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The 2011 Microsoft Imagine Cup Finals took place yesterday from 16:00-19:00 EST (NYC Local Time) 8pm to 11pm GMT you can watch a video recording of the stream here.
The “World Festival Awards Ceremony” will be held at the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in downtown New York City! The event capped a six-day celebration of technology that featured more than 400 students from 70 countries.
Microsoft had a dedicated Social Media Team at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, made up of Microsoft Student Partners, the team of 25 were tweeting, blogging and streaming as much as possible about every aspect of the finals. To see all 25 Microsoft Student Partners on the Social Media Team tweeting, check out our Twitter List!
For more information on the Imagine Cup see the dedicated Official Imagine Cup Facebook Page which has been made available for things Imagine Cup!
So what is the Imagine Cup?
The Imagine Cup 2011 consisted of Student projects that tackle global problems such as improving road and fire safety, eradicating poverty, and creating a more sustainable environment.
The Imagine Cup is a awesome event and I have to state I was tremendously inspired, enthused and excited by the events of yesterday. Over 350,000 students globally took part in the competition over the past months, leading to the Worldwide Finals in New York City July 8-13. The UK managed to secure two places to the World Finals represented by two teams Project Ove, from the University of Manchester, competing in the Software Design Competition and Cycling into Trees, from the University of York, competing in the Embedded Development Competition. Project Ove were unfortunate to be knocked out in the first round in New York however Kevin Pfister team Cycling into Trees made it to the Final Six and the grand final see more details below!
Ireland’s Team Hermes won the competition’s premier Software Design category and $25,000 (U.S.) with their project that combined embedded technology, mobile devices and cloud computing technology to change driving habits and reduce road deaths.
"Thank you Imagine Cup for the opportunity to develop a solution to address this global, serious problem of road traffic accidents,” said team member Aine Conaghan as they collected the Imagine Cup trophy. “Initially we were inspired due to the fact of this problem in Ireland. The more research we carried out, we realized ‘yeah, we're going to make an impact globally.’”
The members of Team Hermes said traffic accidents are a huge problem in Sligo, the North Western Irish city where they go to University. "Initially we wanted to do something to improve road safety," said team member Calum Cawley. "So many people are dying we had to do something about it."
Women in Technology
It was encouraging to see so many female contestants at the Imagine Cup World Final, the more women we see enter science, technology, engineering and math fields will help fill the shortage of viable candidates in the tech sector, encouraging more females into the sector will bring a new wave of ideas and perspectives. Over Sixty women participated in the Imagine Cup Finals, double last’s year numbers. Those female students can help inspire more women to take an interest in tech and enter future competitions.
Allison Watson, corporate vice president of the U.S. Marketing and Operations group at Microsoft, hopes the Imagine Cup continues to get more women to attend. On Sunday Watson led a panel discussion where she invited women competitors to talk about the issues and challenges surrounding getting more women into STEM fields and to inspire them to be role models for others. “(We need) to bring the voice and stories of the women competitors to others," she said. "The more women you can get here, the more you can create a community of people who can support each other.”
Role models can make a huge difference in getting more women interested in technology careers, which can be intimidating, so well done to team Hermes! it shows that the Imagine Cup is a great platform for female students, noting that even the Imagine Cup name is approachable: "We want people to dream.”
Imagine Cup 2011 Award Highlights and Winners
Team Hermes – Winners Software Design 2011
Ireland’s Team Hermes won this year’s Software Design competition with a project that combined embedded technology, mobile devices and cloud computing technology to change driving habits and reduce road deaths.
The team developed a smart device that can plug into any car made after 2000, Conaghan said. It uploads driving information to the cloud and gives the driver a report on their behavior. "Research has shown that educating the drivers reduces fatalities on the roads," she said.
The team used a number of Microsoft technologies to create their project including Silverlight, Azure, and SQL Server. "It's all compatible," said James McNamara, also a team member. "It's a great system to work in."
Looking ahead, Team Hermes wants to get their project out into the world to make an impact on roads worldwide. "We want to develop a sustainable project that not only saves lives but generates enough income to bring the product forward and establish a mass user group and a mass community, because the more users we have the more lives we can save," McNamara said.
NTHUCS - Winners Embedded Development 2011 Taiwan’s Team NTHUCS sets up their display booth at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals. Taiwan’s Team NTHUCS won the Embedded Development contest and $25,000 with their project RIGHT!! This Way, which computes the safest fire escape routes in real time as detected by a wireless sensor network, while the three winners from the Game Design category all focused on some aspect of environmental sustainability. Signum Games - Winners Games Design Windows/Xbox 2011
Brazil’s Team Signum Games demos their winning Game Design Windows/Xbox entry "UCan," a strategy game that invites players to solve urban problems involving health, education and the environment. One member of Brazil’s Signum Games team that won the Windows/Xbox category of Game Design shouted at the crowd, “If we can, you can!” Team Signum’s Fernanda Fonteles said she was amazed her team came out on top. “It's unbelievable," she said. "We saw the other projects – they are very strong.” The team’s game was inspired by volunteers who helped clean up their home city of Curitiba, Brazil. "It's very important to bring the top prize to our university," Fonteles said.
Geeklogic - Winners Games Design Mobile 2011
Team Geeklogic from France won the Game Design – Mobile contest with "Brainergy," a Windows Phone 7 puzzle game in which the player has to solve different challenges based on renewable energy.I had the pleasure of meeting the team earlier in the Month at the FDG2011 conference and the game was superb so well done! As France’s Geekologic collected its award in the Game Design – Mobile category, a team member thanked the crowd and urged them “to continue this work and we will really make this world a better place.”
Cellardoor - Winners Games Design Web 2011
In the Games Design web category, Winners were Poland’s Team Cellardoor demo "The Book of Elm". The game, won the Game Design – Web category, it illustrates the importance of taking care of the environment in everyday life through the interactive story of Elm, a creature on a quest to fix the mistakes done by people around the world.
HOMERUN - Winners Windows Phone 2011
Alaniarides - Winners Interoperability Challenge 2011
Greece’s Team Alaniarides won the Interoperability Challenge with their Touring Machine, which offers adults and children a new kind of cultural experience
M.N.A – Winners Digital Media 2011
Romania’s Team M.N.A. won the Digital Media category.
Jean-Sébastien Duchene Winner IT Challenge 2011
France’s Jean-Sébastien Duchene won the IT Challenge.
During the ceremony, Microsoft also unveiled plans to launch a three-year, $3 million competitive grant program to help recipients realize their vision of solving the world’s toughest problems and announced that Imagine Cup finalists will be eligible to apply for grants that include a combination of cash, software, training, consulting and other support via the Microsoft BizSpark programme. Microsoft will announce details about the grant program and application process later this summer.and BizSpark membership packages.
“The innovators, entrepreneurs and humanitarians who compete in the Imagine Cup have developed an inspiring spectrum of projects, raising the bar higher and higher each year,” said S. Somasegar, senior vice president, Developer Division, Microsoft. “We are in awe of the students’ solutions for addressing social and real-world challenges, and want to help them take their projects to the next level with the financial, technical and business support they need to change the world.”
At the awards ceremony, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and activist and actress Eva Longoria also expressed their awe of the students’ tech skills and passion to change the world.
When the finals kicked off last Friday, economist Jeffrey Sachs gave the students a homework assignment: saving the world. “You don't just leave here with the Imagine Cup and think your work is done – you have a lot of work ahead,” he said.
Many of the participants hope to meet that challenge by forming their own companies. Dennis Anderson, a professor of management and information technology at St. Francis College in New York and longtime advisor to the Imagine Cup, said ‘the event serves as a launching pad for many students.(The Imagine Cup) opens up career pathways for many of the finalists,’ said Anderson, who also served as one of the judges in this year’s Software Design category. "This is definitely more than a competition. They are working very hard to start new businesses.”
‘Students aren’t merely seeing dollar signs with plans to form their own companies,’ said Mark Hindsbo, vice president of Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism Group in the U.S. "I haven't heard one of the teams say they want to make money," he said. "They want to make a difference in the world."
The New Zealand know a thing or two about success after the Imagine Cup. Two members from OneBuzz participated in last year’s competition, where they finished third in the Software Design category. Their project, called OneBeep, transmits educational data over radio waves to impoverished communities.
Vinny Lohan said that after last year’s Imagine Cup, he and his OneBeep teammates formed their own company to license the technology. Since then they’ve attracted the attention of Icehouse, one of the top 10 incubation firms in the world, which is providing the young company with funding and support. Today they are conducting field tests in South America, and Lohan, the company’s CEO, said they’re six months from global deployment. He credited the Imagine Cup and Microsoft’s BizSpark program with getting their company off the ground. "(The Imagine Cup) is the beginning, not the end of the journey," he said. "The Imagine Cup turns students into entrepreneurs."
In New York City, it appeared many students were already on their way. Our very own Kevin Pfister, a one-man team called Cycling Into Trees who represented the U.K. in the Embedded Development category is now well on this journey.
Kevin’s Child Sleep Safe project uses a mixture of embedded hardware, software and home automation systems to reduce crib death numbers by monitoring babies while sleeping. “It represents the next generation of baby monitoring,” he said.
Kevin has already built a working prototype of Child Sleep Safe and presented it to Mothercare, the U.K.’s largest specialist retailer for parents. “They gave us a good response,” Pfister said. “I’m going to move ahead with it.”
The Peoples Choice Awards
Eva Longoria told the students ‘she was honoured to support and shine a light on the finalists’ work, which she had a chance to review earlier in the day. She called out specific teams like Thailand’s NewKrean, who responded to a devastating flood in their country with a project that will help rescue workers find victims after a disaster. Before leaving the stage, Eva Longoria told the students ‘they were the next generation of leaders who were going to give us all a better future'.’
She then announced the winner of the People’s Choice Award, Bangladesh’s Team Rapture, whose project, ThirdEye, is a smartphone device for the visually impaired.
Earlier, Bloomberg encouraged the students to work together as they tackle the world’s toughest problems, just like the diverse residents of New York City do. It will take collaboration to eliminate poverty and illness, combat global warming, and preserve the environment, he said. He then held up his friends Bill and Melinda Gates as two people who were truly changing the world and challenged the finalists to follow in their footsteps. He closed with an invitation for all the students to make New York City their future home.
So will you be the next Imagine Cup HERO!
The number of students competing or the number of countries represented, the Imagine Cup 2011 was the biggest event yet. However we need your help as parents, teachers, academics and faculties to help lead students to go into science, technology engineering fields (known as STEM), where there is projected to be a major shortfall of job candidates in the coming years.so let's go from 350,000 competitors to 35 million people.
So if your a UK School teacher, FE or HE academic, I cannot think of a better way to inspire students so think about the Imagine Cup for future challenges or curricula competitions! We simply need to inspire more students to enter technical fields as STEM is critical in driving the worlds economy.
So I hope to see your entries for next year competition which will take place in Sydney, Australia. If you would like more details or information relating to the UK entry requirements simply get in touch!
WATCH THE MICROSOFT RESEARCH FACULTY SUMMIT 2011 KEYNOTES ONLINE JULY 18 – 20 2011
The world of computing is ever changing, and nowhere more so than in the combination of software and consumer devices. We have entered the age of natural user interfaces, and this fact requires innovation in areas of computer vision, translation, audio sensing, and machine learning.
Security, privacy, and the effect of the data deluge in the systems we build have taken on global significance in our socially networked world. The twelfth Microsoft Research Faculty Summit provides a forum for lively debate of the development, application, and funding of these technologies in the environmental, medical, and educational spheres over a long period of time.
The keynotes and Design Expo from the Summit can be viewed in real time here: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/events/fs2011/streaming_video.aspx
Microsoft has developed an iterative MapReduce runtime for Windows Azure, code-named "Daytona." Project Daytona is designed to support a wide class of data analytics and machine learning algorithms. It can scale out to hundreds of server cores for analysis of distributed data.
Project Daytona was developed as part of the eXtreme Computing Group’s Cloud Research Engagement Initiative and made its debut at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.
Project Daytona MapReduce Runtime for Windows Azure can be download, along with sample codes and instructional materials that researchers can use to set up their own large-scale, cloud data-analysis service on Windows Azure.
Project Daytona features the following key properties.
1. Designed for the cloud, specifically for Windows Azure.
2. Designed for cloud storage services.
3. Horizontally scalable and elastic.
4. Optimized for data analytics.
So what can you use Daytona for?
There are a number of use cases for Project Daytona,
1. Data analysis
2. Machine learning
3. Financial analysis
4. Text processing
5. Indexing, and search.
Almost any application that involves data manipulation and analysis can take advantage of Project Daytona to scale out processing on Windows Azure.
Data analytics as a service
Using Windows Azure, which is accessible to a host of clients NOT just windows clients!
Project Daytona is about turning utility cloud computing into a service model for data analytics. In our view, what is key is that this service is not limited to a single data collection or set of analytics, but the ability to upload data and select from an extensible library of models for data analysis. Powered by Project Daytona, the service will automatically scale out the data and analytics model across a pool of Windows Azure VMs without the overhead that is usually associated with typical business intelligence (BI) and data analysis projects.
Example of Application
Excel DataScope. From the familiar interface of Microsoft Excel, Excel DataScope enables researchers to accelerate data-driven decision making.
Project Daytona DataScope analytics service offers a library of data analytics and machine learning models, such as:-
2. Outlier detection
4. Machine learning
5. Information visualization
Users can upload data in their Excel spreadsheet to the DataScope service or select a data set already in the cloud, and then select an analysis model from our Excel DataScope research ribbon to run against the selected data.
Project Daytona will scale out the model processing by using possibly hundreds of CPU cores to perform the analysis. The results can be returned to the Excel client or remain in the cloud for further processing and/or visualization. The algorithms and analysis techniques are applicable to any type of data, ranging from web analytics to survey, environmental, or social data.
· See Overview for information about what is included in the release package.
What’s Next for Project Daytona?
Project Daytona is part of an active research and development project in the eXtreme Computing Group of Microsoft Research.The current release of Project Daytona is a research technology preview (RTP). Microsoft Research are still tuning the performance of Project Daytona and adding new functionality.
For more information on project Daytona please see http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/azure/daytona.aspx
HPC Server 2008 R2 SP2 is now available for download. This service pack updates the HPC Pack 2008 R2 products listed in the 'System Requirements' section. It provides improved reliability as well as an enhanced feature set including:
Download HPC Pack 2008 R2 Service Pack 2
In the "Download HPC Pack 2008 R2 Service Pack 2" section you will three files:
HPC2008R2SP2-Update-x64.zip (123.0 MB)
HPC2008R2SP2-Update-x64 : Download this .zip file to obtain the updater for use on your head nodes, compute nodes, broker nodes, and x64-based clients and workstation nodes. It also contains the Web Components (REST and Web Portal), Azure VM, and KSP ('soft card') installers necessary to use those features. HPC2008R2SP2-Update-x86.zip (121.0 MB)
HPC2008R2SP2-Update-x86 : This .zip file contains the updated for use on 32-bit clients and workstation nodes. It also contains the KSP ('soft card') installer for 32-bit clients.
SP2 Media Integration Package.zip (570.0 MB)
SP2 Media Integration Package: For customers who will be doing multiple new cluster installations (setting up brand new head nodes, not just updating existing clusters) you can use this package to update your original ('RTM') installation media to have SP2 integrated from the beginning. (Instead of installing from your RTM DVD, then applying SP1, then applying SP2.) Please refer to the instructions on the HPC team blog for more information.
For those of you wanting to get the Mango BETA update on your academic teaching and learning phones, please read the following post, the intention of this post is to ensure that you are in a position of being able to discuss the opportunity and enhancement of Mango within your teaching curricula.
I must stress this is a Beta release and as such there will be NO upgrade path to future releases of Mango. Therefore please ensure that this isn’t your primary device as you will need to restore your phone to a supported state before being able to install the final versions of the product.
1. Back up your phone. You want to make sure that you can quickly get it back to a supported state ASAP should it run into difficulties or require to update the device to the final version.
Ensure you phone is backed up prior to running the update simply use backup/restore app provided on xda-developers.com
NB: When you do this restore, you will loose any of the changes you’ve made to your phone, this will include app installations, music added, game scores, photos, videos etc.
After your restore you will need to reinstall all previous installed apps from the MarketPlace you will NOT be charged for them again, but you may wish to note down the apps you have installed.
If you have previously installed the Beta1 SDK then you need to now go to your “Control Panel” > “Programs and Features” and uninstall that SDK.
Visit the download page for the SDK and download and read the release notes.
NB: Please ensure you read the T&Cs and notes.
Download and run the vm_web2.exe link
You will now have the Beta2 development tools for WP7 app and the Emulator, this is excellent for your curricula notes and assessments.
So if your already a Microsoft Registered developer via Microsoft DreamSpark you will have received an email from Microsoft Connect inviting you to download the update. If your NOT a registered developer then simply register via DreamSpark this will then give you access to the tools to get your phone updated.
You will also need to update Zune along with other supporting utilities and the all important update instructions.
NB: Please ensure you read update instructions
On the 1st of June 2011 Geoff Hughes attended the University of Oxford Industry Showcase 2011. The day included three keynote speeches on research projects, plus micro-slots where researchers had two-minutes to pitch their research to the audience in quick succession. It coincided with the renaming of Oxford University Computing Laboratory ( Comlab ) to The department of Computer Science at the University of Oxford.
For more information on the department of Computer Science at the University of Oxford visit. http://www.cs.ox.ac.uk/
As part of the industry day, teams of 2nd year computer science students presented their 2nd year group projects using a wide range of technologies from Robots to Windows Phone7 to Microsoft Surface! Congratulations to “Team 1” who won a cash prize for their “TowerTunes” application developed for Microsoft Surface.
“Write an application for the Surface that will encourage people to make music together in a group - either by mixing samples, tapping on a simulated keyboard or drumskin, or whatever interface can be devised”
“Team1" Bogdan-Alexandru Panait (Music and sound) Chris Hydon (Source control, game model) Daniel Nichol (Graphics programming) Ian Jones (Enemy AI and choreography, game model) Kris Joanidis (Graphics modelling)
Congratulations to all the teams as well as the teaching and administration teams at the University of Oxford for such an inspiring and enjoyable day Peter Jeavons, Suzanna Marsh, Leanne Carveth, Sharon Lloyd
Below is a slideshow of pictures from the day.
Last week I attended the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games which was hosted in the beautiful city of Bordeaux. FDG is a focal point for academic efforts in all areas of research and education involving games, game technologies, gameplay and game design.
The goal of the conference is the advancement of the study of digital games, including new game technologies, capabilities, designs, applications, educational uses, and modes of play.
FDG 2011 was an interesting event and well attended by academics, commercial gaming vendors along with a number of staff from Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelists teams from the US and a group from Microsoft Game Studios.
As part of the event the entire US and UK team developed, created and presented the final keynote presentation entitled ‘Kinect in the Classroom’.
The presentation featured a history and the evolution of gaming consoles, controller and then closed with details on the Kinect device hardware configuration and a drill down on the newly released Kinect SDK. The presentation also included information on Microsoft Game Studio’s Edison Project which includes Kinect Fun Labs and the Kinect Share community which were launched recently on to the Xbox community.
Integrating Imagine Cup into current and proposed Curricula
Andrew Parsons, Microsoft US ADE team and Captain of the Imagine Cup Game Design Competition chaired an interesting panel session on the value of leveraging Imagine Cup within the academic curriculum.
The panel included Tara Walker Microsoft US ADE, Professor Frank Lee from Drexel University, Ian Parberry from the University of Texas and Frederic Pedro, a former Imagine Cup game competitor and now CEO of his own game company, Pohlm Studio and mentor of this years French Imagine Cup winning team.
Each of the panel members recounted their success in integrating Imagine Cup into the academic curriculum. If your interested in learning more about the imagine cup please visit http://www.imaginecup.com
Andrew presented a showcase of this years entries and the video of entries including the following video on the order of this years competitors For information on this years Imagine Cup Game Design entries see the entry video below and visit Andrews blog for the latest information on the Games Design Competition and an analysis of this years competitors.
So if your interested in entering next years Imagine Cup and making students aware of the competition then these are the key dates for the Games Design competition are as follows more information will be posted on http://www.imaginecup.com
Round 1 – Storyboard/Summary Submission
July 13, 2011
February 14, 2012
Round 2 - Game Submission
February 16, 2012
March 13, 2012
Round 3 - Worldwide Finals Qualifying
April 3, 2012
May 1, 2012
Round 4 - Worldwide Finals
Microsoft David Catuhe’s work is too brilliant not to shared so if your interested in Kinect SDK Development then you need to check out David’s Gestures and toolkit library for Kinect at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/eternalcoding/archive/2011/07/04/gestures-and-tools-for-kinect.aspx
David has also produced the following codeplex project http://kinecttoolkit.codeplex.com/
Details of the library:
· SwipeGestureDetector class will allow you to detect simple gestures (such as swipe to left or swipe to right)
· TemplateGestureDetector will allow you to detect gestures using templates:
The class can record templates and save them in a file used by a learning machine. With this learning machine, the system try to detect one of the recorded template in the current list of positions.
You can see on the UI the list of used templates:
PostureDetector allows you to detect simple postures such as:
· Hand over head
· Hands joined
3. Skeleton stability
BarycenterHelper class can detect for you if a skeleton is stable (not moving). With this tool, you can detect wrong gestures produced by a moving skeleton
4. Debug and replay
· To help you debug, the library includes a record/replay of skeletons frames. With this tool, developing with Kinect is much less sportJ
· The library can also paint current saved positions for gestures detection
For further details and full code samples see http://blogs.msdn.com/b/eternalcoding/archive/2011/07/04/gestures-and-tools-for-kinect.aspx
What is Windows Azure? Windows Azure is a platform for building scalable, highly reliable, multi-tiered web service applications. It is hosted on Microsoft’s large data centers in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Windows Azure has both compute and data resources. The compute resources are designed to allow applications to scale to thousands of servers and data resources. For more information on Windows Azure keep an eye on the Windows Azure team blog.
What types of research projects are well suited to Azure? Windows Azure can be an excellent research platform for many types of research. However, it is designed to support scalable web services, so projects that play to this strength will have the most success. One area of particular interest is computational models and techniques that augment the capabilities of client devices, ranging from feature rich desktop and laptop computers to cell phones of other mobile devices with data and computation resources in the cloud. How can we make the cloud into a transparent extension and experience amplifier of our client-based research tools?
Others interesting areas include:
Research to support intelligent interactions leveraging web data and domain knowledge.
Will Hadoop or Dryad/LINQ be available on Azure? There is no port of Hadoop or Dryad/LINQ currently available. However, Windows Azure is an excellent platform for experimenting with new variations on large-scale map-reduce algorithms, as these patterns are easily coded as worker role networks.
Can I run my MPI HPC applications on Windows Azure? Windows Azure is not designed to replace the traditional HPC supercomputer. In its current data center configuration it does not have the high-bandwidth, low-latency communication model that is appropriate for tightly-coupled MPI jobs. However, Windows Azure can be used to host large parallel computations that do not require MPI messaging, such as ensemble or parameter sweep studies.
Can Azure be useful as an experimental host for distributed computing research? Yes. Windows Azure worker roles have access to standard TCP/IP sockets on each virtual machine (VM) in which they run. Hence it is possible to use a large number of worker roles to experiment with distributed computing algorithms and protocols.
Can Azure be used to support collaborations and “science gateways”? Yes. Windows Azure is an excellent platform for sharing “community” data and data analysis tools. Most science gateways are built as web portals and Windows Azure is ideally suited for this task.
What data collections will be made available? We will be very interested in suggestions from researchers about important community data collections and tools that can be hosted. We currently have data collections from the NCBI genome databases, oceanographic instrument data, and some MODIS satellite data. We also are providing access to web scale n-grams via a service. However, our goal is to let the research community help us define a sustainable collection of shared resources and analysis tools.
The Web N-gram Services, provided by Microsoft Research in partnership with Microsoft Bing, will provide researchers access to large scale real-world datasets and benchmarks. Access to the Web N-gram Services will be made available to NSF awardees, with the following properties:
N-gram models can advance research in areas such as document representation and content analysis (for example, clustering, classification, and information extraction), query analysis (for example, query suggestion and query reformulation), retrieval models and ranking, spelling, and machine translation. They can also improve intelligent interactions with better dialogue modeling (for example, semantic relations and summarization).
What is the programming model? A Windows Azure program is a scalable, multi-tiered web service. The service consists of one or more “web roles,” which are standard web service processes, and “worker roles,” which are computational and data management processes. Roles communicate by passing messages through queues or sockets. The number of instances of each type of role is determined by the developer when the application is deployed and each role is assigned by Windows Azure to a unique Windows Server virtual machine (VM) instance. (Currently no more than one VM instance runs on an individual core.)
What types compute instances are available on Windows Azure? Each Windows Azure compute instance (web role or worker role) represents a virtual server. Although many resources are dedicated to a particular instance, some resources associated to I/O performance, such as network bandwidth and disk subsystem, are shared among the compute instances on the same physical host. During periods when a shared resource is not fully utilized, you can utilize a higher share of that resource. Each Windows Azure data center server currently has 8 cores, 14 GB of memory, and 2 TB of disk space. An instance can be mapped to one or more cores with the memory and resources divided evenly. The table below describes the way the resources are partitioned on each server.
Compute Instance Size
2 x 1.6 GHz
4 x 1.6 GHz
8 x 1.6 GHz
Windows Azure Pricing Calculator
What virtual machine (VM) types are available? Can I configure my own VM? Windows Azure automatically configures and manages Windows Server VM instances for your application. In the current version of Windows Azure, you cannot remotely connect and run a remote desktop on this VM instance. The VM instances are managed and deployed by the Windows Azure Fabric Controller and you interact with the Fabric Controller though the Windows Azure web interface.
What types of data storage are available on Windows Azure? There are basically five storage systems. Blob storage is for long-term data. Blobs are binary objects together with <name, value> pair metadata. Each blob can be up to 50 GB and blobs are grouped into logical containers. Blobs are replicated three times in the data center for reliability purposes and they can be accessed from any server or by a URL over the Internet. Table storage is another type of persistent storage. A table can be very large (millions of rows and columns) and is partitioned by rows and distributed over the storage nodes in Windows Azure. It is also triply replicated. Tables are not full SQL tables because there is no join operator. Within the compute node there are two types of storage. Local disk is available to each Windows Azure role, but this is not persistent. If your role process goes down it may be restarted on another node, so the local disk is not for persistent data. However, XDrives are virtual drives that can be mounted on a Windows Azure VM instance and they are backed by the blob storage system so that they are persistent. The queue system is also part of the persistent Windows Azure storage model.
Can I run the Windows Azure software stack on my own private cluster? Not currently. Windows Azure is a public cloud service and it is not available as a software product.
What languages/compilers are available? What IDEs can be used with Azure? Applications on Windows Azure are designed and debugged completely on the programmer’s local machine. So any compiler that generates a Windows binary can be used. Microsoft Visual Studio has a “plug-in” for Windows Azure that makes the construction of Windows Azure applications extremely simple. The plug-in allows the programmer to test the application on a local Windows Azure emulator. When the programmer is ready to deploy the application on Windows Azure, the binaries are uploaded through a web interface. This interface also controls deployment parameters such as the number of server instances to be used. Visual Studio is not required.
The application program can also use a plug-in for the Eclipse software framework if that is preferred. Programmers can use Java, Ruby, Python, and C++. We have examples that illustrate how to deploy the Apache Tomcat server on Windows Azure for the web role.
What scientific libraries will be available? We are working on a list of these currently.
Can I run Matlab on Azure? Matlab can be used to “compile” a Matlab application and it is possible to upload this compiled code and libraries to Windows Azure. We have not yet installed a complete Matlab instance on Windows Azure, but it is a project currently under study.
Can I run arbitrary applications as Azure workers? In general, any Windows binary that does not require modifications to the Windows operating system or registry can be loaded and run as part of a Windows Azure role. This includes compiled C, C++, or Fortran programs as well as Java, Python, PHP, and Ruby applications.
How can I use custom libraries with my Azure applications? When you use the IDE to build the application, you simply include the libraries with the application. The IDE will roll these up into the binary that is uploaded to Windows Azure when you deploy your application.
Can I manage collections of tasks (workflows) that involve local data and activities as well as Azure resident data and tasks? Yes. We have a sample Windows Azure service that can manage many concurrent tasks that run on Windows Azure as well as local compute resources. The tasks are arbitrary Windows executables that are wrapped as Windows Azure worker roles. The data that is used or produced can be in the Windows Azure replicated persistent storage or the local disk on each machine. This local storage is not persistent across deployments of your application; however, it is possible to mount a virtual disk that is part of the persistent storage.
Are there hooks in Azure to enable systems-level research on scheduling and resource allocation? Unfortunately, no. Windows Azure applications are controlled by the Azure Fabric controller, which has the responsibility of resource allocation and quality of service for all the currently running applications. Consequently, Windows Azure is not well suited to many systems-level research projects.
What dynamic scaling models are supported by Azure? The programmer must specify the number of each type of role to instantiate at deployment time. These numbers remain fixed until the application is de-deployed. However, it is possible to experiment with dynamic deployment in the application logic.
What performance guarantees can I expect from my applications? What is the interference between workers? Performance will be variable depending on the load on the data center. We will provide basic benchmark tools to help guide application designers to optimize performance. At any given time, Windows Azure will be running many applications in the data center and many of these are commercial customers who demand high levels of service. The research engagement project will receive the same level of support as these commercial users.
Will I be able to instrument my applications? Because you have no direct access to the Windows Server virtual machine instance, you will not be able to access instrumentation that requires administrator level authorization. However, you do have access to application logs and some performance counters, and application-level instrumentation is possible. A complete benchmark suite will be available that you can use to experiment with many performance features of Windows Azure.
How can I get my data into the Azure storage? There are several ways to move data. The most direct method is through the web API to the Windows Azure blob storage. It is also possible to take data stored in Microsoft Office Excel or Matlab and, by using plug-ins we provide, save your data directly in Windows Azure tables. There are also free GUI tools to manage Windows Azure storage from your desktop, such as the Cloud Storage Studio. OpenDAP services will be available for loading and serving data and an FTP application can be used to pull data from FTP sites.
Are there ways to connect desktop or mobile applications to Azure services? Windows Azure is a web service platform, so any web-based protocol can be used to build applications that fully integrate the cloud. This is how the plug-ins for Matlab and Office Excel were built.
Are there data visualization tools available for Azure resident data collections? Both Excel and Matlab running on the desktop can be used to visualize data stored on Windows Azure. More sophisticated local and remote visualization tools will be made available.
What will the Microsoft Research Cloud Research Engagement Team provide to the research community? The engagement team will support the community of researchers through the following:
Develop tutorials and white papers for a general overview of Windows Azure, identify best practices, and provide a benchmark suite as a guide for application architects and developers.
Are your students going to be sitting around this summer bored out of their minds? Why not promote the following opportunity and get them to use their free time and apply their newly learnt skills to the following opportunity?
The Windows Phone team has set aside 50 phones running the latest Mango bits for students who are eager to take on a fun summer project.
To get your hands on one of these phones, here’s what you do:
1.) Register for the DreamSpark program, if you haven’t already. The DreamSpark program puts Microsoft software in your hands – for free!. Register now!
2.) Download and install Expression Studio Ultimate and the new Windows Phone SDK 7.1 Beta 2 (available free as a member of DreamSpark)
3.) Get the free Sketchflow Template for Windows Phone and create a SketchFlow mock-up of your app idea.
4.) Post the SketchFlow mock-up somewhere online and tweet out the link using the hash tag #WPAppItUp.
The Windows Phone team will review the submissions and will contact the developers with the best ones and send them their very own Mango developer phone!
If you’re new to SketchFlow, there are some great training videos on the Expression Community site.