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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Bringing cloud computing to researchers and scientists in Asia


    Today’s world is more interconnected than ever. The digital revolution has made it possible to collaborate with colleagues worldwide—which is good news not just for businesses, but also for all fields of scientific research. We’ve also witnessed a tremendous rise in big data analytics—which is making a big impact on how research is conducted.

    These changes have been particularly rapid and powerful in Asia. Today, researchers in Asia are awash in the data deluge, as they, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, strive to organize, analyze, and utilize big data in genetics, urban planning, ecology, and economics, just to name a few areas.

    Microsoft Azure for Research program expands through Asia

    The computing resources required to handle big data can be enormous, often stretching beyond what is available in even a large standalone data center. This is where the computational power and scalability of cloud computing really shines. To help scientific researchers learn how to take advantage of cloud computing, Microsoft Research developed the Microsoft Azure for Research program, which helps researchers harness the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.

    For Microsoft Research Asia, it has been an exciting and inspiring journey to promote Microsoft Azure in the Asia-Pacific region during the past year. One of the most compelling components of the Microsoft Azure for Research program is a series of free training events that are being offered at sites throughout the world. These classes, which are open to researchers and students from universities and nonprofit research laboratories, provide hands-on training on how to use Microsoft Azure to conduct data-intensive science. Participants access Microsoft Azure through a browser on their own laptop (regardless of operating system), as experts guide them through the ins and outs of performing data-intensive research in the cloud. The training content starts with the basics of cloud computing and progresses to advanced topics on the use of Microsoft Azure for research.

    To date, we have held nine of these two-day events in Asia: two in Beijing, two in Taiwan, and one each in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Nanjing. Attendees have included more than 420 of faculty members and graduate students representing a spectrum of scientific disciplines, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the participants, Dr. Guangjun Zhang of Peking University, observed, “the Azure for Research training guided us in becoming familiar with web sites, virtual machines, cloud services, and related topics. It also gave us the opportunity to get answers and advice from experts from Microsoft Research. The training imparted a lot of positive inspiration.” Yohan Chon, a PhD candidate from Yonsei University who attended the training in Korea, commented that the training “was very practical and useful.”

    We plan to hold more Microsoft Azure for Research training events in additional locations in the future. Meanwhile, we are working on the Microsoft Azure for Research Award program, which offers sizable grants of Microsoft Azure resources for worthy proposals. As of now, 34 research proposals from Asia have been selected by the Microsoft Azure global team. We anticipate positive outcomes from these proposals and look forward to continuing to help researchers in the Asia-Pacific region use Microsoft Azure for their research. The deadline for the current round of proposals for Microsoft Azure for Research Awards is Tuesday, April 15; the next submission deadline will be June 15.

    Microsoft Azure is a powerful and highly reliable tool for data-intensive scientific research, and we are extremely pleased to be offering these training events and grants to help researchers tap into the power and efficiency of cloud computing.

    —Tim Pan, UR Director, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Cloud computing charts a path to scientific discovery


    With the rapid rise of data-intensive scientific research—across disciplines and around the globe—scientists in Asia, as elsewhere, face massive computing needs and challenges.

    Mindful of our role in helping scientists turn big data into big discoveries, Beijing-based Microsoft Research Asia has collaborated closely with domestic and international researchers on a wide range of topics, including the environment, data modeling, biological computing, climate change, and urban computing.

    Asia embraces the cloud

    As part of these collaborative efforts, we have worked to help researchers apply Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud-computing platform, to data-intensive scientific research. As Eric Chang, senior director of technology strategy at Microsoft Research Asia, observes, “In this era of big data, cloud computing offers scientists a platform for dealing with massive amounts of data and the growing requirements of distributed, multidisciplinary collaborations to drive new discoveries.” Here, then, are five examples of our collaborative efforts to harness the power of the cloud for scientific research.

    Understanding ecological and hydrologic processes and their interactions in large watersheds is important to a society in need of sustainable freshwater supplies. As part of a major new research program, Professor Chunmiao Zheng and Researcher Guoliang Cao of Peking University are using Microsoft Azure to support comprehensive data processing and numerical modeling of the hydrologic cycle of the Heihe River Basin, and to continue developing cloud computing as a cost-effective solution to large-scale integrated eco-hydrologic modeling.

    Numerical modeling of eco-hydrological processes in the Heihe river basin using Microsoft AzureNumerical modeling of eco-hydrological processes in the Heihe
    River basin using Microsoft Azure

    Facilitating the analysis of climate data: Sea ice is an important component of the Earth’s climate system, and coupled climate models are indispensable tools in its study. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) provides a set of coordinated climate model experiments for use by climate-modeling groups. By intercomparing the resulting model outputs, CMIP can assess the mechanisms responsible for model differences, determining why similar models produce a range of responses. A total of 1.5 petabytes of model output data, including sea-ice data, was produced by more than 30 modeling groups around the world during CMIP5 (the project’s fifth phase). Unfortunately, CMIP’s current web-based data dissemination system supports only data search and download. All other necessary data processing functions must be performed by researchers in their local facilities. Professor Yuqi Bai of Tsinghua University led his group to establish an integrated research environment for archiving, searching, analyzing, and intercomparing CMIP5 data with the CMIP5 Sea Ice Data Portal. This pilot project clearly demonstrates Microsoft Azure’s value in enabling a web-based, data-intensive computing environment.

    An integrated research environment for archiving, searching, analyzing, and intercomparing climate model output data with CMIP5 Sea Ice Data Portal
    An integrated research environment for archiving, searching, analyzing, and intercomparing climate model output data with CMIP5 Sea Ice Data Portal

    Studying terrestrial ecosystems: Terrestrial ecosystems influence climate through a complex system of bio-geophysical feedback, including carbon and water exchange with the atmosphere. Honglin He, Fan Li, and Xiaoli Ren of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been working to build a carbon-water flux data storage system for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau ecosystem. Their system would enable model simulation and provide a platform for uncertainty analysis. The researchers based their system on Microsoft Azure’s virtually unlimited storage capacity and its data-intensive computing architecture, which can handle enormous amounts of multisource heterogeneous data.

    Improving healthcare. Professor Yan Xu of Beihang University has been conducting research on the value of using large-scale histopathology image analysis to detect colon cancer, a common and potentially deadly disease that has a huge impact on public health. While such images provide an excellent tool for detecting early-stage colon cancer, a digitized histopathological image at 40 times resolution is roughly 15,000 x 15,000 pixels. Microsoft Research Asia is applying Microsoft Azure to histopathology classification, segmentation, and clustering, a project that will help physicians improve the accuracy of their diagnoses, thereby helping to reduce costs and save lives.

    Cataloguing biodiversity: The Biodiversity Heritage Library is an international cooperative project that has scanned and openly shares more than 100,000 volumes—totaling some 43 million pages and 97 million species records. Zheping Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is leading a project that will extract information from the library’s vast store of biodiversity literature, unearthing buried information about the distribution of species. The project will generate different thematic maps, enabling researchers to extract information on species distribution according to time or region, as well as to use file formats from Bing Map and other online mapping products to display multiple types of geographic information in new ways. This information can be used in efforts to further conservation efforts and wildlife management.  

    These five pioneering projects demonstrate the immense value of using Microsoft Azure in scientific research. Moreover, these early efforts strengthen our determination to bring “cloud power” to researchers from diverse disciplines.

    To learn more about Microsoft Research’s efforts to help scientific researchers accelerate their discoveries through the computational and collaborative power of Microsoft Azure, visit Microsoft Azure for Research.

    Xin Ma, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Partnerships propel computer science


    As part of its commitment to basic research, Microsoft invests in creating joint research centers around the world. These collaborative engagements typically involve multi-year research programs across a broad range of projects that push the boundaries of computer science. In the last week, Microsoft Research both launched and renewed major partnerships in Spain, Russia, and France.

    Joint Research Centers forged in Spain, Russia, and France

    On April 2, we announced the launch of the Madrid Joint Research Center, a collaborative venture between Microsoft Research and the IMDEA Software Institute. The center’s inaugural workshop brought together researchers from both partners and focused on advances in verification, programming languages, and security.

    On April 7, it was with great pleasure that I participated in the kick-off workshop for the newly launched Microsoft Research and Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) Joint Research Center. This partnership will run three years and cover research in such areas as big data processing/visualization and computer vision, and will offer major research events for students.

    Kick-off workshop for the newly launched Microsoft Research and Lomonosov MSU Joint Research Center
    Kick-off workshop for the newly launched Microsoft Research and Lomonosov MSU Joint Research Center

    The roots of this collaboration go back almost 20 years, when an agreement was signed between Microsoft and MSU’s Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics. Since then, more than 10,000 undergrads, graduate students, and young researchers from Russia have participated in joint projects and events organized by Microsoft Research and MSU. We’re delighted to deepen our partnership with an academic institution that recognizes the importance of IT in science—in particular in two important research areas: computer vision and big data visualization. In terms of computer vision, we are now able to extract deeper information and understanding from images and video recordings, such that video sequences, CCTV camera footage, and 3D images can be used to produce contextual information and data. In the field of big data visualization, Microsoft and MSU have collaborated on projects such as ChronoZoom, FetchClimate, and Distribution Modeller, which accumulate and analyze tremendous amounts of information from various areas of knowledge.

    As Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Outreach said, “By building an ecosystem of scientific research in the IT area in Russia, we are involving young and talented scientists from Russia to join their efforts with the experience of leading Microsoft Research scientists. We are very happy to collaborate with MSU's young scientists.”

    Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Outreach, and Victor Sadovnichii, rector of Moscow State University
    Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Outreach, and Victor Sadovnichy, rector of Moscow State University

    Finally, we had our third announcement today. Andrew Blake, laboratory director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, attended the public announcement of the renewal of the Microsoft Research–Inria Joint Centre. Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, senior research program manager from Microsoft Research Cambridge and management board member of the Joint Centre, provides more information about the importance of this renewal below.

    As you can see, it has been a big week for Microsoft Research and our commitment to collaborate with some of the world’s leading research institutes.

    —Daron Green, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Outreach


    Laurent Massoulié, managing director of the Inria Joint CentreAs Daron’s part of this post makes clear, Microsoft Research has a rich, ongoing history of collaborating with leading academic and institutional partners as we strive to use computer science to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. We have had a particularly productive partnership with Inria (the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation).

    In 2006, Microsoft Research and Inria took their already close relationship a step further, by founding a joint research laboratory just south of Paris. In the intervening years, the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre has been a constant source of investigative excellence, renowned for applying computer science and mathematics to a broad spectrum of scientific challenges, from formal methods for mathematics, distributed systems and security, to computer vision and medical imaging, to machine learning and big data, and to social networks and privacy. The results of the Centre’s research are public and thus freely available to the international scientific community.

    Now we are pleased to announce the renewal of this fruitful partnership, which will keep the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre funded through 2017. From his quote below, it's clear that Andrew Blake sees exceptional value in continuing the partnership:

    In renewing the Joint Research Centre, we will continue to strengthen the international standing of European computer science and make significant breakthroughs that impact Microsoft, the field of computer science and society. Microsoft’s collaboration with Inria in generating a formal proof of the Feit-Thompson theorem is a great example of exceptional scientific innovation that also strengthens technology more broadly.

    Laurent Massoulié, with his extensive experience both of academia and industry, is an ideal Director for the partnership. He has already extended our collaboration with a number of new and important challenges, including machine learning and social networking, achieving a balance in the Centre between deep science and engineering, and high social impact.

    In this era of big data and even bigger problems, such collaboration, which brings together outstanding researchers from the academic and commercial worlds, can play a pivotal role in the application of computer science and mathematics to the sciences. We are proud of our continued association with Inria and look forward to four more years of world-class teamwork.

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Outreach-EMEA

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