Computer Science Research Profile:
IBM-Duke CS Collaboration: A Win-Win Partnership

From Threads, Spring 2009 issue

IBM-Duke CS collaborators Nancy Shaw, John Pormann, Anita Lungu, Richard Lucic, and Andy Rindos

After her first summer at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Anita Lungu had no doubts about a second. “The environment at IBM was great,” says Lungu. “I could interact with some of the best researchers in my area.” While at IBM, Lungu, a fifth- year PhD student, attended presentations by preeminent researchers and worked directly with IBM scientists on real processor design issues. After returning to Duke, Lungu continued to work with those collaborators, and research results from her first summer were recently published.

“One of the major advantages of an internship at IBM,” says Lungu, “is the opportunity to get a sense of what research work in industry is like.” Lungu’s sentiment is echoed across the department by students and faculty with industry partners like IBM: “Being in academia, you don’t always get to see the problems actual customers are facing,” says Shivnath Babu, who has published two joint papers with IBM researchers at Almaden Research Center in San Jose. He also maintains a collaboration in autonomic computing with IBM employees at Research Triangle Park. Working with an industry partner is a “hands-on collaboration” of the utmost value, says Babu.

Prof. Susan Rodger (right rear) and participants in the Alice workshop which received financial support from IBM

Appreciation of the partnership goes both ways. IBM relies on universities to recruit talent and form collaborative research relationships, says Andy Rindos, head of the RTP Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) at IBM, so the company has a vested interest in supporting quality education and encouraging innovative research. Min Wang, a ‘99 Duke PhD graduate, interned for three summers at IBM’s Silicon Valley lab, then took a job with IBM’s research division, where she is now a research staff member and manager of the Unified Data Analytics Department. Wang returns to campus at least once a year to talk with faculty and encourage students to apply for internships and jobs at IBM. “Duke graduates have a nice balance between a solid theoretical background and hands-on skills,” says Wang. “These two qualities are very important to be successful in an industrial research lab.”

IBM hosts several formal programs for universities. One of these is the IBM Faculty Awards, intended to foster collaboration and promote innovative curricula strategic to IBM. This year, the Department received four Faculty Awards: Jeff Chase, Shivnath Babu, Landon Cox, and a joint award to Susan Rodger, Nancy Shaw and Richard Lucic. The internationally competitive grant is “very, very valuable,” says Babu, who has received a Faculty Award each year for the past three years. “IBM’s support is an important supplement to our research funding from the National Science Foundation,” says Chase, whose awarded funds were used for advanced cloud computing systems based on resource leasing. Susan Rodger applied the funds to host teachers at Adventures in Alice Programming, a summer workshop to teach middle and high school teachers to use the Alice programming language in the classroom. In addition to Faculty Awards, four Duke graduate students have received prestigious IBM PhD Fellowships since 1998, including Wang. Lungu recently received an IBM scholarship award which, among other benefits, afforded her the chance to travel to Italy to present a research paper.

Another funding mechanism is the IBM Shared University Research (SUR) awards program, a worldwide equipment donation program. “Through the SUR program IBM has donated some of its cutting-edge hardware to advance our research and our use of computing within the university,” says Chase, co-recipient of a 2008 SUR grant which added new IBM BladeCenter servers for the Duke Shared Cluster Resource (DSCR), a shared computing cluster that hosts computational research across campus. “Thanks to the project, the BladeCenter core of the DSCR is enabled for virtual computing, allowing more flexible sharing of the computing resources.” The Department has received a SUR award each year for the last six years.

In addition to awards and collaborations, CAS sponsors IBM University Day in RTP twice a year, hosting 350+ faculty, students, and IBM employees to discuss the “latest and greatest” topics in research, says Rindos. “It’s a real opportunity to develop contacts, network, and define collaborations,” he adds. There’s not enough to be said about the value of industry-academic collaborations, says Professor Richard Lucic, Director of inDuke, a joint program with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering that encourages value-based industry relationships. “Collaboration is a win-win for both sides.”

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