Microsoft gives Alan Turing Institute $5m in Azure credits

Donation will help data science body get its research started

Microsoft will be donating $5 million worth of Azure cloud computing resources to the Alan Turing Institute over five years, CEO Satya Nadella announced at London's Transform conference.

The company will also be training the facility's researchers in the latest data science techniques, as well as coaching them through 'cloud-native' attitudes towards problem-solving and computation.

Founded as a partnership with five top UK universities in addition to the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Turing Institute was established last year to act as a national research centre for data science and analytics.

Headquartered out of the British Library, the Institute is entirely cloud-powered. "There's something of the startup about the Alan Turing Institute, said Institute director Andrew Blake. "We don't have a big machine room; we wanted to get up and running very quickly."

"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.

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

The Institute is specifically built to be a cross-discipline think-tank, encompassing researchers, scientists and academics from the fields of statistics, mathematics, computer science, software engineering, social science and more.

The Institute's research begins this Autumn and will span six key industry verticals: engineering, technology, financial services, defence and security, smart cities and healthcare.

"Cloud computing is useful in data science research," Institute Research Fellow Chris Russell explained, "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."

"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," he added.

"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."

"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 Microsoft Data Group corporate vice president Joseph Sirosh.

"The Alan Turing Institute is a unique place where researchers from the UK's top universities come together to push the boundaries of data science," corporate vice president of Microsoft Research Jeannette M. Wing added.

"This partnership with the Alan Turing Institute is a prime example of how Microsoft is investing in the global data science research ecosystem, and we look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration."

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