Technical computing in the cloud: Big solutions for big challenges

The following is a guest blog post from Bill Hilf, General manager, Technical computing, Microsoft


Every day there is a lot of interesting news and discussion around cloud computing.  One area that I find important and exciting is thinking about large scale and complex problems - classically tackled by high performance computing systems - and how cloud computing might change the game for these types of applications and workloads.

In many ways, the cloud enables the next generation of technical computing, or supercomputing, which harnesses massive computing power and enormous data for advanced modeling and simulation.  From disease research to climate change to crash test simulation to designing alternative energies, technical computing in the cloud offers tremendous potential for understanding some of the biggest challenges we face.

Moreover, by making vast computing resources broadly accessible and affordable, the cloud can make technical computing possible for a much bigger community of scientists, business people and governments.  Greater scientific experimentation, harnessing the wisdom of crowds, global-scale collaboration and extreme scale computational power and data analysis...simply put, the cloud can democratize technical computing.  That's why the cloud, specifically Windows Azure, is a cornerstone of Microsoft's strategy to bring technical computing to the mainstream.

At the Supercomputing 2010 conference we made a few announcements in this area.  We've made a bio-science application called NCBI BLAST on Windows Azure available to researchers around the world, meaning many more scientists can use the power of cloud computing to potentially identify new species, improve drug effectiveness, produce biofuels, and more.  We also announced an upcoming capability for our Windows HPC Server that allows customers to "burst" to Windows Azure from their on-premises systems for on-demand scale and capacity.

Already many customers are using Windows Azure for technical computing.  At our Professional Developer Conference in October Pixar Studios spoke about how it is looking to Azure to improve performance and infrastructure spending for its RenderMan visual effects application.  Oilfield services company Baker Hughes is using Windows Azure to augment its on-premises systems to accelerate its complex drilling simulations, in some cases helping its people do roughly nine months of work in a month. 

This is just the beginning.  The cloud is going to open up more technical computing possibilities than I can imagine.  The cloud is much more than just IT cost savings.  It offers the opportunity for science and business to approach some of humanity's largest problems, delivered at extreme scale to extreme masses.  Enabling broad access to technical computing resources will be one of the fundamental answers to the question of why we need cloud computing.  The possibilities are exciting and, as I wrote in an internal email a couple of years ago when we were forming this business, imagine "What if?"

Let the experiments begin.

Bill Hilf
General manager, Technical Computing, Microsoft