December 1, 2005

Microsoft Partners With C.U. For Research on Computing

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Microsoft will fund high-performance computing (HPC) projects at Cornell University and nine other institutions around the world, the software giant announced on Nov. 15.

Although the company did not disclose details, a spokesperson said the investment in HPC centers will be “multiyear” and “multi-million dollar.”

HPC computers are the fastest and most powerful in the world; these computers, which consist of many processors linked together, compute data more than a thousand times faster than average Pentium 4 desktops do.

Chair Bill Gates announced Microsoft’s investment in 10 Institutes for High-Performance Computing at Supercomputing 2005, an international conference on HPC. He said that collaborations between Microsoft and academia will aid ongoing software research and product innovation to tackle the most challenging computing problems.

At the Cornell Theory Center (CTC), the University’s hub of HPC, research projects span the breadth of evolutionary robotics to analysis of genetic human polymorphism to financial modeling. When Microsoft’s chief technical officer, Ray Ozzie, visited CTC last summer to tour the facilities and meet faculty members, he also asked for project proposals from Cornell researchers.

Cornell submitted four proposals to Ozzie: making scholarly information readily available to researchers in a Microsoft Office format; making genomic databases easier for scientists to access; distributing software components of an engineering simulation geographically across the country through a web interface; and optimizing resources in response to a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

Ozzie “was extremely impressed with what he heard. He mentioned that we were doing research he hadn’t heard other universities address,” recalled Linda Callahan, executive director of CTC.

She said she believed the impressions Ozzie formed contributed significantly to Microsoft choosing Cornell as one of the 10 institutes.

Although Callahan is unclear about which of the proposals Microsoft will fund, John Borozan, a group product manager for Microsoft’s Windows Server Division, told The Sun in an email that “at [the] high level, CTC is helping a number of Open Source bio applications reach compatibility with the Windows platform, and has submitted Windows benchmarks (performance test, related to computing speed) for consideration and placement on the Top500 list.”

The Top500 list, as the name implies, ranks the 500 fastest and most powerful high-performance computers in the world. Cornell’s HPC cluster is 326th on the list.

Cornell first introduced Microsoft to the potential of HPC about five years ago, when CTC researchers demonstrated to the company that applications requiring HPC could perform as well in a Windows environment as they could in more traditional environments.

For Microsoft, developing HPC solutions makes financial sense, since many of the businesses that require increasingly sophisticated and rapid calculations already run on Windows.

At Supercomputing 2005, Gates also introduced Microsoft’s own HPC cluster – the Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 Beta 2 – scheduled for release in the first half of 2006.

Along with Cornell, other institutions for HPC are the University of Tennessee, the University of Texas; the University of Utah; the University of Virginia; Nizhni Novgorod University (Russia); Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China); Southampton University (England); Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan); and the University of Stuttgart (Germany).

Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor