Microsoft and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a collaboration to provide NSF-supported researchers with free access to the Windows Azure cloud platform and its development tools for three years. The evident hope is that those researchers will leverage the cloud-computing capabilities of the platform to analyze massive amounts of data inherent in large projects. Microsoft made the Windows Azure platform generally available on Feb. 1 in 21 countries, requiring users to pay for the service.
An agreement between Microsoft and the National Science
Foundation will see the software giant providing NSF-supported researchers with
access to the Windows Azure cloud platform and its various development tools.
According to a press release issued by the NSF, following a joint press
conference in Washington, D.C.,
on the afternoon of Feb. 4, the use of Azure is designed to complement
"the computational platforms that NSF has made available to the research
community to date."
Researchers' access to Azure will be free. More information about applying
for grants supported by Azure can be found here. The
NSF will review and award those grants, as well as manage the actual projects,
which will have three years' use of Azure.
"Cloud computing can transform how research is conducted, accelerating
scientific exploration, discovery and results," Dan Reed, corporate vice
president of Technology Strategy and Policy and Extreme Computing at Microsoft,
said in a Feb. 4 statement. "These grants will also help researchers
explore rich and diverse multidisciplinary data on a large scale."
Projects in areas such as genetic research and sequencing can generate hundreds
or thousands of gigabytes' worth of data per minute, in turn placing an urgent
need for massive amounts of computing power on the scientific teams attempting
to absorb and refine that data.
"We've entered a new era of science-one based on data-driven
exploration-and each new generation of computing technology, such as cloud
computing, creates unprecedented opportunities for discovery," Jeannette
Wing, assistant director for the NSF Computer and Information Science
directorate, said in a Feb. 4 statement. "We are working with Microsoft to
provide the academic community a novel cloud computing service with which to
experiment and explore, with the grander goal of advancing the frontiers of
science and engineering as we tackle societal grand challenges."
On Feb. 1, Microsoft
announced that the Windows Azure platform, the company's entrant into the
cloud-computing space, was generally available in 21 countries. As part of
that rollout, Windows Azure and SQL Azure stopped being free, starting at 12:00 a.m. GMT
on Feb. 2, in order to give all those countries the chance at a full January of
The Azure platform features three components: Windows Azure, the operating
system as a service; SQL Azure, a cloud-relational database; and Windows Azure
Platform AppFrabric, which offers secure connectivity and federated access
control for applications.
Azure payment options include a pay-as-you-go model, a subscription format
and volume licensing. With the cloud-computing market currently estimated at
around $150 billion, and filling rapidly with competitors such as Google and
Amazon, Microsoft has sufficient impetus to attempt to enter the space. Other
company cloud-based initiatives include Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V virtual
machine support on Azure and stripped-down versions of its Office 2010
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.