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Microsoft gives researchers free Windows Azure access

The software maker announces a partnership with the National Science Foundation to identify eligible cloud computing projects.

With Windows Azure now commercially launched, Microsoft is looking for some new ways to fill up its cloud.

The software maker on Thursday announced a deal in which it will work with the National Science Foundation to find cloud computing projects that could benefit from free access to Windows Azure. Those chosen by the NSF will get three years of free Azure access and support.

"Cloud computing can transform how research is conducted, accelerating scientific exploration, discovery and results," Microsoft Vice President Dan Reed said in a statement. "These grants will also help researchers explore rich and diverse multidisciplinary data on a large scale."

Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure in October 2008 and finalized its product late last year, although customers only started getting charged as of this week.