Faculty Connection is an online set of real-world resources and shared peer knowledge, the goal of the Faculty Connection site is to put relevant and applicable tools and information at the fingertips of technology educators.
The UK Academic Team is responsible for offering IT students and faculty members free access to software, for enhancing knowledge and skills by providing curriculum materials and other learning opportunities, for helping students achieve their dreams by organizing an international competition, and finally for assisting last year students through career resources and job opportunities at our customers and partners.
With this blog we want to inform you on our latest initiatives.
Enjoy reading and stay tuned!
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.
Researchers from the University of Washington and Microsoft Research Connections are working together to develop a non-invasive, technological solution to improve both the health and overall quality of life for diabetics: a contact lens that monitors blood glucose levels. The functional contact lens is an example of how natural user interfaces (NUI) can enable the development of innovative solutions. To learn more, read the blog, Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell, Microsoft Surface, and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio developed a human-robot interaction application to create novel remote controls for rescue robots. Once perfected, this approach could enable emergency responders to safely manoeuvre rescue robots through buildings that are damaged by earthquakes, fire, or even terrorist attacks.
The eXtreme Computing Group within Microsoft Research has developed an iterative MapReduce runtime for Windows Azure, code-named Daytona. It enables laboratories, small groups, and individual researchers to use the power of the cloud to analyse data sets on gigabytes or terabytes of data and run large-scale machine-learning algorithms on dozens or hundreds of compute cores. The Project Daytona download includes a deployment guide, developer and user documentation, and code samples for both data analysis algorithms and client application. Learn more:
· Microsoft Research Debuts ‘Daytona’ Azure Analytics Tools
· Microsoft Research Releases Details About "Daytona" at Faculty Summit
· Free Tool Kit to Assist Big-Data Scientists
We are pleased to announce the launch of a program that supports collaborations between Microsoft Research Connections and major research institutions to build the foundations for a unified game layer for education. Our first official project is Just Press Play, an experiment to craft gameful experiences for the students of Rochester Institute of Technology undergraduate game design program. (Gameful experiences incorporate the use of game play mechanics that focus on the user's intrinsic motivation—engaging the user in a way that can produce long-lasting and powerful results.)
Learn about Microsoft Research Accelerators tools and services for academics and researchers that are designed to help scientists, researchers, teachers, and students explore science, analyze and visualize data, and publish the results of their research. This video provides a brief introduction to just a few of our many Research Accelerators, including the Chemistry Add-in for Word, Zentity, Scientific Workflow Workbench, and Try F#.
Find out how you can create cloud-enabled mobile applications with the tools and services that are included in the Project Hawaii software development kit (SDK). Arjmand Samuel, research program manager from Microsoft Research Connections, talks about what the SDK contains and how it can be used to develop Windows Phone applications.
The twelfth Microsoft Research Faculty Summit provided a forum for lively debate of the development, application, and funding of technologies in the environmental, medical, and educational spheres over a long period of time. The program consisted of keynote presentations, discussions, panels, workshops, and demonstrations. Learn more about the event and the integral role that industrial research plays in society, education, and technology transfer.
Interest in the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta, released on June 16, 2011, has been strong, and we’re delighted to learn that so many developers and innovators who are experimenting with natural user interface (NUI) applications have taken advantage of the SDK to explore the potential of the Kinect sensor. The community has provided us with a lot of good feedback, and in support of our commitment to encourage researchers and enthusiasts in their exploration of the exciting possibilities of the Kinect sensor, we will release a refreshed version of the SDK soon. The upcoming Kinect for Windows SDK beta refresh will address some of the top items you’ve told us about.
The Oxford University vaccine group is conducting a clinical trial to help save lives by making it easier for Nepalese patients to get a complete round of pneumonia vaccinations. The current vaccination regime consists of two injections administered consecutively; but to complete the regime, a third injection is required six months later. This third injection often does not get administered in Nepal, where it is difficult for many patients to access hospitals. Oxford University’s trial aims to determine whether three vaccines administered in a shorter time period can provide similar pneumonia protection. A system that employs Microsoft SharePoint and InfoPath enabled the vaccine group to create and deploy the clinical trial support infrastructure more quickly and inexpensively than by conventional methods. Oxford University Computing Lab and Microsoft Research Connections developed the system jointly.
I am pleased to confirm the release of a add-on to the Kinect SDK for Windows specifically for development in robotics.
This is a free software download, officially called the Kinect Services for RDS 2008 R3 and its now available at the Microsoft Research web site. The RDS package allows Robotic Developer Studio users to build and simulate robots with a Kinect sensor.
There is more information on the Robotics blog site, the new version is built on top of the Kinect SDK for Windows which was released as a free download earlier this year. The blog post states that you can expect to see more updates later this year. It states, "We know that there are many practical issues for applying the Kinect technologies to robotics capabilities that we will be addressing in upcoming RDS releases."
Here’s a link to of a short introduction to Kinect Service for RDS
So feel free and download the Kinect Services for RDS 2008 R3 and let us know how you get on.
Small Basic Updates:
After more than two years of pre-release versions of Small Basic, which has been available to all Academics and Students via Microsoft DreamSpark we are finally releasing the 1.0 version.
For Schools and institutions wanting to teach or introduce students programming Small Basic is the ideal product. Additionally Small Basic now has access to number extensions from our friends at the TeachingKidsProgramming website. TeachingKidsProgramming provides free courseware to introduce kids (ages 10+) to programming. New in this compatible release of the Small Basic Fun extensions (http://extendsmallbasic.codeplex.com) is a recipe '(m)adLibs' which you can use to introduce the MVC pattern to your kids. It includes several new objects, such as a Viewer and a Parser to support teaching of this pattern.
Small Basic 1.0 released:
o Added language support (for a complete list of languages, go here)
o Updated setup and version info
o Fixed string resource issues
o New EULA – Small Basic is no longer labelled a ‘Pre-Release’ product
Updated Small Basic site on MSDN, MSDNAA and DreamSpark:
o New UI with a cleaner look
o Less “Kid’s Corner” branding
o Hosting licensed 3rd Party content from 3 E-books on Small Basic (English only)
Localized teaching curriculum:
o Curriculum PPTXs now translated to all languages (except Icelandic)
o Ongoing project as most languages still have English screenshots & images
Small Basic Adoption: Small Basic continues to thrive around the globe. We have strong interest from Gulf Region, Russia, India, East Asia, etc so expect to see more features and upgrades.
Small Basic 1.0 Blog Announcement:
New Small Basic Home Page on MSDN:
Small Basic Teaching Curriculum in 18 languages:
E-Book content licensed for use on MSDN:
If you haven’t installed Small Basic yet, please give it a try. Perhaps you can use it to introduce a young person you know to the joys of programming.
· “Personally, I can't image my life as a high school Computer Science teacher without SmallBasic…” (Teacher)
· “… the import feature alone saves me countless hours of prep time -- I would like to see that kind of cloud integration in all IDEs in the future…” (Teacher)
· “This is exactly what we need.” (Academic)
· “We couldn’t compete in the K-12 space without it.” (Academic)
As your all aware from one of my recent posts HPC customers now have access to additional resources, which have been made available with the release of Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 2. I am pleased to announce the availability of a new white paper entitled Introducing Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP2 which can be downloaded via the Microsoft Download Center.
The paper is available for FREE and is authored by David Chappell, Principal of DavidChappell & Associates, and is designed to provide insight into Windows HPC Server for those running parallel applications on clusters. Chappell explains. “The goal is to support high-performance computing (HPC), a category that includes a range of applications that can benefit from being distributed across a cluster. To allow this, Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 Service Pack (SP) 2 supports four major types of parallel applications. This paper provides an introduction to Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP2, including a look at the services it provides for creating and using clusters and an overview of how it supports each of the four application types. With today’s broader notion of cluster, which includes desktop workstations and cloud instances as well as traditional on-premises servers, adopting this technology has gotten easier.” The whitepaper describes the following methods of parallel applications supported by Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP2
Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 2 (SP2) RTM is available for download here.
Lots of new improved features have been added to Microsoft Academic Search in July
Academic Search comes from Microsoft Research with much of the development coming from MS Research Asia.
What’s New in the July Release
Economics & Business
Molecular Biology & Genetics
Neuroscience & Behaviour
Pharmacology & Toxicology
Psychiatry & Psychology
For more inform visit Microsoft Academic Search and read more about feature at http://academic.research.microsoft.com/About/Help.htm#5
Today I’m excited to share with some exciting development news relating to Microsoft Surface and how were helping you support the next generation device – the Samsung SUR40 Microsoft Surface.
Microsoft Surface 2.0 SDK releases next week!
At MIX 2011, the Surface Team announced that they would release our SDK this summer. I am happy to share with you that the SDK will be available for public download for free from the Microsoft Download Center on July 12th.
For those of you who haven't seen or heard of Surface SUR40 please watch the following video from the MIX11 Conference
Here are some of the new features which are ideal in the academic teaching learning and research space.
1. The SDK now runs on the latest technologies: WPF 4.0, XNA 4.0, Windows 7 (32 bit and 64 bit).
2. Multiplatform support the new SDK target both Microsoft Surface Hardware and Windows 7 Touch enabled PCs with a single SDK. The surface team have coined the phrase “Write once - touch anywhere”. That means that the same binary can be used in both types of hardware and for you this means you can get developing for surface using multitouch PCs which will save budgets and mean you can get developing today!
3. The ability to actually query the hardware capabilities of the device.
4. New APIs for you to query the capabilities of the hardware (maximum number of touches recognized by the hardware, whether the hardware can actually distinguish touches caused by fingers versus other touches, tag recognition support, tilt support, etc.)
You can learn more about adapting your application to the environment here.
5. The availability of a Microsoft Surface Input Simulator. For more information on our new Input Simulator, check out the Surface Team blog post.
6. A new look consistent with other Microsoft Products such as Zune and Windows Phone. The style is clean, simple yet elegant.
7. The ability to port a Surface v1 application, check out the Microsoft Surface Migration PowerToy will be available via the Code Gallery on July 12 as well the PowerToy is also open source in case you want to tweak it for your needs.
Introducing the Microsoft Surface Design and Development Center on MSDN The Microsoft Surface Design and Development Center provides access to the Microsoft Surface 2.0 SDK, online training, hands on labs, design and interaction guidelines, application certification, documentation, whitepapers, developer forums and other resources. The Design and Development Center focuses on helping people get jumpstarted with developing amazing new vision based touch applications that people can share at the same time.
Microsoft Surface Online Training Resources
The online training is a course that enables people to learn about planning, designing, developing, testing, and deploying Microsoft Surface 2.0 applications for use on the Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface and Windows 7 touch PCs. People proceed through the course at their own pace, or jump directly to the topics which they need. Hands on labs provide developers and designers with a guided opportunity to start building applications and get familiarized with the Microsoft Surface 2.0 SDK. Design and interaction guidelines, certification, and SDK documentation help outline the best practices for making great touch applications that draw on the power of vision input and object interaction. The developer forums are a place that the Surface development community can share information, get help and support.
For more information on Microsoft Surface see the Microsoft Surface Team Blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/surface/
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.
What Dare is...
Dare to be Digital is a video games development competition for extremely talented students at Universities and Colleges of Art. Teams of 5 students, usually a mix of artists, programmers and audio, assemble at Abertay University for 9 weeks during June to August to develop a prototype video game, receiving mentoring from industry.
Want to know more about Dare to be Digital see the following video
At the end of the competition, the prototypes are displayed at talent showcasing event Dare ProtoPlay. The general public and industry experts get to play and vote for the games. At the Dare awards ceremony, three prizes of £2500 will be awarded to the three highest scoring teams based on the criteria of innovation and creativity, market potential and use of technology (none of the three will be specifically attributed to any particular criterion). Seven months later the winning teams attend the BAFTA Video Games Awards to compete for the coveted "Ones to Watch Award".
Microsoft is proud to be an official sponsor for the provision of Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft Kinect
In this blog I want to focus on the Kinect teams
The Microsoft Kinect Teams are:
Team Ape-y Eyes Blog http://daretobedigital.com/team-information-2011/team.php?idTeam=1491&year=2011 Twitter @ApeyEyes
Team Crispy Nugget Studios Blog http://daretobedigital.com/team-information-2011/team.php?idTeam=1233&year=2011 Twitter @Crispy_Nugget_S
Team Digital Knights Blog http://daretobedigital.com/team-information-2011/team.php?idTeam=1380&year=2011 Twitter @Dare2011DK Team Furnace Games Blog http://daretobedigital.com/team-information-2011/team.php?idTeam=1415&year=2011 Twitter @FurnaceGames
Here are the benefits for students taking part:
Want to know more
Simply visit http://www.daretobedigital.com/
Good news Windows Phone lovers, Orange UK are offering all Orange Windows Phone customers a free app every day during July. To download your free app, navigate to “Orange Selects” within the Marketplace on your phone.
The app at the top of the list is the free app of the day, and will change each day. Enjoy!