Nowadays, when someone mentions the Cloud, context is needed to determine whether the speaker is referring to the fluffy masses of water in the sky — which have flexed mankind’s imagination for centuries through games of Cloud watching — or the data centers that can be accessed with a reliable internet connection.
While less people may be eager to engage in a game of Cloud spotting in the 21st century, more and more people are, however, using the Cloud. The idea of different users sharing a system from different places at the same time was born in the second half of the 20th century, but the concept did not gain traction until after the 2010s.
Since 2010, the practice of dropping and accessing files in a Cloud seems less and less strange, especially amongst younger folks. As the usage of Cloud services — such as Apple iCloud, Netflix and Google Drive — mushroom in modern society, research on ways to push the envelope (or maybe even build a whole new envelope altogether) regarding Cloud computing plays a key role in technology development.
A team of UCSB researchers form part of the envelope pushers in this research field. This team, led by the university’s electrical and computer engineering professor Daniel Blumenthal, is the only U.S. institution selected as inaugural members of Microsoft’s Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance. The UCSB team’s international counterparts are five other European institutions: Aston University, Cambridge University, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Eindhoven University of Technology, Southampton University and University College London.
“Personally, it’s a great and unique opportunity to be a part of this important initiative…,” said Dr. Blumenthal. “It is a tremendous honor to be the only U.S. university to be involved in this partnership.”
What sets UCSB apart from all other U.S. institutions? In Dr. Blumenthal’s eyes, the answer can be spotted in the relationships of the university with industry leaders.
“It’s not just a matter of can somebody do a one-off on something,” said Dr. Blumenthal. “It’s how do the faculty and the students and the organization think in terms of not only trying to solve long term problems but translating those solutions out to real life. And that’s where the industry-university partnership is extremely valuable.”
Dr. Blumenthal told the News-Press that Microsoft is one of the companies UCSB has a good partnership with, but it is not the only one. Santa Barbara County bears several businesses that have UCSB connections. For example, the founder and CEO of Apeel Sciences, an agricultural technology company based in Goleta, obtained several degrees from UCSB.
“We have extremely strong university-industry partnership that we’re proud of,” said Dr. Blumenthal.
As for the partnership with Microsoft, the Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance will focus on three major aspects: storage, networking and computing. In terms of networking, researching about new optical interconnects and optical switching technologies and architectures can yield cheaper and better reliability using less power.
“Because of the unique attributes of optics, there is the opportunity to impact the exponential scaling of bandwidth and capacity, as well as address issues related to performance, complexity, cost and energy consumption of data centers,” said Dr. Blumenthal.More information on the alliance can be found on https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/group/optics-for-the-cloud/.