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Punctuating the gray skies and rain that typify spring in the Pacific Northwest, the first week of April brought a sunny gathering of data scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to Microsoft’s Redmond campus, where the second annual Open Data for Open Science workshop, or ODOS2012, took place. With overwhelming support from Microsoft product groups, Microsoft Research labs, and the Microsoft Research Connections team, the workshop featured a compelling agenda that attracted a full house of eager and excited attendees. The results greatly exceeded our expectations!
Some of the ODOS2012 attendees—eager and excited about the event
ODOS2012 brought together two distinguished groups: (1) Microsoft researchers and engineers who are working on cutting-edge computing technologies, and (2) leading academic and government scientists who are conducting environmental research using big data. The latter group comprised about 40 attendees, including international participants from Australia, Brazil, China, and Canada.
The agenda covered 26 topics on various Microsoft products, Microsoft Research technologies, and Microsoft Research collaborations with academia and governments worldwide. The technologies presented are components of Microsoft Environmental Informatics Frameworks (EIF), which is a strategy designed to use state-of-the-art computing technologies from Microsoft in solving the computational challenges of today’s big-data sciences.
Some of the demos were developed by applying Microsoft technology on data and scenarios provided by the research collaborators, and some were spontaneous showcases presented by the external attendees. The workshop not only demonstrated visually powerful technologies, including WorldWide Telescope, ChronoZoom, and PivotViewer, but also helped push computational practices to the next level by engaging the user community with core computing technologies such as OData and Windows Azure.
The presentation, New Tools for Environmental Science by Lucas Joppa, a collective contribution from Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK) to the ODOS2012 agenda, is worth noting in particular for couple of reasons: 1) the presentation generated an enlightening awareness of the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science initiative among the audience. 2) Lucas delivered his entire presentation in Cambridge via Skype and had seamlessly effective Q&A interaction with the audience. With such a successful online interactive presentation experience, we plan to enrich our future ODOS event agenda by including more remote presentations.
The attendees’ enthusiasm was obvious, with many of them telling me, “This is eye opening!” and others writing glowing evaluations of the event. John Willson, an environmental informatics researcher from Canada, called it “…the best information payload on CS & the environment I have received in a decade…well organized, well presented, heavy content, simulating attendees…just a great workshop with lots of relevant ideas.”
We are already looking forward to next year’s Open Data for Open Science workshop, and we encourage all environmental researchers to use EIF and share your experiences with us. Next year, you could be presenting at ODOS as we continue to explore the use of technology in tackling the big-data problems of environmental science.
—Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
Collaboration can be a great catalyst for new ideas. Whether working with colleagues from down the hall or a team from another continent, we have found that working together strengthens our ideas. A prime example is the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre – Microsoft Research Centre in Barcelona, Spain. Microsoft Research Cambridge began collaborating with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) in 2006. We formalized the relationship with the establishment of the BSC – Microsoft Research Centre in January 2008. The Centre focuses on the design and interaction of future microprocessors and software for the mobile and desktop market segments.
The BSC – Microsoft Research Centre is home to a talented group of students who are working towards their PhDs and who bring their creativity and enthusiasm to tackle tomorrow’s problems. “I am very happy that the Centre is a model of open research,” said Centre director Mateo Valero. “We share our findings with the community and all of our software and applications are available for download at our website.”
The program has an extremely young team with more than 15 PhD candidates, Valero explained. Leading the student group was Ferad Zyulkyarov, who is at the forefront of Transactional Memory (TM) research. Working under the supervision of Valero, and his colleagues Osman Unsal and Adrián Cristal, Zyulkyarov investigated how this new approach to multi-core programming could make software development much easier for future computer architectures.
Ferad Zyulkyarov defends his thesis in Barcelona
A Different Point of View
Previous TM research had focused on evaluating and improving TM implementations. Zyulkyarov took a unique approach to the problem, looking at it from the programmer’s point of view. As part of his thesis, Zyulkyarov developed one of the first real-world TM applications: a rewrite of the Quake Game Server that replaced traditional memory locks with TM atomic blocks. This makes life much easier for the programmer, potentially transforming multi-core software development for the future.
Zyulkyarov encountered some obstacles during his project. For example, he had to develop a better debugger and profiling support, neither of which existed before he created them. When he reviewed the performance of the core server code, Zyulkyarov could see the potential for TM. There is still some optimization work to be done, but the potential is there.
During the project, Zyulkyarov collaborated closely with Tim Harris, senior researcher, Systems and Networking Group, Microsoft Research Cambridge. Harris is proud of the work Zyulkyarov accomplished during their time together. “It’s great to see Ferad’s work come to fruition,” Harris said. “He’s made substantial contributions to the development of programming tools for using TM, and I hope that we’ll now be able to apply these ideas to other parts of the multi-core challenge.”
The First of Many PhDs from Barcelona
The first of the 15 students to receive his PhD, and now at Intel, Zyulkyarov is just one example of the young talent being fostered through the BSC – Microsoft Research Centre, driving the industry to tackle some of its most challenging problems. “In the five years since we have started, the Centre has matured quite a lot, and this is the first fruit of the collaboration with BSC and Microsoft Research,” Valero said, adding he is especially grateful to Harris for serving as Ferad’s mentor. “I know that more [success stories] will follow soon,” he added.
I am very glad—thinking back to my first visit to BSC five years ago—in seeing how far we came. This is the result of all the energy and enthusiasm we have all put together in the enterprise. This is only the first of a successful series of PhD awards, which we will see taking place in the next few years.
—Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)
The global Windows Azure for Research program has been going strong for almost six months, and we’ve been delighted by the response from the researchers around the world who have eagerly attended our in-person training events. Today, we are pleased to announce an online version of the training.
Now any researcher can learn how to harness the power of Windows Azure—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. Think of it as your personal, data-crunching robot in the cloud.
The in-person training classes have taught hundreds of researchers how to take advantage of the computational and collaborative power of Windows Azure for data-intensive investigations. The online class provides a condensed version of this training, customizable for a personalized learning plan and complemented by the in-depth content in our webinar series.
The online materials now available include six videos, which range from 10 to 20 minutes long. Together, they provide a comprehensive but highly efficient way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research. Anyone with an Internet connection can access these free training resources—anywhere, anytime, on demand.
A live class is still recommended as the most effective way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research because it provides the benefits of an experienced trainer, interactive dialogue, and greater depth. But not everyone can attend a class, so we hope the online course will enable even more researchers to explore how cloud computing can accelerate their research. For those interested in attending an in-person training course, please see the training schedule for 2014.
The training course, online or in-person, 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.
Before you race off to view the online training videos, I want to remind you about the Windows Azure for Research Awards, which offer a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources to winning proposals. The deadline for submitting proposals for the next round of awards is April 15, so don’t procrastinate.
—Dan Fay, Director, Science Research Engagements, Microsoft Research