REDMOND, Wash., March 12, 2001 — For those accustomed to the long wait each time they try to retrieve a single song off the Internet, imagine being able to download a complete CD in six seconds. A team of researchers turned every online music buffs dream into a reality last summer, setting a new world record for intercontinental transmission of electronic information over the Internet.
But this was no typical team of researchers. To shatter this record, it took experts in several fields with access to more cutting-edge technology than any one organization could easily muster. In short, it took a team effort — one that included researchers from two universities, a federal agency and two technology companies. One of those companies was Microsoft.
“Collaboration and teamwork have become more than buzz words at Microsoft,”
said Doug Leland, director of the University Relations group of Microsoft Research (MSR).
“Combining our companys talents and resources with those at universities and within government agencies and other institutions has become an everyday reality and necessity.”
Microsofts commitment to collaboration will be on display this week at the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM1) conference in San Jose, Calif., with the company co-sponsoring the event and underwriting the live Web broadcast of the keynote speeches. During a keynote address today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will highlight the companys commitment to open, collaborative research. He will also point to how Microsoft now dedicates $75 million a year in cash and in-kind support to collaborative efforts with universities, government agencies and other organizations.
But the value of collaboration can be counted in more than dollars and cents, Microsoft researchers and outside partners say. According to them, cooperative research has increasingly become the lifeblood of innovation at Microsoft and throughout the computing world, with all involved mutually benefiting from the exchange of resources and talent.
University Relations Spearheads Collaboration
Collaborative projects between Microsoft and universities are not new. They date back to the companys earliest years. But as Microsoft and MSR have grown, so have the scope and range of these joint efforts, with the companys Education Sales and Marketing Group, Community Affairs, Recruiting and groups focused on software for K-12 schools all taking part. More recently, University Relations has become a driving force for collaboration.
Founded in 1997, the 40-member group has teams in three locations: Redmond; Cambridge, England; and Beijing. All share the same mission: To build partnerships by coordinating and funding research, fellowships and other projects and providing software and other technology. These partnerships involve faculty, staff and students and occur within more than computer science departments. They also involve business schools and engineering and information technology departments.
Leland said that what distinguishes Microsofts collaborative efforts from those of other technology companies is scope. Projects fostered by University Relations stretch beyond simple monetary support to joint research and joint-publishing of research papers, sponsorship and involvement in professional conferences, and development of technology curriculum at universities. The groups mission also includes efforts to enhance diversity throughout the technology industry, Leland said.
“We take a holistic approach to collaboration,”
“We want to play more of a consultative role — to open doors to collaboration on as many fronts as possible.”
Most of the research projects University Relations funds are in four broad areas of technological interest to Microsoft: dependability research, high-performance computing, .NET research and mobile and wireless technology.
During his ACM1 address, Ballmer plans to highlight several recent projects in these areas. These include Wireless Andrew, the largest academic wireless local area network (LAN) in the world, developed collaboratively by a team at Carnegie-Mellon University and other partners, including MSR and Microsofts Windows CE security team. Another highlight is HEAT, or Hostile Environment Application Tester. Developed by Professor James Whittacker at Florida Institute of Technology, HEAT is a tester that intercepts computer viruses. MSR has provided funding and support to help adapt HEAT so it can intercept and deny calls made by preset subroutines, or macros, when the calls are determined to have malicious intentions.
Collaboration Comes in Many Forms
A prime example of Microsofts approach to collaboration can be found at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, where the long list of joint projects includes the effort to break the Internet speed record. Researchers from the UW and MSR teamed up last year with colleagues at Qwest Communications, the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California and the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to send the information from a desktop computer in Redmond to another in Arlington, Va. In technology terms, they sustained a data transmission rate of 831 megabytes per second over a distance of 5,626 kilometers — something never done before.
Each of the partners brought their own expertise and technology. The UW provided use of the Pacific/Northwest GigaPOP, a regional network hub for high-speed Internet traffic that it helped develop. MSR and Microsoft product groups developed a Windows 2000 protocol stack — hardware capable of transmitting enormous amounts of information at lightening speed.
“It really required everybody to work together. No one institution could have done it alone,”
said Ed Lazowska, head of the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
More than bragging rights were at stake. Internet2, a consortium of universities, government and industry, sponsored the contest in conjunction with its efforts to develop advanced network technologies — the kind that will be needed once high-definition video, video teleconferencing and CD-quality sound become more widely used over the Internet.
Other UW/MSR collaborations include an annual summer institute that gathers researchers to work on computer science challenges, joint recruiting efforts to bring top graduate students to the Seattle area, and joint acquisition and use of advanced equipment. The most constant of the collaborations is living and breathing: Microsoft employees who work with students and faculty nearly every day, including seven MSR researchers who teach courses on the companys time with no charge to the university or to students.
Lazowska, who also serves on the ACM1 oversight council, said the UW is lucky to have Microsoft as a partner. Beyond the technology and other resources provided by Microsoft,
“the intangibles are enormous,”
“I couldnt even begin to put a dollar figure on the value.”
Meet the “Collaboration Magnet”
David Salesin is among the MSR researchers who teach at the UW. In fact, he spends so much time there he has earned the title
from his colleagues. He splits his time between Microsoft and the UW, teaching computer graphics courses Wednesdays and Thursdays and working at MSR on Tuesdays and Fridays. He rotates between jobs on Mondays.
Salesin, an award-winning computer graphics designer, was teaching at the UW when Microsoft purchased a startup company and technology he developed. Following the purchase, Microsoft agreed to let Salesin continue teaching computer graphics classes part-time and to pay his salary while at the UW.
Salesin said he enjoys his dual existence:
“I feel very much at home in both places.”
And, he added, everybody involved benefits from the arrangement. The university gets his services for free, he links top students with opportunities to work on Microsoft research projects, and the fresh insights and extra hands provided by the students allow MSR to do more and better research, Salesin said.
“A lot of the most exciting, far reaching work that gets done at MSR involves these students,”
Texas A & M University researcher Nitin Vaidyas wireless technology research benefited in another way when he began collaborating several years ago with Victor Bahl, a systems and networking researcher at MSR.
“If academics such as myself dont talk to people in the industry, it is hard to be very realistic about what we do,”
“People like Victor provide a reality check.”
Although he works with various technology companies, Vaidya said the value of working with Microsoft is multiplied by the freedom the company provides in the use of grant money.
“Most of the time when companies give money, they want control,”
“With Microsoft, there are no constraints on what we do. We can do whatever we want to do, as long as it deals with wireless technology.”
Microsoft “Understands Value of Strong Faculty”
Some critics say collaboration is about much more than teamwork for high-technology companies such as Microsoft. They say its about recruiting a partners best players and ensuring everybody on the team eventually purchases the companys bats and balls.
Lazowska doesnt buy it. Why, he asks, would Microsoft invest $75 million a year to get universities to use its software?
“People use their software no matter what,”
“Microsoft could be sitting back and using that money to hire more software sales people or buying new technologies through mergers and acquisitions of other companies. There are lots of other very successful companies who are doing this, drafting in the slipstream behind other people. Microsoft has decided its going to lead.”
He noted that Microsoft had only hired one UW computer science faculty member — Salesin,
“and they are granting half of his time back to us for free.”
He feels the company has shown
with other universities as well.
“Microsoft understands the importance of having strong faculty at universities, if you want to hire strong students.”
University Relations Director Leland said Microsofts interest in collaboration is driven by a fundamental purpose.
“The pace of change is so incredibly fast right now that the sparks of innovation are popping up all over the place,”
“We cant generate them all ourselves. Neither can our partners or our competitors. As a result, there has never been a more critical time for industry, academia and government to get together and jointly figure out how best to exploit new ideas and solve some of the big challenges.”
Leland said Microsofts open-publishing policy exemplifies the transparency of the companys motives. Rather than require its researchers to shield their work, MSR encourages them to first publish their findings and seek patents later. This helps spark debate and helps advance knowledge throughout the technology community, Leland said.
“When it comes down to the point where its time to find commercial potential for a new idea, we are confident in our ability to develop and market products better than the competition,”
MSRs Bahl points to his partnership with Vaidya as an example of just how unrestrictive Microsoft is when it comes to collaboration. The two researchers got to know each other at various professional conferences and began talking about computer networking. Two years ago, Bahl invited Vaidya and a student from Texas A & M to spend the summer at Microsofts Redmond campus. That summer, they began looking for ways to improve the widely used wireless network standard IEEE 802.11. Their work led to the discovery of flaws in the algorithms within the standard and ways to fix the flaws without breaking the standard. They included their findings and ways to improve the standard in a research paper that was recently published. Microsoft last year granted Texas A & M $15,000 to help cover expenses as Vaidya and Bahl work to solve other problems they discovered during their initial research.
Bahl said their work isnt tied to any Microsoft products.
“We did this research because we thought we could improve this standard,”
“Microsoft isnt going to make any money out of the improvements weve suggested. We are just going to make the experience better for people who use this standard.”
ACM1: Another Example of Collaboration
At ACM1, Microsofts efforts to spur collaboration stretch beyond sponsorship of the conference and the live Web broadcasts. The company is also hosting the largest booth at the event. The technologies chosen for the booth have visual and hands-on appeal, Leland said, in hopes that they will capture the interest of the young students who will attend ACM1.
“Attracting the next generation of researchers, technicians and software engineers is part of being a good collaborator,”
“Wed be thrilled if even one student walked out of the conference excited about the idea of someday working in high technology. The future of our industry has to begin somewhere.”