3 tech titans to fund lab - UC Berkeley to help Internet entrepreneurs

Matthew Yi, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems are teaming up to donate $7.5 million for a new computer science lab at UC Berkeley in an effort that they hope will make it easier for Internet entrepreneurs to test their ideas.

The Reliable, Adaptive and Distributed systems laboratory seeks to figure out ways to automate servicing, managing and maintaining large data centers, computer science Professor Randy Katz said Wednesday.

"We know how to scale the hardware, but we don't know how to manage it. That's a real impediment," he said.

In fact, companies like Google and Microsoft that have large server computer farms or data centers have to rely on a small army of engineers who constantly maintain and service those systems, Katz said.

The goal of the lab is to design a software architecture that could do much of that work automatically, potentially cutting costs dramatically, he said. The work will be done in an open source programming environment, meaning the code developed will be available for all to see and use.

The project is expected to last five years with each of the three tech giants agreeing to donate $500,000 every year. That should cover roughly 80 percent of the lab's budget with the rest made up by grants from the National Science Foundation along with UC Discovery and the Microelectronics Innovation and Computer Research Opportunities programs, the university said.

Katz said what's unique about his lab is the amount of money the companies are pouring into foundational research. "In the old days, we may have gotten about $100,000 a year for three years from companies," he said.

That was fine then, because the majority of the funds came from the federal government anyway, Katz said.

However, with federal grants drying up for scientific research in universities, money from the private sector is becoming more important, he said.

James Larus, a senior researcher for Microsoft research division, said the software giant is looking to gain two things through the lab: research results that it can use for future software systems and future employees.

Initially, six UC Berkeley professors, along with their graduate students, will staff the new lab.

"We have certainly looked at their research results and they have made a great impact, but perhaps what's more important are the students. They're the ones who come out to the industry and ... they are trained in the latest ideas," Larus said.

E-mail Matthew Yi at myi@sfchronicle.com.

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