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University of Washington computer science school creates ‘future of cloud infrastructure’ center

The University of Washington’s Allen School. (Photo by Mark Stone/University of Washington).

Seattle’s cloud computing prowess just got another boost.

The University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering unveiled a new hub called the Center for the Future of Cloud Infrastructure, or FOCI.

It is intended to strengthen the connection between academia and industry in relation to cloud computing technology.

“It will help us spot long-term pain points quicker and develop solutions in a way that are easier to adopt by industry,” said Ratul Mahajan, co-director of the FOCI Center. “It will also help ensure that our students are up-to-date with where the industry is at present and become the force that drives the industry forward.”

A technical advisory board has been established by representatives of Microsoft, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Microsoft. It is being held at the center’s launch event on Friday. This board is supported by $3.75 million in industry pledges over three years.

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FOCI co-directors are, left to right: Simon Peter; Arvind Sri Krishnamurthy and Ratul Mahajan. Images via University of Texas at Austin, Dennis Wise/University of Washington and Matt Hagen/University of Washington

This center was founded on the assumption that cloud computing would evolve with increased demand for machine learning and edge computing as well as 5G. This means that we need to rethink how cloud computing can be resilient, secure and sustainable in light of the increasing energy consumption for computation.

“There are a set of systems issues related to cloud computing that are five or seven or 10 years out, both in terms of when they are likely to hit, and how long it will take to develop and deploy solutions,” said Ed Lazowska, a longtime Allen School professor and former chair of the computer science department. “Companies are scrambling to deal with the challenges they face next week and next month and next year. Looking five years out is not something they can do.”

The center adds even more cloud computing credibility to the Seattle region, often referred to as “Cloud City” given that industry leaders Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are based in the area, along with others including Google Cloud and VMware, which have regional offices.

It’s the latest connection between the UW and tech industry partners. The Meta AI Mentorship Program was launched by the Allen School earlier this year. It allows PhD students to work with Meta researchers. Amazon and the UW announced in February that they would partner on a new “Science Hub” funded with an initial $1.9 million investment from the company. And Microsoft is a big backer of computer science buildings and programs.

There are also a number of computer science professors that split their time on campus and at tech companies or organizations, including Yejin Choi, a senior research manager at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) who just won a $800,000 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Mahajan, an associate professor at the UW’s Allen School, previously co-founded and led a Seattle startup called Intentionet that recently signed a licensing deal with Amazon Web Services. Along with Simon Peter and Arvind Krishnamurthy, he is the FOCI’s co-directors. Both are Allen School faculty.

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