Microsoft gives NSF projects a free pass

Hoping to gain a toehold in the government’s move toward cloud computing, Microsoft has presented the National Science Foundation (NSF) with an offer that is difficult to refuse: any project approved by the NSF can run on Windows Azure at no charge.

The NSF has already gained access to cloud-based software services from Google and IBM, so this is not a coup for Microsoft. It does provide some insight into Microsoft’s reasons for investing so heavily in the Azure initiative.

In its announcement, NSF emphasizes that it is working hard to not play favorites among vendors. So it is working to give researchers a clear choice in the technology platforms available to them. In addition to these 3 cloud platforms, NSF also has massive grid project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University; it is backed by HP, Intel and Yahoo.

These investments are related to an NSF program for exploring new methods to design large cluster platforms and systems, especially to support data-intensive applications that require very large-scale clusters.

From the statement at the NSF website:

CISE and OCI will offer funding for researchers to explore the use of the Microsoft Windows Azure platform via three mechanisms: supplemental grants to existing awards, EAGER grants, and a forthcoming new solicitation. All of these mechanisms will be used to support any kind of computing research and software development for any type of application associated with the Windows Azure platform, perhaps in combination with the use of other platforms.

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