14 July 2009

I Fear Microsoft Geeks Bearing Gifts...

Look, those nice people at Microsoft Research are saving science from its data deluge:

Addressing an audience of prominent academic researchers today at the 10th annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, Microsoft External Research Corporate Vice President Tony Hey announced that Microsoft Corp. has developed new software tools with the potential to transform the way much scientific research is done. Project Trident: A Scientific Workflow Workbench allows scientists to easily work with large volumes of data, and the specialized new programs Dryad and DryadLINQ facilitate the use of high-performance computing.

Created as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to advance the state of the art in science and help address world-scale challenges, the new tools are designed to make it easier for scientists to ingest and make sense of data, get answers to questions at a rate not previously possible, and ultimately accelerate the pace of achieving critical breakthrough discoveries. Scientists in data-intensive fields such as oceanography, astronomy, environmental science and medical research can now use these tools to manage, integrate and visualize volumes of information. The tools are available as no-cost downloads to academic researchers and scientists at http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/tools.

Aw, shucks, isn't that just *so* kind? Doing all this out of the goodness of their hearts? Or maybe not:

Project Trident was developed by Microsoft Research’s External Research Division specifically to support the scientific community. Project Trident is implemented on top of Microsoft’s Windows Workflow Foundation, using the existing functionality of a commercial workflow engine based on Microsoft SQL Server and Windows HPC Server cluster technologies. DryadLINQ is a combination of the Dryad infrastructure for running parallel systems, developed in the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley lab, and the Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) extensions to the C# programming language.

So basically Project Trident is more Project Trojan Horse - an attempt to get Microsoft HPC Server cluster technologies into the scientific community without anyone noticing. And why might Microsoft be so keen to do that? Maybe something to do with the fact that Windows currently runs just 1% of the top 500 supercomputing sites, while GNU/Linux has over 88% share.

Microsoft's approach here can be summed up as: accept our free dog biscuit, and be lumbered with a dog.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

9 comments:

guy said...

There isn't much about Microsoft for which I have any admiration, but you've got to be impressed by their dumb persistence in some markets. The science community has got to be a tough sell --- unix/linux is 'their' system. But Microsoft keep coming back like missionaries who just can't accept these perverse heathen who simply won't convert.

Who knows? Maybe these tools *are* just what armies of scientists have been crying out for (I'm not a professional scientist). But the language they pitch is such a turn-off: "Created as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to advance the state of the art in science and help address world-scale challenges". See? You guys just can't get organised! We know just what you need.

If MS is *really* concerned to "accelerate the pace of achieving critical breakthrough discoveries" shouldn't they develop these tools for the 'standard' platform --- linux?

glyn moody said...

Indeed; or at least release them as open source so others can port them.

David Gerard said...

Written in C# - perhaps it'll run in Mono on Linux ;-p

glyn moody said...

Let's not go there...

Jose_X said...

Too late.

..Yeah, I think we should change to mono so maybe the 88% to 1% ratio will be reduced significantly based on performance, Microsoft favored business leverage, and patent reasons.

Jose_X said...

Exhibit A: The most viciously successful company at lock-in and monopolization in the history of software peddles their inferior, costly, and proprietary products: to save you time and money, they say.

Exhibit B: The open-source licensed and transparent, flexible, inexpensive, robust, scalable, high-performing Linux.

I choose B.

Sum Yung Gai said...

The problem is that they'll probably get some universities to go for it. There was a time when (thanks to some contributions by Bill Gates) the University of Washington CompSci department went from teaching with UNIX C to teaching with Visual C++. Didn't work out so well. When these kids graduated, their new employers found that they couldn't really program well in C or C++. They only knew how to program "for Windows". They had no idea what a makefile was. These employers made their displeasure known to the university's department head.

The U of W quickly went back to teaching real C/C++ on UNIX.

matthewb said...

Well, to give you some idea...

I am a scientist in the field of solid state physics. As I work at a governmental facility in Australia, I've been given no choice but Widows XP (downgraded from Vista) on my desktop (our mail runs on Microsoft Exchange).

Out of 8 people in my area 6 started their work with installing Cygwin, my superiors use Macbooks, and I run Linux on a virtual machine. We do all the calculations on two Linux clusters.

So much for what the scientists need.

glyn moody said...

@Sum Yung Gai, @matthewb: thanks for that background info