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September, 2010

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, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    U.K. e-Science Program a ’Jewel’

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    On a gloomy day in December 2009, an international panel of experts met at the unlikely venue of a football stadium on the outskirts of Oxford, U.K. The panel, chaired by Dan Atkins, who recently stepped down as director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Office of Cyberinfrastructure, convened to review the achievements of the U.K. e-Science Programme, which I had the privilege of directing from 2001 to 2005, before I joined Microsoft Research. The venue for the review was chosen to overlap with the 2009 U.K. e-Science All Hands Meeting (AHM). These AHMs were begun in 2002, and their continuation three years after the end of the program's formal funding is, for me, a testament to the passion and strength of the multidisciplinary e-science community that we created. I was present in Oxford to discuss my management and organization of the e-Science Core Programme, and I was curious to see what impression the achievements of U.K. e-science would make on this distinguished panel.

    The review was organized by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which had set up a punishing schedule for the panel-a virtually nonstop series of interviews and visits, with hardly a moment to breathe. The results of the review have now been published on the EPSRC website, and I was delighted that the panel had concluded "that the U.K. e-Science Program is in a world-leading position along the path of building a U.K. Foundation for the Transformative Enhancement of Research and Innovation." They further declared that "the U.K. has created a 'jewel', a pioneering, vital activity of enormous strategic importance to the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the support of allied learning."

    The report concluded with recommendations for action by the United Kingdom and included a plea for the need to support "Crossing the Chasm" between research prototypes and mainstream cyberinfrastructure. Atkins recently presented a summary of the international panel's conclusions to the NSF Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure.

    The NSF's Office of Cyberinfrastructure is developing a detailed implementation plan for U.S. cyberinfrastructure. Ideally, the NSF will take some of the good things from the U.K. e-science experience and avoid some of those that proved less successful!

    -Tony Hey, corporate vice president, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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    Celebrating Italian Faculty Days

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    A global perspective is informed by knowledge gathered from around the world, and Sept. 16 in Rome, Microsoft Research had an opportunity to exchange information about the scientific foundations of the most recent computer-science technologies from an Italian point of view.

    One in a series of similar events, the Italian Faculty Days gathering was attended by leading researchers, faculty, and other IT professionals from Microsoft Research, academia, and private industry.  The event was held in the historical heart of the Roman capital, at Palazzo Valentini, headquarters of provincia di Roma since 1873.

    The goal of this event was to leverage breakthroughs in scientific computing to advance research. Presentations delved into research in the ever-evolving areas of cloud computing, high-performance computing (HPC), and technical computing.  Broad themes addressed included research directions presented by Microsoft Research, novel research results, academic curricula for faculty, and current industry investments.

    Sessions on cloud computing covered cloud computing at Microsoft and VENUS-C, using the power of the cloud to do science on the web, teaching cloud computing and Windows Azure, reducing energy consumption in cloud systems, and the opportunities and challenges of sharing information in the cloud. Sessions focused on HPC included developing biochemistry applications in the Microsoft HPC 2008 environment and real-time reconstruction on an HPC cluster for 3-D Computed Tomography applied to large cultural-heritage objects. Other presentations included F# for scientists and how algorithmic-systems biology propels nutrigenomics.

    In talking to the attendees, Judith Bishop, director of Computer Science for the External Research division of Microsoft Research Redmond, found they were keen to have the opportunity to meet during such a broad forum.  Her visit to the Centro per le Applicazioni della Televisione e delle Tecniche di Istruzione a Distanza (Center for the Applications of Television and Distance Learning Techniques; CATTID) at Sapienza University of Rome revealed a wide range of applications directed between the cloud and human interfaces. CATTID is directed by Ugo Ceipidor, and its six laboratories are coordinated by Carlo Medaglia, who holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric physics from University of Washington. Apart from projects on the Internet of Things, Near Field Communication, and a mapping project with Microsoft using Windows Azure, Professor Medaglia is working on new models for weather prediction that eventually will migrate from clusters to the cloud.

     

    Shown in the picture are (L to R) Francesco Visconti and Prof Carlo Medaglia (CATTID) and Mauro Minella (DPE Microsoft Italy) who organized the Academic Days

    In addition to thanking all attendees and presenters, I'd like to thank Paul Watson, who co-chaired the conference with me. In addition to being a professor of computer science at Newcastle University, Watson is the director of both the North East Regional e-Science Centre and the Informatics Research Institute.

    -Fabrizio Gagliardi, director, External Research EMEA, a division of Microsoft Research

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    The Cloud, to go: Project Hawaii

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    Mobile devices, of all shapes and forms, are the fastest-growing computing segment. While mobile devices are ubiquitous, they offer limited computation, storage, and power. Cloud computing promises to fill this gap by providing computation and storage to mobile devices connected to the network. Project Hawaii enhances the mobile and cloud environments with web services to enable interesting application scenarios possible only with this combination, specially tailored for teaching at university level. Developed by Microsoft Research, Project Hawaii offers tools and resources tailored to the needs of today's computer science students and instructors.

    A key component of this project is engaging with universities around the world. This enables professors and students to work on projects reflective of the increasingly interconnected relationship between mobile devices and the cloud. To make project-based teaching and learning easier, Microsoft Research is providing instructors with access to an array of resources, including sample code, extra training materials, web services not generally available, Visual Studio, the mobile phones on which the applications are run (Windows Phone), and Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Windows Azure.

    To date, three professors at major universities have completed semesters using Project Hawaii, and seven more are active this semester-more information is at the project website above. To further share information about the project, we're hosting an invitational event in conjunction with ACM MobiCom 2010, the 16th annual international Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, being held September 20-24 in Chicago, IL. To learn more about participating in Project Hawaii as an instructor yourself, please contact us.  

    -Victor Bahl, principal researcher and manager, Networking Research Group, Microsoft Research Redmond

    -Arjmand Samuel, research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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