Christmas came early for a computer science lab at the University of Wisconsin thanks to a multimillion dollar investment from software mogul Microsoft Corporation, UW officials announced Tuesday.
According to Microsoft spokesperson Ted Ladd, the company chose to invest $3.5 million in UW’s Jim Gray Systems Lab, which studies database technologies.
The money will allow the lab to expand their facility significantly, from 2,500 square feet to 9,000, former UW professor and director of the lab David DeWitt said.
Currently DeWitt said employees cram into five offices, but after remodeling, 15 offices will allow each employee to have their own space.
Nine full-time employees, eight graduate students and three faculty members work in the lab now, DeWitt said.
From the start of the lab two years ago, the number of employees has increased from four full time employees to the current nine, DeWitt said.
Due to the increase in space, the lab could also increase the number of employees with up to 30 researchers, Ladd said.
The lab also needs to be large because of the number of computers necessary to conduct the research, DeWitt said, with 200 computers monopolizing space.
DeWitt started the lab after he retired from UW and currently runs the lab for Microsoft, which he said has given him something to do during retirement.
In addition to facility expansion, the money will allow the lab to add more computers, DeWitt said.
Microsoft invested the money in the lab to further database research by graduate students, which DeWitt said is a way for Microsoft to earn back on their investment.
Microsoft looks daily at the technology graduate students develop, which then leads to ideas the company uses for products.
“It’s all about the grad students,” DeWitt said. “A lot of executives come from Wisconsin – that was payback, a contribution back and partial payment for what [the grad students] have given us.”
The research being done at the lab revolves around database technology and cloud computing, which Ladd said is not located near the actual user, but on the Internet. Microsoft’s Hotmail and Google’s Gmail are both examples of cloud computing technology.
Ladd said Microsoft decided to invest the money because they saw an opportunity for growth in the industry and a way to strengthen their partnership with UW.
“As we see areas of growth opportunities, we invest in them,” Ladd said. “We saw an opportunity to grow in UW-Madison…[upgrading] to invest more in certain areas.”
Microsoft holds partnerships with universities such as UW around the world, and the company invests in universities when opportunities for growth arise that could benefit both parties.
DeWitt said as one of the largest computer vendors in the United States, Microsoft’s presence on campus “is a big deal.”
In addition to using advances for product development, Ladd said Microsoft sees the lab as a way to give students experience in the field.
“It’s unique real-world experience to work on actual software code, which is rare,” Ladd said. “We get access to talent at the university where there are great minds and great thinking – help from UW is always helpful as we grow.”