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Also, there is a shift of attitude that's happening, which is also drawing more and more firms to set up their research facilities in the country. Anandan observes that years ago, when the IITs were set up, their primary goal was to be great teaching institutions, in order to produce the best engineers for the country. Over time, professors in these institutes have become more engaged in research. Today's faculty members are keen to become world-class researchers, in addition to being good teachers. MSR India enjoys a healthy interaction with Indian academia for research projects, and also to support their growth. He adds, "Besides, India represents a large portion of the world that is an emerging/developing market. There are problems related to emerging markets that we may be able to think about a lot better by being here in India. Those are some of the primary factors that are behind setting up the lab in India."
To research is to take a global view
So what is the agenda or the primary goal of MSR India's operations? Anandan reveals, "The first MSR lab was established in 1991, at Redmond, as a basic research unit for MS Inc. For the Indian lab too, the model is the same as that of the other labs: that of being an independent entity and research unit, where researchers can do things that they want. There are three mission goals that are true for all MSR labs worldwide, as per Anandan:
- To do the best research possible, to advance the state-of-the-art in different research areas worldwide--not only for MS, but for the advancement of science.
- To impact MS products, and help/work with product groups to improve MS products, through research and technologies. Every MS product has some component that is a contribution from MSR labs.
- To look toward the future for new possibilities. Product groups have a timeframe, but research groups take a long-term view, and identify technologies that will define the future.
Anandan feels that being part of MS is both an opportunity as well as an obligation: an obligation to advance the state of technology for the benefit of computer users everywhere, but more importantly, an opportunity to learn, through the interaction with product groups, what end users really need and want.
He says, "It's a huge opportunity if our research is made use of by billions of people, compared to a scenario where we publish a paper that gets applauded in a conference hall." MSR also organises a yearly event called TechFest, where researchers from MSR labs across the world stage demos of their projects. Thousands of people from the product groups walk through and interact with researchers to understand their projects; if they like some idea, they take a project or a part of it to productise. However, it is one thing to come up with innovative project findings, and quite another to transform the research breakthrough into a product. As Anandan explains, "If it takes two years to solve a research problem, then it could take four more years to productise it. Also, not everything that we work on is productised. Besides, our code can be sloppy, but the product group has to make sure that [theirs] is usable, maintainable, and re-usable."
Core research areas
MSR aims to continue expanding its research team and operations in 2008. The group will pursue a research agenda built around seven core areas that are central to MS's long-term vision and strategy:
- Algorithms: This research group focuses on 21st-century algorithms that seek to address new demands in today's environment of computing with massive data. Areas such as streaming algorithms, directed data sampling, machine learning, approximation algorithms, and integration of numerical and combinatorial methods are expected to play an important role in the years to come.
- Cryptography, security and applied mathematics: Focuses on applied mathematics, multimedia security, cryptanalysis, cryptographic protocols and primitives, and also studies various aspects of security related to computer systems and mobile devices.
- Digital geographics: Involves representation, analysis and visualisation of digitised geographic information, and combines work from relevant fields of computer science, such as GIS (geographic information system), graphics, user interfaces, spatial databases, image processing and computer vision.