Microsoft Enlists the Cloud, Big Data for Scientific Research

Stow the lab coat. Microsoft is positioning Windows Azure as a cloud platform for scientific discovery and innovation.

Microsoft isn't only hoping to attract enterprises to its Windows Azure cloud platform. The company is also courting scientists with the promise of "cloud power" to fuel new discoveries.

The tech giant, which is rapidly expanding its cloud offerings as part of its transition into a "device and services" company, announced a new program called Windows Azure for Research that combines outreach, incentives and training to help the scientific community leverage Microsoft's cloud data centers to further their research. And users can expect the enterprise-grade technologies that power big business workloads, said the company.

"By taking advantage of the same platform that thousands of our commercial customers—and we at Microsoft Research—rely on, scientists can accelerate the speed and dissemination of scientific discovery," stated Dennis Gannon, director of Cloud Research Strategy at Microsoft Research, in a Sept. 9 blog post.

Microsoft, as Gannon noted, has floated Windows Azure as a research-as-a-service platform in the past. Already, Azure has helped advance "pioneering projects [that] have cut across disciplines, from bioinformatics to ecology, social network analysis, civil engineering, mobile computing, natural language processing, and more," he boasted.

Now, in the wake of a continual campaign to expand Azure's capabilities, Microsoft is aiming higher.

Offering a sampling of the tools and technologies available under the program, Gannon noted, "Windows Azure now supports persistent Windows and Linux virtual machines; Hadoop services through HDInsight; mobile services support for Windows, Android, and iOS clients; virtual networks and identity management; various database services; Windows Media Services; and programming support for C++, C#, F#, Java, Python, Ruby, and R."

Hadoop support aside, Gannon hinted that Microsoft's cloud was ready for the big data challenges associated with pursuing groundbreaking scientific progress, namely "dealing with massive amounts of data and the growing requirements of distributed multidisciplinary collaborations."

The Windows Azure for Research program seeks to link the scientists with Azure using a variety of new initiatives. First, the company is awarding 100 grants a year, which will go toward "individual projects or for community efforts to host scientific data and services." Calls for special topics will be posted periodically on, according to the company, and the group is expecting to accept proposals on a continual basis.

A series of Windows Azure for Research Training events will kick off this month in Seattle (Sept. 16-17). Future workshops will be held in Brazil, China, Korea, Germany, Japan and several other locales. In addition, Microsoft plans to publish technical resources and a cloud computing curriculum online.

Arguing that "building community is the best way to encourage people to share techniques, ideas, and discoveries," Gannon said Microsoft will engage the scientific community. "We will sponsor an annual Windows Azure for Research workshop and will participate in existing scientific gatherings," he stated.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...