FAQ: How is Windows HPC Server different from Windows Server Standard?

Some common questions from the field include "What applications can I run on Windows HPC?" and "How is Windows HPC Server different from Windows Server Standard?".

1) The short answer is Windows HPC Server is the same as Windows Server Standard except the following differences: HPC Server (a) is only available in 64-bit versions; (b) adds the HPC Pack i.e. cluster utilities including the cluster manager, the job queue, the HPC runtimes, etc.; but (c) disables IIS, Sharepoint, Exchange, MSSQL because the special licensing for HPC is for computational workload. 

Other features of Windows Server Standard continue to function, such as Active Directory Domain Services, Terminal Services, etc.. to support the administration and operation of your cluster.  And third party applications that are certified on Windows Server will run identically on Windows Server HPC unless they require IIS, Exchange, or MSSQL on the same machine. 

For applications that need to access a full unrestricted Windows Server Standard or Enterprise Edition, you should purchase the full OS and add a "HPC Pack".  For a detailed explanation of the SKU families, please read on.

2) Let us review the different SKUs.  There are 4 basic SKU families related to Windows HPC.  (Within each family, you may find variations depending on your OS language choice and depending on whether you include software assurance, etc..)  These 4 basic SKU families are:

  1. HPC Server

  2. HPC Server OS

  3. HPC Pack

  4. HPC SDK

3) The "HPC Server" SKU family is the recommended SKU because it includes both the OS and HPC utilities.  In other words, "HPC Server" = "HPC Server OS" + "HPC Pack".

4) The "HPC Server OS" is identical to "Windows Server OS Standard" only with further restrictions, as explained by the HPC FAQ from http://www.microsoft.com/hpc/en/us/faq.aspx

Both Windows HPC Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 HPC Edition are licensed solely for running clustered HPC (high performance computing) applications. Clustered HPC applications solve complex computational problems or a set of closely related computational problems in parallel, typically using several servers as a group (or cluster). You may run the server software for the primary purpose of running clustered HPC applications, and in conjunction with other software only as necessary to permit security, storage, performance enhancement, and systems management of any devices in the cluster when running the other software on a cluster node for the sole and dedicated purpose of supporting the clustered HPC applications.

You may not use the server software for any other purpose. For example, except as permitted in above, you may not use the server software as a general purpose server, database server, Web server, e-mail server, print server, or file server.

The restrictions are implemented in software.  In practice, that means if you try to activate the Windows services for IIS, MSSQL, Exchange, you will encounter errors and these services will fail to start.  Terminal services will continue to work to support cluster administration, but terminal services gateway will not function because the dependent IIS service will not start.  FTP will also fail because it also depends on IIS.  Active directory domain services will continue to function to support domain and security administrations.

5) "HPC Pack" includes the actual cluster utilities that make Windows Server a productive cluster platform.  It includes the cluster management console, the cluster node management services, and the client-side runtime.  In other words, you need this on your cluster head node, and on every compute node that is part of the cluster, as well as on every workstation or desktop which needs the client runtime to connect to the cluster. 

  • For compute nodes, the recommended SKU is to purchase "HPC Server" which has already incorporated "HPC Pack". 

  • For head nodes the "HPC Server" SKU generally suffices.  But for head nodes in failover configuration, Windows Server Enterprise is required and you will have to license Windows Server Enterprise plus HPC Pack for both head nodes. 

  • For workstations and desktops requiring the client runtime, HPC Pack needs to be licensed.

6) "HPC SDK" includes the header files and libraries needed to develop applications targeting HPC Server.  This is a free download.  You need to install this file to compile MSMPI programs, programs that compile against the HPC scheduler.

06 Mar 2009, Kenneth Young

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