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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

    Cloud-computing training for researchers marches on

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    Last September, as part of our global Windows Azure for Research program, we announced our cloud training classes that we designed to show academics how Windows Azure can accelerate their research. Now that we’re almost a month into the new year, we would like to let you know what we have planned for 2014—including some new resources that you can use and share with your colleagues and contacts.

    New class locations, downloadable course materials, and webcasts for Windows Azure for Research training

    First, I’m pleased to say that you can now download the full course materials for your personal or institutional use and for repurposing in your own class resources. These materials, which are the exact ones we use in the in-person classes, are available in source form, licensed under Apache 2.0. It is a large download—more than 200 MB—so make sure you have a good Internet connection. You can get the download from the Windows Azure for Research Training home page; look for the link on the right side of the page.

    We are also producing a complete online video version of the class, which we’ll make available as soon as possible. In addition, we’ve created a collection of specialized webinars that supplement the main course materials with deeper content. You can link to the webinar collection, which we will update over time, again through the training home page.
     
    In addition, we have refined our training schedule for 2014 and clarified its presentation by distinguishing between upcoming and past events. By the end of 2013, we had conducted the in-person class in nine cities in seven countries, training some 455 researchers from 13 countries. We have a similar number of events currently planned for the first half of 2014, and we will review the balance between live and online training once the latter becomes available.

    As a reminder, Windows Azure is an open and flexible global cloud platform that supports any language, tool, or framework, and is ideally suited to the needs of researchers across disciplines. 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.

    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

    If you would like to attend one of these courses, see Join a course for application instructions. 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 near you, we will consider suggestions for additional in-person locations—see Request a course in your area for instructions on submitting a suggestion. We can’t promise to provide a course in your requested location, but we will consider all requests. And, of course, you can take advantage of the online video presentation of the course as soon as it’s available.

    Finally, I would like to thank all of our regional coordinators, partners, and university co-hosts for making such a success of the training program to date, and of course all of our attendees —without you, this would not be possible. For Microsoft Research, this includes Guobin Wu (China), Miran Lee (Korea), Juliana Salles and Jaime Puente (Brazil), and Kenji Takeda (Europe and South Africa).

    Stewart Tansley, Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    From flying robots to energy-efficient memory systems

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    Today, February 5, 2014, marked the kickoff workshop for the Swiss Joint Research Center (Swiss JRC), a collaborative research engagement between Microsoft Research and the two universities that make up the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology: ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, which serves German-speaking students) and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, which serves French-speaking students).

    Introducing the new Swiss Joint Research Center

    The Swiss JRC is a continuation of a collaborative engagement that began five years ago, when these same three partners embarked on ICES (Innovation Cluster for Embedded Software). In renewing our collaboration, we have broadened and deepened the computer science engagements, as we chart a course for another five years of research.

    During the two-day workshop at Microsoft Research Cambridge, we will launch seven new projects that constitute the next wave of research collaborations for the Swiss JRC. Today, we heard EPFL’s Edouard Bugnion describe the planned work of the Scale-Out NUMA project, which involves the study of the computer architectural and system software implications of aggressive scale-out, energy-efficient computing in datacenters.

    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake, James Larus, and Markus Püschel
    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake,
    James Larus (EPFL), and Markus Püschel (ETH Zürich)

    Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, especially the presentation by Otmar Hilliges (ETH Zürich), who will discuss the fascinating topic of human-centric flight. This proposed research seeks to create an entirely new form of interactive systems, leveraging micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), also known as flying robots, to create novel user experiences. This project could have a profound impact on our future ability to navigate environments that are inhospitable to people or standard land-based robots.

    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC
    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC

    The following seven projects will be launched at the workshop:

    Scale-Out NUMA
    Edouard Bugnion, EPFL
    Babak Falsafi, EPFL
    Dushyanth Narayanan, Microsoft Research

    Micro-Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) for Interaction, Videography, and 3D Reconstruction
    Otmar Hilliges, ETH Zürich
    Marc Pollefeys, ETH Zürich
    Shahram Izadi, Microsoft Research

    Software-Defined Networks: Algorithms and Mechanisms
    Roger Wattenhofer, ETHZ
    Ratul Mahajan, Microsoft Research

    Investigation into fundamental issues concerning software-defined networks and how they can be tackled using a game theory approach

    Efficient Data Processing Through Massive Parallelism and FPGA-Based Acceleration
    Gustavo Alonso, ETH Zürich
    Ken Eguro, Microsoft Research

    Exploration of efficient implementation of FPGAs as co-processors in data centers and support for database querying

    Authenticated Encryption: Security Notions, Constructions, and Applications
    Serge Vaudenay, EPFL
    Ilya Mironov and Markulf Kohlweiss, Microsoft Research

    Developing enhanced security notions for authenticated encryption schemes and proving that they are secure

    Towards Resource Efficient Data Centers
    Florin Dinu, EPFL
    Sergey Legtchenko, Microsoft Research

    Researching how memory can be best utilized in homogeneous computational situations, where the operating system must handle parallel, data-intensive tasks

    Availability and Reliability as a Resource for Large-Scale in Memory Databases on Datacenter Computers
    Torsten Hoefler, ETHZ
    Miguel Castro, Microsoft Research

    Researching new approaches to building resilience and predicting resilience in systems with more economical, lower levels of redundancy

    These projects represent some of the most interesting and engaging research challenges in Microsoft Research’s broad portfolio of university partnerships. I particularly value the opportunity to share our domain expertise in these open collaborations with two of the world’s top computer-science research departments. All three organizations bring unique perspectives and great talent to the collaboration, and all focus on solving tough technical challenges in areas as diverse as human-computer interaction, machine vision, performance and energy scalability, mobile computing, and data center optimization.

    I’ll keep you up to date on this journey over the coming months and years, as the Swiss JRC works to accelerate scientific discoveries and breakthroughs that push the boundaries of our imagination.

    Daron Green, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Building cloud virtual machines for research

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    As regular readers of this blog know, the Windows Azure for Research program recurrently solicits proposals on the use of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, in scholarly research. Winning projects receive a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources.

    We review these proposals on the fifteenth of even-numbered months (February, April, June, and so forth), so the next deadline, February 15, is fast approaching. This marks our third round of solicitations, and the response so far has been outstanding, as a review of current grantees and their projects attests.

    New RFP series focuses on specific cloud-based research topics

    In addition to these standing, bi-monthly requests for proposals, we are initiating a new set of calls, focused on specific cloud-based research topics. Submissions for the first of these special calls are due on April 15, 2014.

    Our first special call—Science VMs for Research—requests proposals to build virtual machine (VM) images that can be shared with communities of users. While it is standard practice for scientific communities to share important open-source, domain-specific software tools, using these tools often involves complex installation procedures or the resolution of library conflicts. Cloud computing obviates such impediments by enabling communities to share a complete operating system image, pre-installed with all the tools needed by specialized groups of users. Thus, a newcomer to the group can install the image in the cloud and be doing productive work very quickly. Moreover, the community can keep the cloud-based VM image updated with the latest version of the software.

    Microsoft Open Technologies operates VM Depot, a community-driven catalog of preconfigured operating systems, applications, and development stacks—VM images that can installed in minutes by anyone with a Windows Azure account. Several VM Depot images have proven popular with the scientific community. For example, Elastacloud has donated an image called Azure Data Analysis, which includes R, IPython, and a number of high quality open-source, data analysis tools. Several other domain-specific VMs are in the works.

    The Science VMs for Research call will provide grants of Windows Azure resources to develop and test new contributions to the VM Depot. Submit your proposals for the special call via our submission site; proposals should include “Science VM” in the project title and must be received by April 15.

    We’re looking forward to reviewing both the February 15 and April 15 proposals, as we work together to bring the power of cloud computing to scholarly and scientific research.

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

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