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Commentary

CIOs Uncensored: One CIO's Life On The Edge Of IT Innovation

We often ask business technology leaders about priorities. What tops their list of must-haves or must-dos to keep innovation alive and kicking, to keep the business running day to day, to meet or exceed customer expectations, or to keep the competition in the rearview mirror? It's unusual for an IT exec to say that a top priority is to live on the bleeding edge. It's not a comfortable place for most CIOs.
We often ask business technology leaders about priorities. What tops their list of must-haves or must-dos to keep innovation alive and kicking, to keep the business running day to day, to meet or exceed customer expectations, or to keep the competition in the rearview mirror? It's unusual for an IT exec to say that a top priority is to live on the bleeding edge. It's not a comfortable place for most CIOs.

But for Jerry Johnson, it's where customers expect and demand him to be. You see, he's the CIO of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which employs some of the brightest minds conducting basic and applied research on energy, the environment, and national security for the U.S. Department of Energy. That means Johnson and his team must provide some of the latest and greatest computing and communications tools to keep pace. Topping his list of must-haves are collaboration and high-performance computing tools. "In today's scientific environment, you don't get grants unless you're collaborating with others," he says. "Having collaboration tools that work across the Internet on a global scale with collaborators in other countries and with other institutions is key."

Another priority--and challenge--for Johnson is providing a high-performance data processing environment that can serve the scientists' almost-insatiable quest for bandwidth throughout the research and development life cycle. There's an "almost limitless consumption of bandwidth" with the kinds of research his team is doing, particularly in biology, where unique instruments for doing research in the area of proteomics create enormous data sets that the lab must share with other researchers around the world, Johnson says.

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CIOs Uncensored

So how does a research lab situated in the arid land of Richland, Wash., deal with such bandwidth requirements? It has acquired its own fiber and built a regional optical network. The lab also uses dense wavelength division multiplexing that it extends to others in the region with which it works, including Washington State University and the University of Washington, Johnson says.

Because research is funded in small grants, the lab has another challenge: "Learning to do high-performance computing using grid technologies and other cluster technologies to build the next scale of supercomputers approaching the petaflop range," he says.

That's not a priority I often hear from CIOs, nor one that shows up in InformationWeek's annual Outlook research study (see story, "Technology Outlook: IT Priorities For 2007"), but it's certainly an important one for the scientific research community, which shares its innovations with the commercial world. To find more, tune in to informationweek.com/ciosuncensored, where I interview Jerry Johnson and six other influential business technology leaders about their road maps.

Stephanie Stahl,
Executive Editor
[email protected]

To find out more about Stephanie Stahl, please visit her page.