Out of the Lab: All Optical, All the Time

Late last week (December 7), the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology -- Cal-(IT)2 -- won a $100 million cash injection.
Cal-(IT)2 is one of three centers to be designated a "California Institute for Science and Innovation" (the others were in biotechnology and nanoengineering).

Cal-(IT)2 was formed nine months ago by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Since its inception the partners have raised more than $200 million and anticipate winning a further $56 million in research grants over the next four years -- on top of the state money announced last week. It adds up to a monster research program across all levels of telecommunications.

The scientists behind the venture have a vision of a network with an optical core and high-capacity wireless links at the periphery, providing masses of bandwidth anywhere, anytime. And to make it happen, they want to create a "critical mass" of collaborating researchers from all disciplines, from nanomaterials to oceanography to software (yes, really).

These days, it is increasingly common for specialists in exotic branches of physics to work with engineers to bring new components to market. But Cal-(IT)2 is taking interdisciplinary R&D a step further, bringing together people from seemingly unrelated disciplines -- including components engineers and socio-economists -- to work on a huge telecom project.

"The organization of the institute is farsighted: it will not be a loose collection of faculty research projects, but a well-considered strategic plan to conduct an interdisciplinary, integrated study of the impact of the new Internet telecommunications infrastructure on California," reads the institute's description at http://www.ucop.edu/california-institutes/.

Sounds excellent. But coordinating this effort will be some challenge.

The man who runs the show is Dr. Larry Smarr, founder and 15-year director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at UCSD. He also directs the National Computational Science Alliance, which links the NCSA with 50 other universities, so he's no stranger to organization.

It's also noteworthy that several of Smarr's colleagues held senior management positions at Bell Labs, considered by many to be the most successful industrial laboratory in history. They include UCSD Chancellor Robert C. Dynes, Cal-(IT)2's chief scientist Dr. Ronald Graham (also professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD), and its associate director Dr. Peter Rentzepis at UCI.

Smarr also has the benefit of an industrial advisory board, composed of representatives from 28 telecom and networking firms in California. They include:

  • Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC)
  • Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)
  • Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT)
  • Copper Mountain Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: CMTN)
  • Emulex Corp. (Nasdaq: EMLX)
  • Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY)
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC)
  • SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC)
  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)
  • Texas Instruments Inc.

    To sum up, Cal-(IT)2 has a bunch of ideas, a seasoned management team and pots of money. Now let's watch and wait to see what happens...

    -- Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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