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September, 2013

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

September, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Windows Azure for Research

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    Microsoft Research is pleased to announce a new initiative to help the research community use the cloud to advance scientific discovery. Three years ago, we partnered with researchers to experiment with cloud computing on Windows Azure. The results from these early efforts—many of which are described on our website—have been outstanding. These pioneering projects have cut across disciplines, from bioinformatics to ecology, social network analysis, civil engineering, mobile computing, natural language processing, and more.

    Bringing cloud computing to researchers

    The successes of our early efforts have convinced us of the immense value of using Windows Azure in scientific research. Moreover, they made us determined to do all we can to bring “cloud power” to the broader community of researchers. One reason for our confidence is that the Windows Azure platform has expanded to include a number of fantastic new capabilities. The original Platform as a Service capabilities remain, but Windows Azure now supports persistent Windows and Linux virtual machines; Hadoop services through HDInsight; mobile services support for Windows, Android, and iOS clients; virtual networks and identity management; various database services; Windows Media Services; and programming support for C++, C#, F#, Java, Python, Ruby, and R.

    By taking advantage of the same platform that thousands of our commercial customers—and we at Microsoft Research—rely on, scientists can accelerate the speed and dissemination of scientific discovery.

    Science is at an inflection point where the challenges of dealing with massive amounts of data and the growing requirements of distributed multidisciplinary collaborations make moving to the Windows Azure cloud extremely attractive. This is true for the individual researcher who does not want to manage local physical infrastructure and for large teams that need to share their discovery resources and services with the larger research community.

    Many researchers from many scientific disciplines are ready to benefit from the flexibility and convenience of the cloud. We look forward to supporting them by launching a program called Windows Azure for Research.

    Windows Azure for Research has four components:

    • Windows Azure for Research Awards Program: We will be accepting proposals for sizable grants of Windows Azure resources. We expect to make up to 100 of these awards each year. The awards will be for individual projects or for community efforts to host scientific data and services. There will be calls for special topics that we will publish periodically on the Azure4Research.com website. We will be accepting proposals continuously and making awards six times a year. The first deadline is October 15, 2013, and the first set of awards will be announced two weeks after that date. Learn more.
    • Training: Starting September 2013, we will begin a series of 20 or more worldwide training events designed specifically for scientific researchers. Learn more.
    • Technical resources and curriculum will be available online and we have additional programs for professors to teach cloud computing in their classes.
    • Research community engagements: We will sponsor an annual Windows Azure for Research workshop and will participate in existing scientific gatherings. We believe that building community is the best way to encourage people to share techniques, ideas, and discoveries.

    Microsoft Research’s commitment is to support the scientific community to build and use cloud-based data collections and tools that will drive new discoveries and create new and innovative scenarios for using cloud computing. We are encouraged by many of the new open-source scientific tools that are now available on Windows Azure and we are eager to see more being built and distributed in the year ahead. In short, we are extremely excited to engage with the research community on this endeavor.

    Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Encouraging the next generation of women in computing

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    Although computer science is poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, to the point where today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female. 

    As I speak with young women around the world, I continue to find that their disinterest stems from a lack of familiarity with the exciting and impactful career possibilities in computing. The obvious remedy is to expose more young women to the professional opportunities in computer science. This has been my personal mission, and I am pleased to be surrounded by amazing young women who evangelize computer science as a field in which women can make their mark.

    she++ logoOne such “evangelist” is Microsoft intern Ayna Agarwal, a student at Stanford University. In January 2012, Ayna co-founded she++, a community that seeks to inspire women’s involvement in computer science. she++ sponsored Stanford's first conference on women in technology in April 2012, an event that attracted more than 250 attendees and hosted a lineup of inspirational women engineers, including employees of such Bay Area tech firms as Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Pinterest. After positive feedback from attendees, mentors, and the press, the she++ conference has become an annual event at Stanford, one of many initiatives that she++ sponsors in its effort to create momentum for female technologists.

    I was extremely excited to join with Ayna to co-host Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation—she++ and Microsoft Research, on August 28. This event featured two panels: the first comprised of female interns who are on the forefront of the next generation of computer scientists, and the second consisting of top technical women from Microsoft who are driving innovation and change across the company.

    Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Priya Ganesan, and Amy Lin (pictured left to right)
    Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Amy Lin and Priya Ganesan (pictured left to right)

    You can now view the event on-demand. And while you’re in video-watching mode, you might want to take a look at the she++ documentary video and the Microsoft Research Bridging the Gender Gap video, both of which highlight  efforts to increase the presence of women in computing. In addition, I encourage all you girls (and boys) to try out these free tools that can teach you how to program and help you explore computer science: Kodu, Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer, Pex for Fun, and TouchDevelop.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education, Microsoft Research Connections

     

    I was extraordinarily excited to join forces with Microsoft Research to bring together generations of female programmers to share their stories, and I hope that the on-demand video of “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation” will expose even more young women to the tremendous possibilities in computer science.

    Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.
    Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.

    Three years ago, I entered Stanford as a dreamer, planning to change the face of global health through veterinarian medicine. However, I soon tired of the preparatory science classes and of feeling tethered to the vet hospital. I still wanted to have big impact on the world, but I wasn’t sure how.

    Then I took my first computer science class and fell in love with the problem-solving mindset. Moreover, I soon realized that technology had the ability to touch the lives of millions, offering new communication and productivity tools and entertaining toys, serving as a means to unravel the biggest crimes, providing protection via mobile phones in developing countries—the possibilities are endless.

    I became convinced that the full potential of tech is yet to be discovered. Yet a couple months prior to that first class, I had no idea that computer science was even a discipline, or that large companies and startups were built entirely around bringing technology to life. I had never even conceived of the possibilities.

    I realized that my ignorance about computer science derived in large measure from the lack of role models sharing their stories. So I created she++ to be a community of voices of those technologists: the ones who are breaking the boundaries and incorporating their interests into the field.

    she++ soon evolved into a personal mission to embolden and enrich the possibility of technology. I aim to provide an inspiration for all types of people, with every interest, encouraging them to take a peek and enroll in their first programming class. The future of the world lies in tech, and we need more people, with unique perspectives, than we’re training today to work in the industry. I hope that the joint Microsoft Research and she++ event entices girls everywhere to take their first programming class—and to realize they can have big impact in this world with technology.

    —Ayna Agarwal, student at Stanford University and summer intern at Microsoft

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    Fun with programming

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New cloud computing training for researchers worldwide

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    As part of our Windows Azure for Research program, announced on September 9, Microsoft Research is facilitating cloud training classes designed to show researchers how Windows Azure can accelerate their research.

    Cloud computing technical training for researchers

    As the global training coordinator for this program, I’m pleased to announce the first of these worldwide classes has been scheduled for September 16–17 at the University of Washington, in Seattle, co-hosted with the university’s eScience Institute. This will be followed by courses in October in Campinas, Brazil, and Beijing, China, with subsequent events scheduled across the globe. We will modify the full schedule as courses are added, so keep checking for updates!

    Windows Azure is an open and flexible global cloud platform supporting any language, tool, or framework, and is ideally suited to the needs of researchers across disciplines. After attending our intensive technical course, researchers should feel confident in applying cloud computing in their current and future investigations.

    This two-day course is offered free of charge, presented by trainers who specialize in Windows Azure for research. Attendees will be able to access Windows Azure on their own laptops during the training and, for evaluation purposes, for up to six months after the event. The attendee’s laptop does not need to have the Windows operating system installed, as Windows Azure is accessed via your Internet browser.

    The course is intended specifically for active scientists who are interested in coding in a modern computing context, as well as for computer scientists who are working with such researchers. This is a hands-on class, so some ability to program in a modern language is useful, but the course is suitable for researchers using any language, framework, or platform. This includes Linux, Python, R, MATLAB, Java, Hadoop, STORM, SPARK, and all appropriate Microsoft technologies, such as C#, F#, .NET, Windows Azure SQL Database, and various Windows Azure services. Some basic exposure to cloud computing is helpful, but no real expertise or usage experience is required; the focus of the class is to teach you this.

    The training outcomes of the course include:

    • Gaining an understanding of cloud computing and why and when you would use it in research
    • Acquiring hands-on experience in the major design patterns for successful cloud applications
    • Developing the skills to run your own application or services on Windows Azure

    Review the full course description (PDF 561 KB), which includes the schedule, intended audience, prerequisites, and learning objectives.

    If you would like to attend one of these courses, please follow the instructions on Windows Azure for Research Training. You will be sent a registration link if space is available in the session. Spaces are limited, so potential attendees are encouraged to register early.

    If you can’t find a course in a location near you, we will consider suggestions—you can find instructions for submitting your suggestions on the same webpage. We can’t promise to provide a course in your requested location, but we will consider all requests. Moreover, if there is sufficient interest, an online version of the training may be created.

    We look forward to seeing how scientists and researchers use cloud computing in their research!

    Stewart Tansley, Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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