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A Peek Under Microsoft's Secret 'Bigtop' ! - 12/29/2004 9:22:46 PM   

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Microsoft's skunk-works distributed-computing project will likely debut as a grid-computing platform. But don't expect to see tangibles for a couple more years.

Microsoft officials have said little about the company's intentions in the grid-computing space. But that doesn't mean Microsoft is ignoring the evolving grid/distributed-computing space.

Microsoft is working on a skunk-works project that is code-named Bigtop, which is designed to allow developers to create a set of loosely coupled, distributed operating-systems components in a relatively rapid way, according to sources close to the company, who requested anonymity.

Rather than attempting to tightly couple a few high-performance systems together, Microsoft is looking at the consequences of loosely coupling a larger number of moderately powerful computers to achieve a similar result.

Bigtop's first commercial manifestation will likely be as some kind of large-scale project, most likely a distributed grid-computing operating system, the sources added.

Bigtop is one of Microsoft's incubation projects. It falls under the domain of Craig Mundie, the Microsoft senior vice president and chief technical officer in charge of advanced strategies and policy, sources said.

Bigtop consists of three components, all written in C#, according developers who said they were briefed by Microsoft. These are:

Highwire: Highwire is a technology designed to automate the development of highly parallel applications that distribute work over distributed resources, the aforementioned sources said. Highwire is a programming language/model that will aim to make the testing and compiling of such parallel programs much simpler and more reliable.

Bigparts: Bigparts is code designed to turn inexpensive PC devices into special-purpose servers, according to the sources. Bigparts will enable real-time, device-specific software to be moved off a PC, and instead be managed centrally via some Web-services-like model.

Bigwin: According to sources close to Microsoft, Bigwin sounds like the ultimate manifestation of Microsoft's "software as a service" mantra. In a Bigwin world, applications are just collections of OS services that adhere to certain "behavioral contracts." These OS services can be provided directly by the core OS or even obtained from libraries outside of the core OS.

Sources said Microsoft will likely make some sort of preview version of the Bigtop code available to the company's software-development partners by 2006. If and when the final version debuts, it won't be much before the end of the decade, sources added.

It's not clear whether the Bigtop components will run on top of Windows when they are completed. But sources say that is what they are expecting at this point.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on Bigtop or any of its components.

Microsoft Research (MSR) has been dabbling with a variety of distributed OS-related projects for years.

The MSR "Millennium" team has been investigating new ways to build distributed systems. MSR's Coign group has been pioneering distributed-partitioning-system research.

But neither MSR nor Microsoft proper has talked much publicly about Microsoft's plans for the grid-computing market. MSR officials have hinted that Microsoft is looking into how to apply Web services to the grid space.

Source : Microsoft-Watch
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