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CMU's plan for West Coast gets NASA nod

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

By Bob Starzynski, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Carnegie Mellon University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced yesterday the formation of a computer consortium with 12 of the largest information technology companies in the country.

The High Dependability Computing Consortium, to be based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley has a loosely defined mission of eliminating "failures in computing systems critical to the welfare of society." According to Henry McDonald, director of NASA's Ames operations, any technology developed by the consortium would be owned by NASA but would be openly available to CMU and all the companies.

Most importantly for CMU, perhaps, is that the consortium serves as the university's first major step in setting up a Silicon Valley campus. The Oakland-based university said this year that it wanted to build such a campus over the next 10 years at the NASA facility on San Francisco Bay.

The consortium has the support -- although not yet in a financial sense -- from 12 companies that have been brought together by CMU and NASA: Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer, Adobe Systems, ILOG, Marimba, Novell, SGI, Siebel Systems and Sybase. In a news conference yesterday, CMU and NASA officials said they had not asked these companies for any money yet and that they primarily wanted these companies to team together with their technological expertise.

While the public depends on computer software for its own safety -- in air traffic control, national defense and health care management, to name a few instances -- no software developed today is considered completely infallible. The new consortium aims to build unwavering dependability in these types of software products with the support of the industry developing the technology.

Earlier this year, NASA committed a $500,000 grant to develop such an alliance with CMU and private industry. McDonald said NASA conceivably could invest as much as or more than $10 million a year in the consortium.

The next step for the consortium involves NASA, CMU and the corporate partners finalizing a research agenda and designating key focus areas, such as air traffic, defense and health care.

CMU, one of the top universities in the country for information technology, has been pushing this year to increase its West Coast presence without sacrificing its Pittsburgh roots.

The school plans to capitalize on its relationship with NASA to set up a branch campus of sorts in Silicon Valley. That campus, which is hoped to be offering its first courses next fall, is not anticipated to offer a full range of undergraduate and doctoral classes. Rather, it will offer executive education programs, school officials have said.

Two weeks ago, a hitch was thrown in the plans for CMU's Silicon Valley campus. Because of increased traffic and overdevelopment problems along the technology corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., NASA Ames must conduct an environmental impact study on the campus before the government agency and the university can reach a final agreement on the plans.

James Morris, dean of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, said the money needed for the campus would be raised by some 2,500 CMU alumni that live and work in Silicon Valley.

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