REDMOND, Wash., November 23, 1998 — Microsoft senior researcher Jim Gray has been named the 1998 winner of the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM's) prestigious A.M. Turing Award, regarded in technical circles as the Nobel Prize of computer science.
The Association for Computing Machinery is a New York-based scientific and educational organization of computer science professionals, with a worldwide membership of 80,000. Its A.M. Turing Award has been presented annually since 1966 to an individual who has made contributions of "lasting and major technical importance" to the computer world.
Gray, who has been at Microsoft since 1995, received the award for his "seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation," according to ACM officials. Most of that research was conducted during the 1970s and '80s, when Gray held positions at Digital Equipment, Tandem Computers and IBM.
Gray currently manages Microsoft's Bay Area Research Center in San Francisco and is a researcher in the Scalable Research Group. He will be honored at an ACM banquet May 15 in New York. A $25,000 cash prize provided by Lucent Technologies accompanies the award.
"I am delighted to see Jim Gray honored with the 1998 Turing Award for his deep, elegant and very practical contributions to database and transaction processing research," said Juris Hartmanis, chair of the A.M. Turing Award committee and assistant director of the National Science Foundation. Hartmanis himself is a previous winner.
Second Winner at Microsoft
A database expert, Gray is the second person now working at Microsoft to receive the coveted award. Butler Lampson, a software architect in Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold's management group, was similarly honored in 1992 for work he did on the Alto personal distributed computing system in the 1970s while at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
"Needless to say, I am very honored," Gray said in an e-mail to his colleagues and others. "This is recognition for the work that many of us have done together over the last 30 years. It is unfortunate that the award cannot explicitly recognize all of us as a group. But it is great that our work on building easy-to-use database systems, that are always up and that work correctly, is being recognized."
In an interview, Gray said his work "has focused on building reliable and distributed database systems. The key idea was in observing that it is good to package a set of database changes into units we now call transactions." He helped define the key transaction properties of a reliable system-atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability-and helped develop the technologies that automatically achieve these properties.
"Frankly, lots of people contributed to this technology," Gray said. "Contributions continue to this day."
"What Jim did," said fellow Microsoft researcher David Lomet, "is to show that you could take the elegant transaction notion and implant it into a real system with very beneficial consequences. His seminal efforts were instrumental in making this happen, and he was the leading proselytizer for it. This is an enormous accomplishment."
Gray has co-authored a book with Andreas Reuter called Transaction Processing Concepts and Techniques. He continues to edit The Benchmark Handbook for Databases and Transaction Processing.
Gray's expertise in database systems involved him in a number of other high-profile research projects, both inside and outside of Microsoft. He was one of the designers of the SQL language, used in versions of SQL Server, including 7.0. He also organized the Microsoft TerraServer project, a Web site with more than two terabytes of room for geographic maps and photos designed to test the storage size and scalability of SQL Server database software. And he has collaborated over the years with other researchers on such projects as a NASA-sponsored Earth Science Data Information System.
Advising President Clinton
Gray is currently a member of President Clinton's Information Technology Advisory Committee, a 25-member group organized by Clinton two years ago to help the United States maintain its leadership in information technology. He helped write the committee's recent interim report ( http://www.ccic.gov/ac/interim/exec_summary.html ), which concludes the federal government's investment in information technology research and development is inadequate and too focused on near-term problems. The committee also was instrumental in getting Congress to approve a recent bill lifting the lid on the number of foreign workers granted temporary visas to work in the U.S. high-tech industry.
Gray holds doctorates from the University of California at Berkeley and from the University of Stuttgart, Germany, and frequently lectures at universities. He was a McKay Fellow at UC Berkeley.
Gray's honor "puts the spotlight once again on the great researchers and research organization we have created at Microsoft," said Rick Rashid, vice president of Microsoft Research. "Jim is an incredible talent," Rashid said. "He is a great technical contributor and system builder, a great educator, and a great communicator. He has contributed to the entire computer science community through his efforts on a variety of government committees and commissions."