Microsoft's TechFest Embraces Cloud Computing

New research organization is formed to focus on reducing the operational costs of data centers.

Microsoft researchers demonstrated more than 40 technology projects, including one based squarely at cloud computing, this week at the company’s annual TechFest gathering.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) researchers showed off new, evolving developments and concepts including a virtual office receptionist. In one scenario, the receptionist could carry on a brief voice conversation with an employee and fetch a campus shuttle bus for transportation.

"Over the next couple of decades, the way we interact with computers will change," said  Eric Horvitz, principal researcher, said on a video explaining the receptionist project. "[A technology called] 'situated interaction' aims at giving computers more reasoning abilities and the capability to understand the pace and flow of conversation and how interactions between people occur.”

This year's TechFest aimed for less glitz and more practicality, including demos of projects aimed at lowering costs associated with running data centers, as well as technologies meant to work with Microsoft's  emerging cloud services computing initiative.

Cloud Computing Focus

TechFest started in 2001 as a way for Microsoft Research to show off its technologies and projects to the company's product groups, hopefully finding a home for some of that work in Microsoft's commercial products and services.

Lab chief Rick Rashid, announced a new research organization dubbed Cloud Computing Futures (CCF), which will be "focused on reducing the operational costs of data centers and increasing their adaptability and resilience to failure," according to a Microsoft statement. The goal of the project is to lower data center costs by 400 percent, the statement said. That may turn out to be of major importance for Microsoft, given its developing cloud services initiative and the mega data centers the company is building to support it.

Rashid, who is senior vice president of Microsoft Research, appointed Dan Reed, who is currently managing director of scalable and multicore systems, to head the new organization. "The Cloud Computing Futures work begins with a key concept: the data center is a computer, and it must be designed and programmed as an integrated system," according to a Microsoft statement.

Reduced Power Consumption

In one demonstration, presented by Jim Larus, Microsoft Research director of software architectures on the CCF team, showed off a prototype rack of data center servers designed to consume significantly less power than a conventional data center by using low-power CPUs originally meant for use in netbooks. The idea is to get more computing power while using less energy in the giant data centers that Microsoft is in the process of building.

"These [Microsoft data centers] are very, very large plants running tens of thousands of servers that consume enormous amounts of energy and enormous amounts of cooling," Larus said on a video demo of the prototype.

Larus demoed a rack holding 50 servers each built around a netbook CPU. The rack itself and the servers had no cooling fans except for individual fans on the processors.

"You might need more of them, but since they use one-tenth or one-twentieth as much power, it uses less power [than a rack of conventional servers]," Larus said.

"The goal of the CCF project is to identify, create, and evaluate new, potentially disruptive innovations that can enable new software and application capabilities while also reducing the cost of building and operating cloud services," Reed said in a Q&A posted on Microsoft's website.

(This article was adapted from InternetNews.com.)

TAGS: cloud computing,services,Microsoft,Demo,TechFest

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