SAUDI ARABIA. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Interim (KAUST) IT Summit which concluded yesterday in Dhahran brought together 17 of the worlds experts in computer science, e-science, data intensive supercomputing, and academia to discuss the digital infrastructure needed to support the university’s vision of building world-leading research in the next 10 to 15 years.
“This is a truly unique event in its attendance level and mixture of renowned experts each in his specialized area of IT. To our knowledge it is the first of its kind due to the stature and mixture of people from both industry and academia, the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia on this level,” said KAUST Interim CIO, Majid Al-Ghaslan.
As the realisation of a decades-long vision of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, KAUST is being built with an image to be a world class international research university. It is dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom, which will also benefit the region and the world.
The commitment was evident in the choice of the global participants at the summit. Leaders of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) met with a mix of from both industry and academia, including those at the forefront of information technology developments as well as e-scientists.
The panelists included Internet pioneer Dr Larry Roberts, recognised as one of the founding fathers of the Internet; Tony Hey Corporate Vice President of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research and former Director of the UK’s e-Science Initiative; Ramesh Rao University College of San Diego; Werner Vogels Chief Technology Officer at Amazon.com; Usama Fayyad Yahoo! Chief Data Officer and SVP of the Strategic Data Solutions group; Lutz Heuser Vice President of Corporate Research and Chief Development Architect at SAP; Peter Lee Professor and Vice Provost for Research at Carnegie Mellon University; Charlie Catlett, Senior Fellow at the Argonne National Laboratory, Executive Director of the TeraGrid project, Chair of Global Grid Forum, and Director of the I-WIRE optical network consortium; Ronald Johnson, Vice President of UW Technology University of Washington; Daniel Reed the Director of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), a major collaborative venture of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the state of North Carolina; Aruba’s Merwyn Andrade an expert in security for wireless LANs; Rob Pennington, the Deputy Director for NCSA, Omar Ghattas Professor of Geological Sciences and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin; Garth Gibson, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
The KAUST IT Summit discussed technological solutions to address the problem of efficiently connecting data, computers, and people with the goal of enabling derivation of novel scientific theories that are essential to the conduct of 21st century science, engineering research and education at KAUST.
During the summit Dr Mohammad Suwaiyel the President of KAUST highlighted the Kingdom’s current national science and technology policy, the IT industry’s status, as well as a SWOT analysis of R&D.
“Saudi Arabia significantly lags region in IT R&D,” commented Dr Suwaiyel. “Saudi Arabia’s IT publication production is highly concentrated among a few institutions and we can claim only a small number of IT patents.”
“Nevertheless there exists a large Saudi internal market for IT services, with ample financial resources plus good IT and business skills,” presented Dr Suwaiyel. “We also have universities with a number of capabilities, some growing IT companies and a few large industrial companies with IT needs. There is also a demand for Arabic language IT products and the potential to collaborate internationally. Therefore the future is not all that bleak with good opportunities that can be innovatively developed.”
“I strongly believe,” stressed Dr Suwaiyel, “that with a long term commitment, the country that produced Saudi Aramco can achieve the objectives of KAUST.”
Ahmad Al-Yamani from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which is spearheading the country’s diversification programme, explained that the projected future ICT Investments in the Kingdom in the next ten years will exceed a healthy US$64 billion.
The audience and panelists, many of whom are already collaborating partners with KAUST, applauded the team for the remarkable and courageous efforts.
“This summit demonstrates KAUST’s commitment to convening the best scientific and technological minds to ensure that the independent, merit-based institution can support the enrichment of the Kingdom’s human capital and transform the nation into a knowledge economy,” said KAUST Interim Provost Ahmad Al-Khowaiter.
Roberts commented that the consumer technology challenges facing KAUST are more challenging with the absence of industry support and patents, which are key to development. On the other hand Lutz Heuser thanked the KAUST team for the bold event.
“KAUST will certainly be a different university than all existing universities. You seemed to have been well prepared and had answers to all questions. Many here today are partners collaborating, tomorrow many will be competitors”, said Lutz. “However my advice to KAUST is do not forget your unique heritage, which is an advantage of great importance.”
“This is certainly a remarkable and great effort,” said Ronald Johnson. “The key to success is not to make the same mistakes of the others. Do not limit your focus to the next 22 months, but on the next five years and the future is certainly in data intensive supercomputing.”
“KAUST is no doubt in a inimitable position,” continued Johnson. “Nowhere else in the world has a university had the power to influence smart cities.”
Werner Vorner of Amazon highlighted how IT and e-sciences have transformed people’s lives. “The question is what kind of infrastructure should KAUST offer the region? One of the key elements is to take away barriers and ignore the competition,” he said.
Nadhmi A Al-Nasr the Interim President of KAUST concluded the summit by thanking all the panelists, attendees and all who had made the great event possible. “The last 14 months have been remarkable. We need to remember that KAUST will be a great institute, however it is still in the making. As a team to realise KAUST we need to address matters slowly but surely. 2009 will be the start but we don’t expect to mature before 2019.”
“We have been touched by the support and passion here today. It has certainly been one of the best events we have experienced and hopefully one of many more to come. The concerns on competition and partnership are not worrying. It will certainly be healthy.”
Note: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is being built in Saudi Arabia as an international, graduate-level research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom, across the region and around the globe. As an independent, merit-based institution, KAUST will employ many of the best practices from leading research universities and enable top researchers from around the globe and across all cultures to work together to solve challenging scientific and technological issues. The KAUST global research and education network will support diverse talents both on its campus and at other premier universities and research institutions through collaborative research agreements, grants, and student scholarship programmes. The core campus, located on more than 36 million square meters on the Red Sea at Thuwal, is set to open in September 2009.
For more information about KAUST visit www.kaust.edu.sa