History teaches that new tools and technologies catalyze innovation and enable discovery, and the most powerful – and useful – help their users simply and easily do things that were previously unimaginable; they become ubiquitous and invisible. In his 2005 memo, The Internet Services Disruption, Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie envisioned a new world of truly seamless and connected experiences, enabled by rich clients and what we now call cloud services.  Today, almost all of Microsoft products and services are cloud enabled.

As Ray anticipated, these services are reshaping social and business interactions, government processes and – I am especially excited about this – academic research. Hence, it is timely and apt that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be speaking (March 4 at 10am PST) at the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) about the power of clouds to drive innovation.

Research Insight via Clouds
It is an exciting time to be a student and a researcher. New scientific instruments are producing unprecedented volumes of data, and insights extracted from this data deluge promise to transform our understanding of domains as diverse as biology, astronomy and oceanography. But, the increasing scale and complexity of the scientific infrastructure needed for massive data analysis and computational modeling are challenging the resources of both individual researchers and academic institutions. I have seen these challenges first hand, both as a former academic researcher and as the leader of major initiatives to create and operate scientific computing infrastructure for the national community.

Together, Microsoft and University of Washington (UW) faculty and students from the UW eScience Institute have been collaborating to create a new approach to scientific innovation, one that uses Microsoft Windows Azure and cloud-enabled clients and allows researchers to focus on their work rather than on scientific infrastructure and operations.  The projects are as diverse and exciting as analyzing environmental data (AzureOcean) from the Pacific Northwest Regional Cabled Observatory, which will place thousands of chemical, geological and biological sensors on the seacoast floor, to exploring bacteria-derived biofuels via large-scale genetic sequence analysis (AzureBLAST).

The impact of this cloud collaboration extends far beyond the UW campus. The new Microsoft and National Science Foundation (NSF) partnership to provide Windows Azure cloud services and a set of rich client tools, supported by MSR engagement experts, drew directly from this partnership.

Powerful, easy-to-use cloud services are democratizing scientific innovation, enabling individual students and faculty to ask and answer 21st century questions, limited only by their ingenuity. That’s exactly the bright future of clouds one would expect from the rainy Pacific Northwest!

Posted by Daniel Reed
Corporate Vice President, Technology Policy and Strategy, Extreme Computing Group.

Daniel Reed is Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Technology Strategy and Policy (TS&P) and the Extreme Computing Group (XCG).  Contact him at reed@microsoft.com or read his other musings at http://www.hpcdan.org/

 For more information on Cloud Services and to watch Steve Ballmer's speech on March 4 at 10am PST please visit the Microsoft News Center