Microsoft and EMC are getting into the cluster and grid computing game. Microsoft in November introduced the second beta of its Windows Compute Cluster Server, while EMC earlier this month announced the acquisition of middleware software from Axciom which manages, provisions and automatically reconfigures server grids.Microsoft Compute Cluster Server is scheduled to ship sometime this year. It consists of a series of tools: the MPICH2 message passing interface, the Internet Connection Sharing technology, Remote Installation Service and Active Directory authentication and Microsoft Management Console - all installed on a Windows 2003 server. MPICH2 was developed at Argonne National Laboratory, the site of the early grid computing work.EMC recently announced that it had acquired grid middleware technology from Acxiom - a $1.3 billion provider of managed services - to bolster the storage company's information management and utility computing strategy.The technology, which runs Axciom's grid-like business intelligence analysis managed service, is EMC's 13th acquisition in the last 36 months. EMC also announced last week that it had acquired Internosis, a Microsoft application-focused services firm.Axciom uses a concept called hive or grid computing in which dozens of computers are grouped to form a larger supercomputer. Jobs are processed by assigning individual tasks to separate computers in the hive. The software that runs this grid is the middleware software that EMC acquired from Axciom for $30 million.EMC's entry into grid computing has been quiet, unlike those of Sun, which touts its Sun Grid service, and IBM with its On-Demand Computing initiative. EMC has gathered considerable knowledge of grid computing with the hiring of Ian Baird from Platform Computing to become CTO for EMC's Grid and Utility Computing Solutions, and recruited Jeff Nick, who was formerly involved with IBM's On-Demand initiative, as CTO."The competitive big guys such as IBM, Sun and HP have already made plays in this space so EMC needed to be able to have some expertise around grid computing," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group. "With VMware creating virtual machines, the next step is for EMC to offer a virtual data center."EMC's acquisition of VMware, a company that provides server virtualization software, will play an increasingly important role in grids as servers in the grid need to be re-provisioned or as applications need to be dynamically migrated from one virtual machine to another to accomplish tasks."Acxiom's software doesn't just carve up physical resources into virtual resources like VMware does," says Brian Babineau, analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group. "It goes another step and can be used to move information around so it can be analyzed and used more efficiently."EMC will work with Acxiom to further develop and co-market its managed service. Before January 2008, EMC and Acxiom will develop a non-hosted software\/hardware bundle called the Business Information Grid (BIG) that can be used by customers to manage any of their own generic data. The BIG bundle will integrate relevant EMC hardware, software and services.Later this year, EMC and Acxiom will deliver beta products that include network management from EMC's SMARTS acquisition, virtualization, information lifecycle management and grid scheduling software, as well as secure access and authentication. For instance, EMC SMARTS technology can be used to automate workflow in information grids.