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Page last updated at 19:15 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Ferrari test drives supercomputing

As computer power goes up and costs come down more and more firms are turning to small-scale supercomputers to help them get the job done. David Reid visited Ferrari's headquarters in Maranello, Italy as it put Microsoft's high performance software through its paces.

Ferrari wheel
Car design is being streamlined by high performance computers
Supercomputers are traditionally thought of as a bookish breed, hiding themselves away in universities puzzling over astronomical data or decoding genomes.

But in 2000 the list of the world's leading supercomputers revealed an interesting trend.

More than half of the top 500 supercomputers in the world were in the service of businesses.

The trend appears to be continuing, so much so that Microsoft has moved into the market with a version of Windows for what it calls High Performance Computing (HPC).

Common platform

Microsoft has teamed up with high performance car manufacturer Ferrari to promote the software giant's goal of bringing supercomputing to the masses.

"Traditionally, HPC has been utilised by the most specialised markets and specialised users," said Vince Mendillo, director of HPC marketing at Microsoft.

"By having a common platform like Windows, that is capable of doing this high performance computing and number crunching and dealing with large data sets," he said. "Now more and more computer problems can be solved by a larger population of people who traditionally wouldn't have access to that technology."

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Windows HPC Server 2008 already runs on the Cray's CX1 hardware that was unveiled in September. It is reported that units from HP, IBM and Dell will follow.

Supercomputing software delegates, distributes and schedules complex calculations across the stacks of processors.

Microsoft's declared aim is not to compete with Linux as the supercomputer operating system, but to offer the market an OS that works well with the Windows customers are likely to be already using.

Streamlining

Ferrari is keen to use the smaller supercomputers because it hopes they will help it speed up car production.

Like so many products, high performance cars were once handcrafted and took an age to get through the processes of design, testing and manufacture.

Now the design process is streamlined by high performance computers which speed the pathway from drawing board to road or race-track.

This means car designers can increase turnover and profits by using computer simulation in place of research tools such as wind tunnels, which can cost a fortune in time, manpower and money.

"We simulate the flow of the wind outside the car and the engine simulation, so the flow of the gases inside the engine," said Piergiorgio Grossi, head of IT at Ferrari.

"We want to do more with less, even in Formula One, because budgets are not increasing, and you know about the financial crisis," he said. "We want to carefully use all of the resources that we have to do as much as we can."

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