Intel Labs, Carnegie Mellon Jointly Research Clouds, Embedded Systems

Intel Labs Pittsburgh's close relationship with Carnegie Mellon U. is helping fuel research projects around cloud computing, computer clusters and robots.

PITTSBURGH-Priya Narasimhan is an associate professor with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center at Carnegie Mellon University here.

Narasimhan also is the director of the Intel Labs Pittsburgh facility located on the CMU campus.

Her dual roles reflect what she and others at Intel and the school say is a driving force behind many of the research projects under way: the tight relationship between the labs and the university.

During an open house at the Intel Labs facility Sept. 28, Narasimhan, Intel researchers, and CMU students and faculty showed off a wide range of work that is being done in both hardware and software, all under the two umbrella areas of cloud computing and embedded real-time intelligent systems.

Click here to take a look at research projects at Intel Labs Pittsburgh.

In an interview with eWEEK, Narasimhan said the relationship between Intel Labs Pittsburgh, founded in 2001, and CMU is a mutually beneficial one. The university students and faculty get access to a labs facility of one of the key players in the high-tech industry. For its part, Intel researchers have a large number of smart, able and imaginative students from whom to draw, something that brings greater richness and skill to the projects beyond what the 21 Intel Labs researchers could do on their own.

"The amplification [of people working on projects] is tremendous because we're collocated [on the CMU campus] like this," she said, noting that for every Intel Labs researcher on site, there are about four CMU students. "That's the amplification you get. [Intel Labs] feels like another department at the school."

"The idea is to tap into the students and faculty," said Shekhar Borkar, Intel fellow and director of academic programs and research at Intel.

Along with CMU, Intel Labs Pittsburgh also works with students and faculty from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Georgia Institute of Technology and several other institutions.

The collaborative relationship with CMU is similar to that of Intel Labs at two other locations, in Seattle with the University of Washington and at the University of California Berkeley.

The relationships are operated under the Open Collaborative Research model created by Intel to avoid conflicts over IP (intellectual property) rights. The model stresses a close collaborative relationship between Intel and the university and non-exclusive rights to IP, according to Intel. The chip maker owns and pays for the labs, though much of the research is published and shared.

The management structure also engenders close ties between Intel and the universities. The position of lab director is filled by someone from the nearby faculty and is rotated every three yeas. The associate director position is filled by a full-time Intel employee; in the case of Pittsburgh, that person is Limo Fix, an Intel senior principal engineer.

During the open house, Intel and CMU featured multiple research efforts that fell under 17 projects, and all but two of those touched upon either cloud computing or embedded intelligent systems.

Included in the cloud computing area is a test bed of the Open Cirrus cloud computing effort created by Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo to offer scientists access to the necessary computer power they need for their work. The cluster in Pittsburgh includes more than 200 servers that combined offer more than 1,600 processing cores, 2.3 terabytes of memory and 640TB of disk storage.

Other cloud projects touch on power management, the use of optical networks in data centers, the FAWN Atom-base computer cluster project and the Connected Home 2020 project.

The embedded intelligent systems work touches on robotics, retail, computational agriculture and the future of retail systems.

Some projects span both. Intel researcher Mei Chen is working on a project designed to enable scientists to track individual stem cells in a large population via computer vision. The project is highly compute-intensive and relies on the Open Cirrus cluster, Chen said.

Intel has been active in promoting the work of its labs over the past year, offering demos at a number of sites around the country, including last month at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Intel's Borkar said that with all of the projects under way at the labs, about 40 percent will lead directly to products, though much of the work that doesn't will further future projects or find their way into other products.

Both he and Narasimhan said the researchers at Intel Labs Research are given a great amount of freedom in pursuing the projects, and that it's not expected that all will be productized.

"In research, you are going to have failure because if you don't have failure, you're not doing research," Borkar said.