I promised in my last blog entry at RENCI that I would host a new blog once I got settled at Microsoft. Herewith is the fulfillment of that promise, with new ruminations on the state of large-scale data centers, multicore hardware and software, computational and computer science, high-performance computing, science policy, industry observations and random musings on life and its idiosyncrasies. This is just another way to say that I will write about my passions and interests.
I've also switched to newer blog creation tools, exporting my entries from Microsoft Word, a pretty cool feature of Office 2007. (No, that is not a shameless plug. At RENCI, we were using Pivot for blogging, and I often hacked HTML to shape the look and feel of my posts. Needless to say, that was painful.)
I spent 25 years as a faculty member, research institute leader and university administrator, and I have now been at Microsoft for two weeks. Hence, some of you may be wondering about my initial experiences and perceptions. Busy, exciting, exhausting and fun – all of those adjectives apply. Microsoft is an amazing place, with very talented and dedicated people, and the technical problems are extremely interesting. Herewith are a few impressions.
Building 99: Bug Free
Microsoft Research (MSR) in Redmond moved into a new building in November, 2007. With an adjacent parking garage, flexible research and office space, it is the first of Microsoft's new building designs. Given the number of MSR Redmond researchers, the building is huge, and consequently, I find myself wandering at times, attempting to find a conference room or someone's office. Because the building is new to everyone, asking for directions rarely helps, but it is a great way to meet new people.
Like all buildings, it has a few architectural – what were they thinking – idiosyncrasies. The thing I notice most each day is the atrium lights, or as Craig Mundie affectionately called them during our recent photo shoot for the NY Times, the bug zappers. The lights are vertical cylinders wrapped in perforated aluminum, and they really do look like bug zappers. Humor and bug zappers aside, it's clear lots of thought was given to fostering interaction and collaboration. It's a great building.
Coffee and Espresso: Need My Fix
We are in greater Seattle, and we are geeks, so coffee is de rigueur. (See Joe, Java, Espresso: Fueling Innovation.) Thus, Building 99 has an espresso bar in the atrium, and I use it regularly (the espresso bar, not the atrium). I am also consuming large quantities of Starbucks coffee from the break rooms, all of which (across campus) grind beans and make fresh coffee on demand. Ah, life is good!
All this reminds me yet again that innovation (at least the computing kind) is fueled by caffeine. When we were designing Siebel Center for Computer Science at the University of Illinois, we fought for and succeeded in getting an espresso bar installed in the atrium, but it wasn't easy. I distinctly remember telling the architects and building planners that the message from the faculty was loud and clear – it was the espresso bar or my life as department head. We could reduce the size of faculty offices if necessary, but the espresso bar stayed, no matter what the program cost.
Until my wife and I buy a house in Seattle, I am living in a Microsoft corporate apartment in Redmond, managed by Aboda. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find the refrigerator already stocked with food and a cable modem ready for broadband network use. This has been great; it simplified my life enormously during the transition.
It Does Rain
It certainly has this month, about seven inches in total. Of course, that is about twice the typical amount for December, and parts of Washington State have been declared a Federal disaster area. The really bad weather began just as I arrived (coincidence, I hope) but I didn't think of it as particularly bad, certainly not after experiencing Illinois winters. (In my 20 years at Illinois, the university closed only once, not because people couldn't get to work, but because we were afraid some of the students might die of exposure walking a mile from the south campus dormitories to north campus classrooms when the wind chill was -60F.)
So, yes, it rains, but this month has been atypical. I am awaiting the more normal winter misty rain and then spring and blue skies.
What About Work?
As I mentioned earlier (See Dan@Microsoft), my task is to explore the design of next-generation data centers for computing clouds and other capabilities. This is a "clean sheet of paper" exercise to examine software, architecture, packaging, environmental and other elements. This is my day job; my night job (you didn't think I sleep, did you?) is to help accelerate future software and tools for multicore and manycore (large-scale multicore) chips.
It has been very rewarding to talk to both MSR researchers and Microsoft product team members about their ideas and insights into these complex problems. I've been reading, listening, talking and thinking. The possibilities here are manifold.
I am delighted to be here. As they say, watch this space!