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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)
Great discoveries are often the result of collaboration, and for three days this week, during the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2010, more than 350 attendees representing various universities, industries, and governmental agencies are gathering to combine forces. Participants will be looking to foster collaboration that advances research, inspires technological innovation, enhances the educational experience and cultivates the next generation of thought leaders.
Held at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. and hosted by Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research, the summit will feature the introduction of new technologies focused on space exploration as well as the announcement of the winners of the 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship grants, which provide $1.4 million in funding each year to support professors who are exploring high-impact research that has the potential to help solve some of today's most challenging problems.
The theme of this year's summit, Embracing Complexity, aptly describes the work underlying the new Terapixel technology in the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope. Terapixel is the largest, seamless, spherical map of the sky ever created. It will provide scientists with the ability to navigate through space dynamically to make their own discoveries. Created from data provided by the Digitized Sky Survey-a collection of thousands of images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes--Terapixel offers a complete, panoramic rendering of the night sky that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view. Terapixel draws on the power of the Trident workflow workbench and the DryadLINQ interface for .NET to combine thousands of images and systematically remove differences in exposure, brightness, and color saturation.
The clearly tiled view of a portion of the night sky (left) is rendered seamless by the Terapixel smoothing process (right). (Photo courtesy of the DSS Consortium)
Another of the summit's intriguing presentations showcases how Microsoft Research and NASA will enable people to use the WorldWide Telescope to explore Mars virtually via a 3-D rendering of the surface of the planet and take interactive tours with noted NASA scientists James Garvin and Carol Stoker. This capability is the result of the Space Act Agreement signed by Microsoft and NASA in 2009 to inspire the next generation of astronomers to continue to pursue scientific discovery.
A stunning new image of Mars now available in the WorldWide Telescope. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft|NASA)
All of us at Microsoft Research are pleased to have the opportunity to welcome some of the world's most renowned thought leaders, working together to envision the advances of tomorrow.
Please visit our Faculty Summit homepage the next few days, where we will bring you more information about WorldWide Telescope, the 2010 Faculty Fellows, and ongoing event news and coverage.
Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research