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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine


80/20 Foundation founder Graham Weston—alongside Texas comptroller Glenn Hegar; Bexar County judge Nelson Wolff; UTSA President Ricardo Romo; and UTSA Provost John Frederick—tells launch guests how the new initiative will position UTSA as a world leader in open cloud technology. Photos by Mark McClendon

Super Computing

A kickoff donation from the 80/20 Foundation enables UTSA to launch its Open Cloud Institute

“I believe that academia is just at the beginning of the cloud revolution. We’re going to see amazing innovation that is created from it. We can’t even imagine what those innovations will be. But I think academia needs its own cloud computing model,” says Graham Weston, founder and chairman of Rackspace and the philanthropic 80/20 Foundation.

And with that type of innovation in mind, The University of Texas at San Antonio announced in February the creation of its Open Cloud Institute, an initiative to develop degree programs in cloud computing and big data and to foster collaboration with industry — positioning UTSA and San Antonio as world leaders in open cloud technology.

Through the 80/20 Foundation and other industry supporters, the Open Cloud Institute will launch with initial gifts and in-kind investments of $9 million. Weston’s 80/20 Foundation has committed $4.8 million to support four endowed professorships, up to two faculty research positions, 10 graduate student endowments and research funding.

Additionally, UTSA has received in-kind donations from industry leaders, such as Rackspace, AMD, Intel, Mellanox Technologies and Seagate, as well as support from the Open Compute Project and the OpenStack Foundation. The investment reaffirms the industry’s belief that UTSA is the nation’s academic leader in open cloud computing education and research.

“One of the most important things that academia needs is [to answer] ‘How do we take this idea of the cloud and bring it to the actual researcher, the person in a lab, the person who has an idea they want to test?’ That’s a big gap,” Weston says. “The actual ability to put their project onto a cloud computing platform — this has not been built. This is what the Open Cloud Institute will do. It will study how OpenStack can be applied to these challenges but especially it will be the bridge — I believe the world authority — for academic researchers to actually use the cloud for their research.”

UTSA is already recognized as the top university in the country for cybersecurity education, with education and research programs that span its College of Business, College of Engineering and College of Sciences. The Open Cloud Institute further distinguishes UTSA as a top-tier research institution.

“By recruiting the nation’s most sought-after scholars, UTSA has developed tremendous expertise in cloud, cyber, computing and analytics. The Open Cloud Institute further builds on that strength,” says Ricardo Romo, UTSA’s president. “With the support of our industry partners, UTSA students and researchers now have unparalleled opportunities to collaborate on projects that will lead to new innovations in this dynamic field.”

Weston adds: “UTSA is emerging as a global leader in academic research built upon open technologies. The Open Cloud Institute will enhance UTSA’s capabilities, while boosting the supply of cloud engineers that all of our businesses need in order to power the technology companies of the future.”

The Open Cloud Institute will actively engage with industry partners, such as Rackspace, to facilitate technology transfer and provide a platform for industry projects in next-generation cloud technology.

What’s It All About?

Can’t quite figure out “the cloud” or “OpenStack”? Graham Weston explains it in his own words

From an address to a UTSA audience gathered on February 26, 2015

Open Cloud Institute

“About four years ago Rackspace and NASA combined the technologies that we built and the technologies that they built, and we put them together and created a nonprofit foundation called OpenStack. The OpenStack Foundation is the repository and the owner of all the intellectual property we had made to that date and NASA had made to that date. Together, they create a stack — or multiple layers of cloud technology — that work together to create a cloud.

“If you don’t already know how the cloud is affecting your life, let me tell you. Last night I ordered pizza for my kids from Domino’s. I used an app on my phone. I didn’t use the Web, and I didn’t call them. Sixty percent of Domino’s orders for pizza now come through an app. That means that Domino’s had better be good at building apps. They’d better be good at hooking all the computer systems into their stores. The cloud is actually changing the way pizzas are done. That’s the way the cloud is changing the world.

“I can even make my house hotter or colder — right from my phone — by using an app by a company called Nest, another cloud technology. Pretty soon, when I get within 10 miles of my house, my air conditioner is going to automatically come on.

“These types of innovations in the private sector have just begun. There is so much that is going to come in the next 10 years. Things that are going to change our lives, make our lives better.

“But what’s happening in academia? Really, I don’t think it’s even started. During a visit a few years ago to UTSA, I visited one of the labs and found out that often you have to stand in line for weeks, even months, to have access to the supercomputer up in Austin. Why do you have to stand in line? It’s because the technology behind that supercomputer in Austin is very, very, very expensive. The way to make supercomputing available to us all is by bringing the cost down. That is what allows us all to carry a computer in our pocket [a smartphone]. It’s all gotten so inexpensive and so valuable and so affordable that everyone has one.

“That is what needs to happen in academic research. That is what is going to be used to map the brain on this campus. That is what’s going to be used in engineering on this campus. It’s cloud computing. Because cloud computing is a completely different level of cost than we’ve previously seen. It is cheaper because it does two things: It uses very, very inexpensive computers — as cheap as can be made — but then we harness the power of thousands of those computers working together with OpenStack software.

“There is data that is so heavy that it can’t be moved from place to place. A genome is about a terabyte of data. We can’t move terabytes around. This data needs to be housed on computers that you own, in your location. And OpenStack is the way that will happen. We are at an ignition point — the very beginning of the cloud revolution in academia and the cloud revolution for academic research. This is a really important thing, and it’s happening at UTSA.”



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