Imagine Cup Students Head to the Cloud with Windows Azure

WARSAW, Poland – July 7, 2010 – Cloud computing has been the IT industry’s “next big thing” for several years running. If this year’s Imagine Cup competition is any indication, though, tomorrow’s technology leaders are shepherding the next big thing into the here and now.

The world’s top technology students are gathered in Warsaw, Poland for the Imagine Cup 2010 World Finals. One of the biggest tech trends at this year’s competition is that students are leveraging Windows Azure and the cloud to tackle the world’s toughest challenges as outlined by the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

More than a third of the teams competing in the software design category are using Windows Azure to deploy their solutions that address issues such as hunger, poverty, and environmental sustainability, said Jon Perera, general manager of education strategy at Microsoft.

“Just about every single student here is excited to take advantage of the cloud,” he said. “What we’re hearing from students is that Azure takes care of running their solution so they can focus on the creative part of problem-solving.”

Croatia’s Team ThinkGreen is one that relied on Azure to scale quickly. ThinkGreen monitors and regulates conditions in greenhouses. The goal is to bring technology and knowledge to farmers to help them increase food production, said Nebojsa Veron, one of four members of the team.

A key feature of ThinkGreen is its Knowledge Center, a large database that pools information from crop experts around the world. Veron said the team decided to host the database in Azure so multiple users from around the world could access the knowledge center. This was the first time any of the ThinkGreen members had used Azure, and it was “an exciting experience,” he said.

“We wanted to get lots of data from experts, and we needed something to scale quickly so we didn’t have to worry about it,” he said. “Azure will help us bring knowledge and technology to farmers, and maybe make a small step toward ending hunger.”

Grzegorz Glonek of Poland’s fteams explains InterPeter, a software project that helps deaf people and the hearing impaired communicate. “Azure was an excellent way to provide scalability so we could connect to our service over the cloud,” Glonek said.

Tim Harris, senior marketing manager for Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Group, said he wasn’t surprised so many students were using Azure. Tackling the planet’s problems requires the ability to deploy solutions globally, and the Microsoft tool helps them do just that.

“These students are dreaming big,” Harris said. “They’re building applications that they want the whole world to use. When you’re looking to build something like that, you need a platform that can actually scale up to the entire planet.”

The IT industry is only on the verge of the cloud computing revolution, and Microsoft’s history suggests it can deliver what tomorrow’s developer’s need, Harris said.

With Azure as a platform, developers can deliver services like InterPeter, the Imagine Cup project from Poland’s fteams. InterPeter uses Azure to help deaf people and the hearing impaired communicate, said Grzegorz Glonek. The software is able to translate natural speech into sign language and vice versa. “Azure was an excellent way to provide scalability so we could connect to our service over the cloud,” Glonek said.

Perera said he thinks that cloud computing will go mainstream at next year’s Imagine Cup. Some students in Warsaw who aren’t currently using Azure in their projects said they would soon. Ireland’s Team ImagiNote was one team that said they would be looking to use Azure to help deploy their project on a global scale.

Ireland’s Team ImagiNote plans to use Windows Azure to bring its musical therapy application to a wider audience, said Nikola Nevin, shown here being interviewed at the Imagine Cup 2010 Worldwide Finals.

ImagiNote is an application that uses Soundbeam technology to translate movement into music. The team has demoed the game for children with disabilities, and it’s been a big hit, said Nikola Nevin. The software even lets children make music with a blink of an eye, so that even someone who is paralyzed can make music.

Nikola noted that there are 650 million people with disabilities worldwide, and leveraging the cloud could help connect them with technology in new ways. “We’d love to use Azure to get people all around the world using ImagiNote and keeping this alive,” she said.

The project started with a much narrower focus – Nikola’s grandfather, a musician who was forced to stop playing the guitar when he developed tremors in his hands. He reacted skeptically when he first heard about ImagiNote, but once he tried it he told his granddaughter that he felt like he was actually playing guitar again.

“This is a small solution to a massive problem,” she said. “But the potential to help people around the world is huge. That’s why cloud computing is so important.”

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