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The Alan Turing Institute secures $5m of Microsoft cloud investment

UK data science research institute secures Microsoft funding to accelerate its machine learning and analytics work

Microsoft is donating $5m worth of cloud computing capacity to The Alan Turing Institute’s research teams to support their data science work.

The arrangement will see the institute’s researchers tap into the Azure computing platform to carry out large-scale data analytics tasks, while making use of the software giant’s cloud-based data visualisation and machine learning tools.

In a statement, the institute said having access to Microsoft’s cloud technology will support its data science research activities in a wide range of areas, including financial services, engineering, security and smart cities.

Andrew Blake, director of the Alan Turing Institute, said Microsoft’s donation should ensure the organisation’s research efforts get off on the right foot.

“More than 100 research staff – ranging from computer scientists and engineers, and experts in machine learning, to statisticians, mathematicians and social scientists – will soon begin work at The Alan Turing Institute with the mission to advance the world-changing potential of data science,” he said.

“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.”

The institute, founded in 2015, was setup as a joint venture between the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, University College London and Warwick, as well as the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Its aim is to positon the UK as a leader in the field of data science and innovation by embarking on initiatives designed to accelerate research in this area and bolster the number of people with data science skills.

The organisation has been on the receiving end of government investment, to the tune of £42m in 2014, as well as a further £10m in funding from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation the same year.

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The research community has emerged as an avid consumer of public cloud services in recent years, with many turning to the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft to secure the storage capacity and processing power required to crunch through their huge datasets.

Chris Russell, a research fellow in computer vision and machine learning at The Alan Turing Institute, said the “pay for what you use” nature of cloud also makes it a good fit for the research community.

“Cloud computing is useful in data science research 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,” he said.

Jeannette Wing, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Research, said its work with the institute is indicative of the type of research organisations it plans to support in future.

“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,” added Wing.

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