RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Alan Blatecky, the former executive at MCNC who helped create much of the Internet and high-speed networking infrastructure now used in North Carolina, is moving to the West Coast.

Blatecky, who resigned as head of networking and the supercomputing center at MCNC two years ago, is the new executive director of the San Diego Computing Center. And he is excited about the challenges as well as opportunities he faces.

“The whole high performance computing and networking infrastructure is undergoing a significant shift in focus and capabilities,” Blatecky tells Local Tech Wire, “and SDSC is going to be one of the pioneers and leaders in this new era as well.

“Cyberinfrastructure is already beginning to change the way research, education and science is conducted,” he adds, “and will become even more important to these areas, as well as society in general, over the next decade.”

Blatecky has spent the past two years working with the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. His task was to explore the challenge of “middleware”, and Blatecky leaves the post feeling much has been accomplished.

“My efforts at NSF have been hugely successful,” he explains. “The NSF Middleware Initiative has exceeded expectations, and the development software is now being used by dozens, soon to be hundreds of institutions.

“NMI also has received significant international attention, with a number of countries agreeing to contribute and share resources and middleware components. NSF also is now in the process of putting out a new set of program announcements to address next-generation networking capabilities.”

Defining middleware

Here is how NSF defines middleware:

“Middleware is software that connects two or more otherwise separate applications across the Internet or local area networks. More specifically, the term refers to an evolving layer of services that resides between the network and more traditional applications for managing security, access and information exchange to:

  • Let scientists, engineers, and educators transparently use and share distributed resources, such as computers, data, networks, and instruments,
  • Develop effective collaboration and communications tools such as Grid technologies, desktop video, and other advanced services to expedite research and education, and
  • Develop a working architecture and approach that can be extended to the larger set of Internet and network users.”

Several universities have participated in a “testbed” for middleware research and development. They included the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Florida, Florida State University, Georgia State University, the University of Michigan, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (University of Texas at Austin), and the University of Virginia.

Variety of challenges

By shifting back to Supercomputing, Blatecky knows he has a full plate of new challenges.

“SDSC is one of three national NSF Supercomputing centers,” he says, “and has several areas of focus — biosciences, data storage and management, high performance computing and networking, and grid computing.”

In announcing Blatecky’s hire, the SDSC’s director, Dr. Fran Berman, acknowledged Blatecky’s record as a “national and international leader in grid computing and networking.”

“Alan is a highly talented and visionary leader,” Berman said in a statement. “We are tremendously excited that he is joining SDSC, and we are looking forward to working with him to build a foundation for the 21st century’s cyberinfrastructure at SDSC and throughout the science and technology community.”

Blatecky has served as co-director of the group called MAGIC (Middleware and Grid Infrastructure Coordination) and also is on advisory committees for the Biomedical Informatics Research Network and the National Earthquake Engineering Simulation Grid.

He hasn’t said farewell to the Triangle completely, either. Blatecky will be back in the Triangle later this month for a grid computing conference.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.