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Jim Gray

Jim Gray pictured in The Fourth Paradigm


A Few Words About Jim...


Turing award winner and american computer scientist Dr. James

Nicholas “Jim” Gray (born 1944, missing at sea on January 28, 2007)

was esteemed for his groundbreaking work as a programmer, database

expert, engineer, and researcher. He earned his Ph.D. from the Univer-

sity of California, Berkeley, in 1969—becoming the first person to earn a doctorate

in computer science at that institution. He worked at several major high-tech companies, including Bell Labs, IBM Research, Tandem, Digital Equipment Corporation, and finally Microsoft Research in Silicon Valley.


Jim joined Microsoft in 1995 as a Senior Researcher, ultimately becoming a

Technical Fellow and managing the Bay Area Research Center (BARC). His primary research interests were large databases and transaction processing systems.

He had a longstanding interest in scalable computing—building super-servers and

work group systems from commodity software and hardware. His work after 2002

focused on eScience: applying computers to solve data-intensive scientific problems.

This culminated in his vision (with Alex Szalay) of a “fourth paradigm” of science,

a logical progression of earlier, historical phases dominated by experimentation,

theory, and simulation.


Jim pioneered database technology and was among the first to develop the technology used in computerized transactions. His work helped develop e-commerce,

online ticketing, automated teller machines, and deep databases that enable the

success of today’s high-quality modern Internet search engines.


In 1998, he received the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the most prestigious honor in

computer science, for “seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation.” He was appointed

an IEEE Fellow in 1982 and also received the IEEE Charles Babbage Award.

His later work in database technology has been used by oceanographers,

geologists, and astronomers. Among his accomplishments at Microsoft were the

TerraServer Web site in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, which paved

the way for modern Internet mapping services, and his work on the Sloan Digital

Sky Survey in conjunction with the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC) and

others. Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope software, based on the latter, is dedicated

to Jim.


“Jim always reached out in two ways—technically and personally,” says David

Vaskevitch, Microsoft’s senior corporate vice president and chief technical officer

in the Platform Technology & Strategy division. “Technically, he was always there

first, pointing out how different the future would be than the present.”


“Many people in our industry, including me, are deeply indebted to Jim for his

intellect, his vision, and his unselfish willingness to be a teacher and a mentor,”

says Mike Olson, vice president of Embedded Technologies at Oracle Corporation.

Adds Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, “Jim was

a true visionary and leader in this field.”


“Jim’s impact is measured not just in his technical accomplishments, but also in

the numbers of people around the world whose work he inspired,” says Rick Rashid,

senior corporate vice president at Microsoft Research.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sums up Jim’s legacy in this way: “The impact of

his thinking is continuing to get people to think in a new way about how data and

software are redefining what it means to do science.”

Such sentiments are frequently heard from the myriad researchers, friends, and

colleagues who interacted with Jim over the years, irrespective of their own prominence and reputation. Known, loved, and respected by so many, Jim Gray needs no

introduction, so instead we dedicate this book to him and the amazing work that

continues in his absence.


—The Editors

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Uploaded on December 15, 2009