October 3, 2007 in Business

Tech centers will get funding

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Biomedical researchers in Spokane’s University District in two years could be using a planned supercomputer cluster there funded by a new $1 million state grant.

Much of a parallel $1 million award for the Pullman Industrial Park area is slated to help found a nonprofit center dedicated to promoting “green” data centers.

The money – to be administered by Greater Spokane Inc. and the Port of Whitman County, respectively – stems from Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire’s action this week designating those areas “Innovation Partnership Zones,” districts state officials hope will drive regional economies by uniting higher education, research and business.

Grant applicants reviewed activities in the University District, which includes the Gonzaga University and Riverpoint campuses, and determined an energy-smart, high-performance cluster was needed, said Robin Toth, director of business development for Greater Spokane. The cluster, expected to be installed within two years, would fulfill an idea that’s been kicked around for years locally but hasn’t been realized.

The zone will “spur the economy and grow jobs and companies for the region,” Toth said.

The grid supercomputer cluster could involve dozens of servers wired together, allowing researchers the power to do complex calculations. It will help recruit and retain top scientists who require access to such power and foster research resulting in commercialization and technology transfer, according to project documents.

In Pullman, plans call for grant money to help found the Green IT Alliance, a nonprofit, public-private partnership focused on making data centers energy efficient.

“It’s a great jump-start,” said Joe Poiré, executive director for the Port of Whitman County. “It puts us in a strong position to retain these companies that are working with the Green Alliance.”

Spokane grant plans call for a computer cluster somewhere in the district, with a terminal access area for companies, hospitals or universities to use, Toth said.

It could benefit local organizations, such as the Institute for Systems Medicine, a private nonprofit that will aim to discover earlier diagnostics and better drugs; Sirti, a business incubator with clients such as medical equipment company MatriCal Inc. and Aegis Biosciences LLC; and the Institute for Shock Physics’ Applied Sciences Laboratory, located at WSU Spokane, Toth said.

The Spokane cluster is planned to link to a supercomputer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, according to Greater Spokane. And it would tie in with the recently completed Inland Northwest Gigapop, a super-fast fiber-optic connection to Seattle, Toth said.

At the 96-acre Pullman Industrial Park, the grant also will pay for purchase of 40 more acres to the northwest, Poiré said.

The park houses 14 firms, including Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc., instrument-maker Decagon Devices Inc. and molecular biology-services company Amplicon Express Inc. Several of the companies started using technology developed by professors at nearby universities, Poiré said.

The park contributed $144.5 million in sales, about 1,600 jobs and $3.6 million in indirect business taxes to the regional economy, according to a 2005 study included in application documents.

“We were blessed and ahead of our time for being an innovation zone just by what’s happening here,” Poiré said.

Started by Don Tilton, co-founder of Isothermal Systems Research, now SprayCool, GITA is expected to use collaborative research and demonstration projects to focus on energy efficiency in three areas: computer hardware and network architecture; power and cooling infrastructure; and integration into building and landscape architecture, according to the organization, which is still in the formation stage.

It will work with federal agencies and businesses, providing services such as data center site assessments, consulting and certification testing.

“It’s really a holistic look at how you operate a data center more efficiently,” said David Tilton, Don Tilton’s brother and a principal at Spokane-based MindShare Consulting, which did a feasibility study the port included in its zone proposal.

Grant money will pay for projects dealing with solar and wind power, ornamental cooling ponds and other green IT infrastructure.

IT and data center technology is at the core of business today, and it’s “rapidly becoming a major component of energy consumption” in the nation, David Tilton said.

GITA founders hope to have roughly 20 to 30 employees and initial operating revenues of $2 million to $3 million, David Tilton said.

Plans also call for a smaller computer cluster in Pullman to be connected to Spokane and PNNL, David Tilton said.

The Spokane and Pullman zones are among 11 Gregoire named Monday. Of those, five will split about $4.3 million from the 2007-09 capital budget, according to the governor’s office.

The state Legislature unanimously passed a bill authorizing the zones earlier this year.


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