Have you ever played with Microsoft Movie Maker, or any of the other programs out there designed for creating and editing home movies? If so, you probably have spent several hours waiting; waiting for video to complete its rendering process. Rendering is the process of converting mulitple, individual video and audio clips into a single file (typically a movie), which must be accomplished one frame at a time (29.5 frames per second of video).
Microsoft is about to release a new Version of Windows Server 2003 that could potentially change the waiting landscape for enthusiats and small time video professionals alike. The Micorosoft Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster edition is built on an open source standard, called Message Passing Interface (MPI), that allows multiple machines in a cluster to work together at solving complex mathematical problems (typically fluid dynamics, or weather modeling or the like). However, just about any process can be made parallel, including video rendering.
Imagine a small compute environment with a single domain controller (Required for the compute cluster's security model and network infrastructure), handful of video editing workstations, and a 16-node compute cluster (2 processors per node with 2-4 GB of RAM each). Upon completing the editing work performed on any of the individual workstations, the rendering process is offloaded to the cluster farm and a video that used to take 6 hours to fully render, end-to-end, now completes in 12 minutes. This is possible because the workload is divided across 32 procesors, instead of the single processor on the individual workstations. And the process to the end user would be as simple as submitting a print job to a server-based print queue.
There's no telling what types of ideas Microsoft or our partner community will devise to take better advantage of Compute Cluster server, but when you think about many of the complex tasks that even home-based users involve themselves with, such as video editing, it starts to look more feasible that computing power once reserved for governments and large corporations could become mainstream for many of us.
More information about the Compute Cluster server edition can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/ccs/default.mspx.