Learn The Cloud, Make A Difference, @home with Windows Azure

I’m excited to announce that the project I’ve been working on with my teammates Brian Hitney and Jim O’Neil the past month or so has just launched!  It is technically a “re-launch”, but everything old is new again.  Check out “@home with Windows Azure”.  It is an online activity you can participate in that will help you learn what Windows Azure can do while, at the same time, contribute back to a very deserving cause.


In 2010, Brian and Jim created the @home with Windows Azure project as a quick Azure training program. It was designed as a way to learn Windows Azure and have some fun contributing to a well known distributed computing effort, Stanford University’s Folding@home project.

After having worked on the Rock Paper Azure Challenge the past year, we decided to update @home with Windows Azure to use the latest Azure developer tools and make it even easier to participate.  When you visit the new @home website, you will find a much cleaner and nicer layout, matching the recent updates to WindowsAzure.com itself.  We have maintained the project’s great stats from the original 2010 effort where it had a cumulative 6,200+ virtual machines having completed 188k work units!

So what is it?

athome_w_win_azure-blue70The @home ‘brand’ has been applied to a host of distributed computing projects (like SETI@home) which typically involve installing a small application on your machine (“at home”) that runs when the machine is idle. The application executed depends on the nature of the project, but generally it downloads some “task” from a given project’s server, executes it locally, and reports results back to the project server. Essentially, everyone that downloads the application creates a node in a large cluster of computers all working toward a common goal.

That sounds like cloud computing to me: leverage lots of commodity hardware to process a given job! It was the inspiration we had to “cloud-ify” one of those distributed projects, namely Folding@home.

Stanford University’s Pande Lab has been sponsoring Folding@home for nearly 12 years, during which they’ve used the results of their protein folding simulations (running on thousands of machines worldwide) to provide insight into the causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow disease, ALS, and some cancer-related syndromes.

What Can I Contribute?

Microsoft currently provides a 90-day free trial of Windows Azure where you can learn to kick the tires and run an application in the cloud 24x7 cost-free.  When you participate in @home with Windows Azure, you’ll leverage those 90-days of free compute time (or your MSDN benefits) to deploy Stanford’s Folding@home application to Windows Azure, where it will execute the protein folding simulations in the cloud, thus contributing to the research effort.  In essence, your participation is a donation of your free compute time to the Folding@home project!

DonationTickerZeroAdditionally, starting this week, Microsoft is donating $10 (up to a maximum of $5000) to Stanford’s Pande Lab for everyone that participates!

There is a donation ticker on the top of the @home with Windows Azure website that will be tracking our progress towards reaching the $5,000 donation from Microsoft.  As of today, 3/8/2012, it has been set to zero.  Join in and help us get the ticker moving!

How Can I Get Started?

We’ve provided a lot of information to get you started, including four short screencasts that will lead you through the process of getting an Azure account, downloading the @home with Windows Azure software, and deploying it to the cloud. And we won’t stop there! We have a series of webcasts also planned to go into more detail about the application and other aspects of Windows Azure that we leveraged to make this effort possible.

Below is the schedule for webcasts. Of course, you can jump in before at any time on your own.

3/15/2012 12pm EDT @home with Azure Overview

3/22/2012 12pm EDT Windows Azure Roles

3/29/2012 12pm EDT Azure Storage Options

4/05/2012 12pm EDT Debugging in the Cloud

4/12/2012 12pm EDT Async Cloud Patterns

Hope to see folks on our webcasts starting next week.  Until then, start learning the cloud, and make a difference at home with Windows Azure!