case of windows, the $469/unit cost means that a moderate 16 node system + head node + file server adds another $8500 to the purchase cost. Not to mention the yearly additional costs of the OS support, the necessary per node anti-virus, the necessary per node anti-spam … That would add in another about $1500 or so. So call it an addition $10,000 per 16 node cluster.
I'm not going to debate the OS costs, but anti-spam? On a cluster?

Our customers don't let their clusters have a peep at the internet. Even within their networks, access is strictly controlled. No need to waste time and money on anti-spam on those nodes, and to pretend that they do need it is just silly. As I said before, Joe's a really smart guy: he doesn't need to fall back on specious arguments like this.

Another strange argument Joe makes is
Meanwhile we are left with the indelible impression of a small market segment (CCS) that is not growing as fast as the cluster market as a whole (which means it may be shrinking in relative terms).
It's unclear exactly what he's trying to say. Is it that Windows servers aren't selling? Unlikely, since according to, not only is Windows server revenue triple Linux server revenue, it's also growing faster.

Maybe he was saying that the growth in HPC isn't in the small market segment...but that isn't true, either. According to IDC, the greatest growth in the HPC market is in the capacity (under $1,000,000) segment.

He goes one step further when he compares ease-of-use: he compares a one-line shell command (to list the tasks on a node) with a 30-line PowerShell script to point out how much easier Linux clusters are to manage. It's a faulty comparison, and Joe knows it. He chose a script that iterates through every node on a cluster, writing out all sorts of information about the node and the tasks currently running on it. He's comparing one apple to a bag of oranges, and complaining that the oranges are too heavy.

The fact that PowerShell is available for Compute Cluster Server is a very good thing--Windows has long lacked powerful scripting tools (I'm sure Joe will back me up on that), and PowerShell combines a good scripting tool with .NET functionality. Will it absolutely save keystrokes over comparable Linux tools? Beats me. Maybe not. But it will make it far easier to integrate CCS clusters with other .NET resources, and that's a huge thing for shops with Microsoft expertise in house.

Ah, Microsoft expertise. That's my final point.

In concentrating on acquisition cost and ignoring total cost of ownership, Joe is ignoring the thing that is selling the most CCS clusters: people who are already managing many Windows servers can easily manage CCS clusters.

The largest market for CCS is not organizations that have UNIX or Linux clusters. People who already have Linux expertise are already buying Linux clusters--Linux and UNIX have dominated the HPC space.

The people who are buying CCS clusters are people who don't have Linux experience. They've got Windows desktops. They've got Windows servers. They've got Active Directory and SharePoint and loads of .NET developers. And they want to add a cluster. What's the natural way for them to do that? Windows. I'm not going to try to pretend that CCS is objectively better than or easier than Linux--I think that depends on your personal experience and expertise. But, remember that outside of HPC, Linux's market penetration is very, very small. And not everyone finds it easy.

So for a small to medium size business (or a department within a large business looking at a cluster), add this cost in to your Linux cluster acquisition: the $100,000 you'll have to pay to hire a decent IT guy to run an OS you've never seen. Wow. TCO just got a lot higher for that cluster.

That's why CCS is valuable. Not because it's necessarily "better." Not because it's necessarily "easier."

Because it's familiar. Because it is very easy to integrate into a corporate infrastructure that already has so many Microsoft products. That's why Microsoft insists that CCS is bringing HPC to the masses.

I know Joe understands this--he's written well reasoned posts on the topic before. But when Joe starts making such specious arguments as he makes in this post, he's no better than the "marketing types" he derides.

Look, I'm not deriding Linux as an OS, or as an HPC OS. It's been very successful, and it will continue to have success. The fact is: if you're using UNIX or Linux, it probably doesn't make sense to port to Windows.

But if you're already using Windows, it certainly doesn't make sense to port to Linux.

Update 2007-07-17 4:39pm: John West at insideHPC has a much more balanced look and honest critique of the same article. I encourage you to check it out. Also, I forgot to include a link to the article Joe was writing about over at Search Data Center.

Update 2007-07-23 10:45am:
Joe responded to my post (and another at insideHPC that appeared before mine) with a three of long, well-thought out posts.

I'm updating this rather than adding a new post (because neither of us wants his blog to become a series of posts about this subject only).

First of all, I'm sorry about my "Upper Peninsula" joke, Joe. I was attempting to make a joke (and take into account your state of residence)--if it came across as an ad hominem attack, I failed in my attempt.

Secondly, Joe did a TON of research into the "independent" TCO study I linked to. As it turns out, its data gathering and data analysis methods were suspect. I admit to lazy research: I did one Google search, read the summary, and linked. Joe summed it up nicely: "Try not to buy into such studies without thoroughly understanding them, and their limitations, and their applicability to your situation. Doing otherwise will leave you with egg on your face. Lets call this one done."

Third, he spends a long time acidly agreeing that I was correct about server growth (Microsoft server sales are growing faster than Linux). Remember, Microsoft is growing faster on much larger sales, meaning their absolute growth is much larger than Linux's. Also, please remember that I'm not trying to say "Linux is dead"--I was simply trying to refute Joe's assertion that "we are left with the indelible impression of a small market segment (CCS) that is not growing as fast as the cluster market as a whole (which means it may be shrinking in relative terms)." In your words, Joe, you were "wrong, so very wrong."

Fourth, he mentions the Mono project. I love the Mono project--Miguel de Icaza has a great thing going there--and I wish it were farther along. I wish Microsoft and Novell would put their "partnership" to good work, and fund this thing to completion. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn't stepped up to the plate (I'm sure the internal politics are huge). This is a case where I think Microsoft is missing the boat. I can't wait until they wake up and heartily endorse this thing.

Finally, apples-to-apples: Joe defends his apples-to-oranges comparison of a command line tool with a scripting tool! If you want terse command line tools to work with CCS, then use the command line tools. He seems to think that PowerShell is the only way to interact with CCS, and it's just not. And if you prefer to use a third party tool like LSF, Platform sure claims it works on CCS. This is the thing I don't get. In the sake of being unbiased, Joe did hours of valuable research into the TCO studies--then complained about how complicated PowerShell was, as if he was unaware of the existence of CCS's command-line tools and hadn't done a 2-second Google search. It gives away his bias.

Joe was obviously ticked off by this post (which he called a "fisking," a term that I wasn't familiar with). My entire point was that Windows fits well for some people, Linux for others. As outlandish as that position may be, I maintain it's true.

Photo Credit: Kenn Kiser
Technorati tags: ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Worldwide Partner Conference Wrap-up

John is taking some well-earned time off and has passed the WWPC-blogging mantle to me, so I'll do the wrap-up post.

As I alluded to in my previous post, the most rewarding part of a Partner Conference is the chance to meet with so many Microsofties in one place.

Of course, the keynotes were fun and flashy (and, for at least the third year in a row, the music was provided by the incomparable EB Fraley band—that guy has become the “other” face of the partner conference). They’re usually pretty darn rah-rah, and there is much to rah about this year (again). As Don Dodge noted last year, Microsoft is growing by approximately one Google per year. It’s phenomenal. Windows Server is not only selling more than Linux, it’s also growing faster than Linux. BizTalk sales were up 30% last year. We didn’t get any firm numbers (the fiscal year just ended), but they’re optimistic about another banner year.

Most of that cheering and backslapping about sales is to get the partners excited about selling more Microsoft products (96% of Microsoft sales happen through partners, and each dollar of Microsoft license is accompanied on average by about fifteen dollars of partner revenue—how’s that for an enormous ecosystem?). But for an ISV, that stuff isn’t as compelling as the sessions.

My favorite session was Chris Bernard and Chris Treadway’s session on Silverlight. Very impressive technology, and it was cool to see a bit of code. I would like to have seen a bit more, but then again I suppose I should have gone to TechEd if I wanted to see code. Wilhelmina Duyvestyn gave a good session on Windows Server 2008 (informative enough that I’ll do a separate post on that product later).

But, as I’ve said, the real value was in the networking. We went to a dinner for the ISV Award finalists, where John sat with Dan’l Lewin of the Emerging Business Team while I sat next to Justine White who manages marketing for the ISV Group. Chris Olsen and Naseem Tuffaha of the ISV sales and marketing team were there, too. We went to a reception sponsored by Ansys and Mathworks, and ran into Dieter Mai and Travis Hatmaker from the HPC Team. We stayed at the same hotel as Amy Lucia and her team—she’s the director of marketing for US ISV Strategy.

John had a 30 minute sit-down with Andy Lees, who heads up the Servers and Tools division. I ran into Gianpaolo Carraro, SaaS Architect, at the ISV party.

Add those Microsoft meetings the countless encounters with partners—at meals, on buses, every where you turn.

John has complained many times about how difficult it is to use the partner online tools. It’s hard to find partners, it’s hard to find sales, it’s hard to do just about anything. But the three days of the Worldwide Partner Conference make all of that easy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll end with it now: anyone serious about working in this ecosystem simply can’t miss this conference.

Technorati tags: ,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Owe Allison Watson Lunch

Ok, not really. But if I run into her this year, I'll offer to buy her lunch.

Last year's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference was a logistical nightmare. The city of Boston just didn't seem capable of hosting 10,000 people: the 2-mile bus ride to the hotel routinely took an hour, and the convention center simply could not feed everyone (I went three consecutive days without getting lunch, which I blogged about in a post famously titled "Allison Watson Owes Me Lunch.")

This year, however, is night-and-day in comparison. Logistically, everything here has gone just about perfectly. The buses run frequently and quickly. The food in the convention center is not only abundant, but actually good. There are snacks (both healthy and unhealthy) available constantly.

And the city of Denver has definitely played great hosts. The employees at the convention center greet us with friendly smiles everywhere. This morning as we walked in to breakfast, they were actually cheering us in (I kept thinking, "Did Margo Day put them up to this?").

Even when the logistics suck like last year, Worldwide Partner Conference is worth attending for any Microsoft partner. I'll have one more WPC post where I'll talk about some of the things I've learned, but suffice it to say: the content is always good.

More important than the content, though, are the contacts. Microsoft sends thousands of people here, from Ballmer on down. They're surprisingly accessible, and they're all here to meet partners. You get good information, and you get good networking.

But when you add in an actual pleasurable experience in a great city, it makes it even more worthwhile. So if I bump in to Allison in the halls of Redmond this year--I'll ask her if she wants me to treat her to lunch! Oh, and Allison: if Denver asks to have us back, tell them yes!

Technorati tags:

The Winners!

t some point in the not-too-distant future, I promise this blog will return to its roots of grid computing and .NET. Lately, I feel like most of my posts have been along the lines of "What's Going on at Digipede."

But this one is just too good to pass up.

Last night we were awarded the "ISV/Software Solutions, Innovation Partner of the Year" at the Microsoft Partner Awards ceremony. In other words, the most innovative software partner.

It was a huge rush and an absolute blast. They do their best to make it a glamorous event, and it felt terrific to get this acknowledgment from the folks in Redmond. They are very excited about what we're doing.

Congratulations to the team back at Digipede HQ--especially the guys over in development, who have worked so hard on this product.

Technorati tags: ,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CRN Article: Digipede is an "ISV You Must Know"

This hit the interwebs a couple of days ago, but I've been traveling and have fallen behind on my feed reading. But this was a great surprise!

Barbara Darrow of CRN published an article called "25 ISVs You Must Know." It's a list of 25 companies developing on the Microsoft platform that, well, in her words, you must know!

I was excited to see that we made the list (see page 2). And I was even more excited to read the quotes she got from one of our systems integrator partners, West Monroe Partners:

West Monroe Partners, a Chicago-based consultancy, is fully aboard. "The ability of this product to accelerate application performance for our customers is tremendous," said Nathan Ulery, technology solutions practice leader at West Monroe Partners.

The consultancy's first implementation required two days of training and a day of setup at the customer site. In that time, they "grid-enabled" the client's component that performed myriad complex transactions.
That's the kind of thing we've been saying for a couple of years now--get your grid up and running in a day, and get apps running in just a couple of days. We've had many customers experience the exact same thing: developers adapt their .NET apps to run on the grid in a matter of hours, not a matter of weeks. But many of our customers are too secretive to say this kind of thing in public.

So thanks to Barbara for the mention and thanks to Nate Ulery for the great quote!

Tonight John and I will attend the Microsoft Partner Awards dinner--and we'll find out if we got the ISV Innovation Partner of the Year Award. More on that, and on some of the announcements we've heard here at the Worldwide Partner Conference, later.

Update 4:54pm: Wandering around here at WWPC, I just realized that this article is a big feature in a handout here called SolutionsInc. Fun to see this kind of stuff in print!

Technorati tags: ,