RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Some good-natured backslapping, handshakes and hearty “Good job!” remarks were heard around IBM’s 13,000-worker campus earlier this week. And with good reason.

On Tuesday, President Bush announced that IBM had received the 2004 National Medal of Technology from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Technology Administration. The award cited IBM’s 40-year history of contributing to advances in silicon chip technology — the brains of just about everything we use today from cars to toasters and game machines.

“That is quite a special honor, especially for all our people who make all this stuff happen,” said a very happy Satish Gupta, general manager for IBM’s engineering and technical services group in RTP. “This is very important recognition for all the people across our company.”

Much of the chip design work within IBM is being done right here in RTP, added Gupta, a 23-year career Big Blue employee who had worked in RTP for eight years and held his current position for the last eight months. He has been “in semiconductor design for a log time, especially chip design as part of our old networking division,” he said. “All that sophisticated design has been transforming over the years.”

A Painstaking Process

Moore’s Law, rapid increases in speed and capabilities aside, Gupta is not one to take for granted each painstaking step that makes today’s chips the wonders of the technical world. The pace has in fact quickened, he added.

“Chips have grown very sophisticated within the last five years, for servers to game machines such as the Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation,” Gupta said.

“One of our supercomputers, Blue Gene, is the fastest in the world. The microprocessor running it was designed by a team here in RTP.”

With all the attention given to IBM’s personal computing division, which was sold off earlier this year to Lenovo and to consulting services, little is left to be shed on the chip design group in RTP. They deserve recognition, Gupta said.

“In RTP, we have a few hundred people involved,” he explained. But where the workers are within IBM is not that important anymore, thanks to advances in high-speed networking, PC power and — you guessed it — chip design.

“We have teams across the company working in virtual labs together,” he said. “They are virtual teams — teamed for such projects as the Xbox and Sony.”

Collaborative Innovation

IBM received much press for its chips that are taking home gaming consoles to new levels of entertainment. And Gupta pointed out that IBM’s approach in working with customers in developing chips is very much a team-oriented process.

“We help our customers design their products, such as Microsoft and Sony,” he said. “On Blue Gene, we worked with the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

“We call these engagements collaborative innovation. We work with our clients to bring innovation to market. What we really are doing is working with them rather than working on speculative chip design.”

IBM benefits from such collaborative efforts because it also helps Big Blue find new means of making chips better, he added. “We do not just help clients do interesting things but also help push the state of the art.”

So, the next time you fire up your Playstation or Xbox and wonder at the world of magic the machines unfold before your eyes, you might want to say a “Thank you” too to the IBM chip design team. They deserve it.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.