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Microsoft Donates Cloud Credit To Alan Turing Institute

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Researchers at London’s Alan Turing Institute to utilise Azure cloud after Microsoft donation of £3.9 million

Microsoft’s cloud push continues with the news that it has donated $5 million (£3.95m) of Azure credits to help researchers with data intensive tasks.

The researchers are located at the Alan Turing Institute headquartered at the British Library in London, which is the UK’s national centre for data science.

Cloud Credit

The thinking is that the £3.9 million credit will allow the researchers to use the Azure cloud computing platform computer-intensive activities such as data analytics, natural language processing, machine learning and data visualisation. These projects will span financial services, mathematics, right through to engineering and smart cities.

In addition, Microsoft also announced that its researchers would train “every researcher at the Turing in the latest approaches to data science”.

“More than 100 research staff – ranging from computer scientists and engineers, and experts in machine learning, to statisticians, mathematicians and social scientists – will soon begin work at The Alan Turing Institute with the mission to advance the world-changing potential of data science,” said Andrew Blake, the Institute’s director.

“Azure cloud services will provide our data scientists with an easily accessible platform where they can prototype ideas with a fast turnaround of results, complementing local computing facilities available in the Institute’s five founding universities, and national resources such as the supercomputer ARCHER supported by EPSRC,” Blake added.

Microsoft Azure cloud tools featured“We are delighted that Microsoft is enabling access to Azure cloud services, and supporting this crucial element of our research infrastructure.”

The sentiment was echoed by Microsoft.

“We are proud to be working closely with the Alan Turing Institute to show how AI, machine learning and data science can be applied in novel ways to real-world problems,” said Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of the data group at Microsoft.

“We are excited to be enabling researchers to do their best work by providing access to the state-of-the-art capabilities in Microsoft Azure,” he said.

The Alan Turing Institute is joint venture founded last year on the back of the Conservatives election manifesto vow to make the UK the “technology centre of Europe”. The Institute is made up of more than 100 researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, University College London, Warwick and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

“Cloud computing is useful in data science research because we often spend a lot of time thinking and coding, and then we have a short window where we want to use a lot of computation power to immediately test our ideas, before we go back to thinking again,” said Chris Russell, a research fellow in computer vision and machine learning at The Alan Turing Institute.

Azure Push

“One area of my research is how I can produce vivid and lifelike 3D models from simple camera footage,” said Russell. “Even though the code I produce is fast enough to run on a home laptop, in order to get the best 3D reconstructions on a wide range of videos I may need to rerun the code hundreds of thousands of times.”

“This kind of fluctuating need for computation is a great match for the cloud which lets me run these large-scale experiments in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee,” said Russell.

Microsoft has been heavily promoting its Azure cloud service in the face of a moribund PC market and a withdraw from the mobile handset sector.

It has its own UK data centres and earlier this month Microsoft opened Azure data centres in France to expand the reach of its cloud platform in Europe.

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