The same week that Microsoft began charging most users of its newly commercialized Windows Azure cloud computing platform, the company also said that it is giving free access to qualified scientific researchers.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday that it will provide free use of Windows Azure for three years to projects identified by the NSF.
The idea is that the variety and sheer volume of data collected by scientific researchers has grown exponentially in recent years, and that cloud computing can help alleviate the challenges of supporting that research, including where to store and manage it.
"We are drowning in data," Jeannette Wing, NSF assistant director, said on a joint conference call with Microsoft. "The computer science community has been investigating cloud computing [as a solution] for several years."
One of the challenges is that building and deploying a worldwide cloud computing fabric is an enormous and expensive task in itself.
"It's an incredible burden on institutions who spend substantial time maintaining infrastructure instead of innovating," said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of Microsofts Technology Policy and Strategy and eXtreme Computing Group.
Besides access to Azure, Microsoft's global cloud computing platform, the company will also provide a support team to help researchers integrate cloud technology into their projects.
"Windows Azure provides on-demand compute and storage to host, scale and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft datacenters," Microsoft and the NSF said in a joint statement.
"Microsoft researchers and developers will work with grant recipients to equip them with a set of common tools, applications and data collections that can be shared with the broad academic community, and also provide its expertise in research, science and cloud computing," the statement continued.
Researchers can get access to the Azure platform by applying to the NSF with a supplemental request for an already-funded project, or through two other grant requests for funding for new projects. Some funding requests are due as early as April 15, according to the NSF.
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