Microsoft opens its cloud to researchers

A new partnership between Microsoft and NSF will give researchers access to Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure.
A new partnership between Microsoft and NSF will give researchers access to Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure.

Researchers have until March 15 to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would grant access to Microsoft Corp.’s massive cloud-computing power for three years.

Researchers and academic teams chosen by NSF officials will use Microsoft Azure, a program that offers enormous data storage and computing capabilities using the corporation’s data centers.

College and university researchers have gravitated to cloud computing in recent years as the model has proven cost efficient—campuses don’t have to maintain pricey on-site server racks—and has removed many restrictions prevalent on traditional computer networks.

“Cloud computing can transform how research is conducted, accelerating scientific exploration, discovery, and results,” said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of technology strategy and policy and eXtreme Computing at Microsoft. “These grants will also help researchers explore rich and diverse multidisciplinary data on a large scale.”

The NSF is equipped to handle a massive influx of applications to use Microsoft Azure. Every year, the foundation reviews 45,000 grant requests and doles out 11,500 research awards.

Along with access to Windows Azure for a three-year period, Microsoft will offer a support team to help researchers integrate cloud technology into their research. Microsoft researchers and developers will work with grant recipients to give them a set of common applications and data collections that can be shared with the broad academic community.

Microsoft’s cloud-computing program will allow researchers to compare and analyze numerous data sets, said Jeannette M. Wing, assistant director for the NSF Computer and Information Science directorate.

“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,” Wing said.

Microsoft’s partnership with the NSF “is quite a novel arrangement and is really an excellent example of a way for the federal government, private-sector industry, and academia to work together for [the] common good,” said Daniel Atkins, vice president for research cyber-infrastructure at the University of Michigan.

NSF officials learned this week that President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget includes an 8-percent increase for the organization, which would have a $7.4 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

Denny Carter

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