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Desk-Side Supercomputing Is Poised to Revolutionize Automotive Design and Engineering

High-performance computing (HPC) — once confined to CIA code-breaking and Pentagon war games before making inroads into large mainframe computer rooms at automotive companies — is about to become as readily available to auto designers and engineers as laptop programs. Experts in the field declare the auto industry is entering a period of profound transformation, in which HPC capabilities will be at the desk-side of those who innovate and test consumer vehicles, rather than confined to large, expensive and time-consuming centralized computer-room operations.

With the introduction of Microsoft(R) Windows(R) Compute Cluster Server 2003, HPC will help the automotive industry implement brand-new methods to help achieve the following goals:

— Predict and prevent defects
— Improve collaboration
— Automate previously complex and arcane systems
— Gather real-time information from vehicles on the road

Demand for HPC is being driven by a combination of increased performance in processors per compute node, low acquisition price per node, and the overall price and performance of compute clusters. These trends are driving new customers to adopt HPC to replace or supplement live, physical experiments with computer-simulated modeling, tests and analysis.

In a white paper released today at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., experts from Microsoft Corp. and the HPC sector offered predictions regarding the way HPC will be used with the availability of compute clusters — a collection of small servers that can be accessed from desktop or laptop computers. According to the white paper “Desk-Side Supercomputing,” this technology has the potential to slash the total cost of ownership to just a few thousand dollars, enables engineers to get results in a fraction of the time previously required, and helps products get to market more quickly.

“Throughout the auto industry, desk-side computing is empowering people to become ready for entirely new approaches to design, safety and profitability,” said John Fikany, vice president of the U.S. Manufacturing Industries at Microsoft. “We’ve harnessed a tremendous new energy source for creativity, collaboration and cost reduction, and to try to estimate its ultimate potential would be akin to trying to estimate the power of the human mind.”

Predictions for Applying Desk-Side Supercomputing to the Auto Industry

Until now, the expense and complexity of using HPC during design phases often has prohibited engineers from finding faults with components or systems until vehicles are on the road. Now, affordable desk-side compute clusters allow the use of HPC systems to test the performance of virtually any component in a virtual environment.

Experts also predict that the auto industry will take on a greater role in developing alternative fuels — once only in the purview of oil, gas and chemical companies — by analyzing the impact of design on fuel performance and of a fuel’s chemical composition on vehicle performance.

HPC is likely to significantly expand the testing of nonlinear designs, such as the actions of springs and foam cushioning, and allow safety-equipment manufacturers to advance from two-stage airbags to airbags with 20 or more stages.

Telematics will finally be able to fulfill their potential with desk-side HPC. Industry researchers expect automakers to begin monitoring hundreds of systems in each vehicle and gathering the information sent back to them to diagnose and predict problems. Original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) even will be able to poll specific cars and trucks from a particular “batch,” as in a clinical trial, to narrow down warranty issues and recalls to the precise vehicles affected.

Here are some of the other near-term predictions from leaders in the automotive field that are contained in the white paper:

— Engineers will be able to create designs that reduce manufacturing,
assembly and operational variations — the slight differences in
dimensions or material properties that can affect quality.
— Automakers and suppliers will be able to determine how a change in one
system may affect the performance of other systems.
— Consumer preferences will be more readily integrated with design.
— With the ability to exchange complex files simply among PCs,
collaboration will improve significantly.
— Computational jobs will be submitted through the Web as a matter of
course, with results shared through portals.
— Processes that once required a doctorate will be automated and
accessible to employees with a lesser degree.
— Templates will become more commonplace as designers work to create a
new component.
— Results of computations will be displayed graphically, with desk-side
HPC used for presentations that are much more comprehensive and
understandable than today’s numerical offerings.

Although other compute-cluster systems have been introduced over the past few years, the Microsoft Windows system is easier to deploy than were earlier solutions, integrates seamlessly with other Windows-based solutions automakers already are using, and is easily supported by the vast community of developers that understands the Windows environment.

In a June 2006 study, the analyst firm IDC found that clusters now account for more than half of the technical computing market, up from one-third in 2004, and that companies are purchasing HPC clusters because of price, performance, improved system throughput and lower total cost of ownership.

With Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, Microsoft is propelling HPC technology into the mainstream by bringing the cost advantages, ease of use and a partner ecosystem of the Windows Server(R) platform to departments and divisions in the automotive industry.

About Microsoft Automotive and Industrial Equipment Solution Group

Microsoft has been working with the automotive industry for more than a decade. In manufacturing, Microsoft works with industry-leading partners to develop solutions based on Microsoft technologies that enable OEMs, suppliers and customers to improve efficiency, effectiveness and knowledge across the business. Through business applications, .NET technologies and enterprise platform support, manufacturers are able to accelerate time to market, collaborate globally with engineers, reduce costs by leveraging the power of the Internet, and increase visibility into their production and supply chain processes.

>From an in-vehicle technology perspective, Microsoft works with automakers, suppliers, aftermarket manufacturers, service providers and consumers to deliver its leading telematics software platform, Windows Automotive, for building next-generation, intelligent in-car solutions that deliver voice-enabled and connected information, entertainment, communication and services to vehicles.

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