Building cloud virtual machines for research
As regular readers of this blog know, the Windows Azure for Research program recurrently solicits proposals on the use of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, in scholarly research. Winning projects receive a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources.
We review these proposals on the fifteenth of even-numbered months (February, April, June, and so forth), so the next deadline, February 15, is fast approaching. This marks our third round of solicitations, and the response so far has been outstanding, as a review of current grantees and their projects attests.
In addition to these standing, bi-monthly requests for proposals, we are initiating a new set of calls, focused on specific cloud-based research topics. Submissions for the first of these special calls are due on April 15, 2014.
Our first special call—Science VMs for Research—requests proposals to build virtual machine (VM) images that can be shared with communities of users. While it is standard practice for scientific communities to share important open-source, domain-specific software tools, using these tools often involves complex installation procedures or the resolution of library conflicts. Cloud computing obviates such impediments by enabling communities to share a complete operating system image, pre-installed with all the tools needed by specialized groups of users. Thus, a newcomer to the group can install the image in the cloud and be doing productive work very quickly. Moreover, the community can keep the cloud-based VM image updated with the latest version of the software.
Microsoft Open Technologies operates VM Depot, a community-driven catalog of preconfigured operating systems, applications, and development stacks—VM images that can installed in minutes by anyone with a Windows Azure account. Several VM Depot images have proven popular with the scientific community. For example, Elastacloud has donated an image called Azure Data Analysis, which includes R, IPython, and a number of high quality open-source, data analysis tools. Several other domain-specific VMs are in the works.
The Science VMs for Research call will provide grants of Windows Azure resources to develop and test new contributions to the VM Depot. Submit your proposals for the special call via our submission site; proposals should include “Science VM” in the project title and must be received by April 15.
We’re looking forward to reviewing both the February 15 and April 15 proposals, as we work together to bring the power of cloud computing to scholarly and scientific research.
—Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections