Data in the Cloud from Dallas to Mars

There’s a lot going on at this week’s Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC 09); it’s a traditional launchpad for cool new stuff. I thought I’d point out several of the government-relevant announcements and technology roll-outs.

I specifically want to spotlight something called Codename Dallas, and how NASA and others have begun using it. In the keynote this morning Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie told PDC attendees (and his streaming-video audience) that a landslide of new sensors and observational systems are changing the world by recording “unimaginable volumes of data… But this data does no good unless we turn the potential into the kenetic, unless we unlock it and innovate in the realm of applications and solutions that’s wrapped around that data.”

Here’s how we’re addressing that, with a bit of step-by-step context on the overall cloud-computing platform enabling it.  The steps are: 1. Azure, 2. Pinpoint, and 3. Dallas.

Today is the big public roll-out of the Windows Azure Platform for cloud computing and a full complement of new services for it,  including a Java SDK, REST and open source support and interoperability with MySQL, Tomcat, memcached, and even PHP development with Eclipse. The Windows Azure site is here, or just check out a brief summary of today’s Azure announcement and its array of cloud services

As part of the Windows Azure rollout, we’re announcing the new Pinpoint, an online marketplace for Microsoft partners to market and sell their applications.  It includes an “app store,” as well as store-like shopping for experts and professional IT services. Pinpoint is open to everyone, and free to join, and is already at launch the largest directory of qualified IT providers and their software built on Microsoft technologies. The app store alone is cool, as you can try, buy, and download software through direct links to software purchase pages, demos, and trial downloads.

One of the featured sets of services available through Pinpoint is our Codename “Dallas” service, Microsoft’s Information Services business, which developers and information workers can use to find and manage Web services and datasets  – free or paid – to power their apps, on any platform. Dallas is built completely on the Windows Azure cloud platform, which includes a SQL Azure cloud database, so you get the ability to store structured and unstructured data whether from Dallas’s “data-as-a-service” or your own collections, to invoke and examine the data without having to parse it, to use REST services to manipulate and move the data, and to analyze the data using the new PowerPivot high-end analytics for Excel 2010 spreadsheets, for example.

Large-scale datasets already available through Dallas include government, financial, weather, news, corporate, international and reference sets including those from the Associated Press, Citysearch,, ESRI, First American Corp., Inc., NASA, National Geographic TOPO!, NAVTEQ, RiskMetrics Group, the United Nations, WaveMarket Inc. and Weather Central Inc. Starting today, “Dallas” is available as a limited community technology preview (CTP). 

Tech news sites are already reporting the “competitive drive” propelling Dallas, for example The Register puts it this way

Microsoft Dallas Muscles Google Data Crusade: Microsoft is hoping to out-Google Google by unlocking the world’s information and slapping a GUI on the front end. Today, the company unveiled Dallas, which chief software architect Ray Ozzie said would deliver “data as a service.” He described it as a “game changing” subsystem of Microsoft’s Windows Azure computing and storage service.

There’s a lot you  can do with a data platform like that. The federal government’s Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra moments ago addressed PDC 09 live via remote video and announced that the U.S. government has been busy building new capabilities using Dallas and the Azure cloud, and he showed a very neat example: the NASA “Be a Martian” site. From the detailed press release:

Now anyone with a Web browser can become a Martian explorer. That’s because NASA is launching a new citizen-science Web site, called “Be a Martian,” that gives people a chance to view hundreds of thousands of images gathered over decades of exploration on the Red Planet.

The site is also designed as a game with a twofold purpose: NASA and Microsoft hope it will spur interest in science and technology among students in the U.S. and around the world. It also is a “crowdsourcing” tool designed to tap visitors’ brains and help the space agency process volumes of Mars images.

“We really need the next generation of explorers,” says Michelle Viotti, director of Mars Public Outreach at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And we’re also accomplishing something important for NASA. There’s so much data coming back from Mars. Having a wider crowd look at the data, classify it and help understand its meaning is very important.” [emphasis added]

So NASA and Microsoft are combining crowd-sourcing, cloud-computing, and citizen-science, all toward aligning with a web philosophy that Tim O’Reilly calls “small pieces loosely joined.”

There’s more coming this week that I believe government folks will like, including one of my favorite projects: Thursday’s unveiling of the Microsoft Semantic EngineMy team back at my old government hangout did a lot of pathbreaking semantic-analysis research and development, and I hope that they will find this very cool stuff indeed. Not allowed to say more yet –  though I see that others in semantic-web circles are eager to hear more. Stay tuned!

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4 Responses

  1. Lewis,
    Certainly can’t wait to find out more about the Semantic Engine, I’ll be following you on twitter to make sure I’m kept abreast!



  2. […] See the article here: Data in the Cloud from Dallas to Mars « Shepherd's Pi […]


  3. Lewis,

    I would have to echo the interest in the Semantic capabilities. I am very interested. Hope to hear more from you on that when it happens.



  4. […] Data in the Cloud from Dallas to Mars […]


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