SC10: The Future of Discovery and the Power of Simplicity

I’m on the Steering Committee for SC10, the annual high-performance computing (HPC) conference, which is this week in New Orleans.  The conference brings together an extraordinary group of scientists, engineers, educators, software developers and government leaders to share and experience the latest in high-performance computing hardware, software and applications.  It’s the place to be.

From a personal perspective, it is always an exciting event, given my long background in HPC. I can rarely walk more than twenty feet without meeting an old friend, a former student, a past or present collaborator, or friendly competitor. It is also a privilege for me to again chair the IEEE awards committee for the Sidney Fernbach and Seymour Cray awards, which will be presented during the conference.

The theme of this year’s conference is The Future of Discovery. That also  seems to capture the spirit of our work at Microsoft to democratize research and accelerate discovery with client plus cloud technology

Today, in almost all domains, scientists and engineers are being inundated by a data tsunami.  In astronomy, new instruments capture more data in days or weeks than had previously been captured in decades or even centuries. In biology, high throughput gene sequencers and other instruments are producing data at unprecedented rates.  Simply put, science is in transition from data poverty to data plethora. The implication is that future advantage will accrue to those who can best extract insights from this data tsunami. 

For us to continue to advance science and solve humanity’s increasingly complex challenges, we will need to better leverage the power of advanced computing.   Yet the vast majority of researchers – what I call the “excluded middle”— have neither the capital resources nor the skills to acquire and manage the advanced computing infrastructure required to mine and manage this data. Consequently, the pace and scale of the research is constrained.  This is not news; it has been repeatedly documented in studies of computational science challenges and global industrial competitiveness.

It is one of the reasons I am excited about client plus cloud computing as a powerful mechanism for inclusion. By simplifying access via intuitive client software and connecting those clients to cloud services, individual researchers can gain access to large-scale storage and computing capabilities without the need to maintain local HPC infrastructure. I believe this scaling will have a transformative, democratizing effect – driving change and creating discovery and innovation opportunities.


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Today, Microsoft announced the release of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, combining local client interfaces with the power of cloud computing for critical biological research.  The downloadable toolkit will allow a research team to build their own custom BLAST portal, with access to cloud services and data.

NCBI BLAST on Windows Azure can access publicly available NCBI life science data hosted by Microsoft, as well as provide the ability to share private data collections and collaborate with other researchers, while leveraging the computational scalability of the cloud.
More broadly, we have been working to bring the power of client plus cloud computing to researchers in a wide range of scientific and engineering disciplines.  In Microsoft Research, we are driving a worldwide program to engage the research community.  Microsoft’s technical computing initiative is aimed at bringing supercomputing power and resources – particularly through Windows Azure – for modeling and prediction to more organizations across science, business and government
It’s about simplicity, democratization and inclusion.  It’s about scalability and integration.  Most importantly, it’s about discovery and innovation.

Posted by Dan Reed

Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research