Provost David Kertzer, left, and IBM Vice President Nicholas Bowen officially set the two-year pilot program in motion. Credit: John Abromowski / Brown University

Brown–IBM agreement will bring high-powered computing to bear on statewide issues

The memorandum of understanding signed on May 14 will stimulate and enhance collaborative research within the University and across the state.
By TAB staff  |  May 14, 2009  |  Email to a friend

Brown University and computing giant IBM have signed an agreement that will start a two-year pilot program to bring a new generation of high-performance computing to Brown and to Rhode Island. The arrangement should greatly enhance statewide research and collaboration, capitalize on interdisciplinary work, and increase funding opportunities for major research initiatives.

At a ceremony on Thursday, May 14, in University Hall, Brown Provost David Kertzer and Nicholas Bowen, vice president of technology at IBM, signed a memorandum of understanding between the University and IBM.  Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, and numerous stakeholders attended.

The MOU calls for Brown and IBM to involve government, universities, schools, hospitals, non-profit corporations, businesses, and other partners to address “grand challenges” in Rhode Island, such as health care, energy, the environment, and education. Meeting those challenges through a statewide collaboration “could be a defining moment in the rebirth of the [Rhode Island] economy,” Roberts, a Brown alumna, said.

“High performance computing will be the backbone of many major research activities,” said Clyde Briant, vice president for research at Brown. “It’s changing the nature of research, where it’s driven by the ability to integrate, mine, and interrogate large sets of data in real time. This [agreement] cuts across the life sciences, physical sciences, humanities, and social sciences.”

While more talks will be held to expand the partnership’s dimensions, Kertzer said the agreement would create “new heights of collaboration” between Brown and IBM. Research projects that require major computational horsepower will be able to be executed on campus, rather than having to be done elsewhere as has been the case until now. That aspect of the Brown-IBM relationship addresses a concern that has been frequently raised by Brown faculty.

IBM’s Bowen hailed the agreement as a crucial rearrangement of how information technology is used and shared. “I think there are sets of problems emerging in the world where we can bring IT together to solve these problems,” he said. “To do it, you need a fundamentally new relationship between government, industry, and universities.”