KAUST Interim CIO Majid Al-Ghaslan Discusses Upcoming IT Summit Focused on Global Trends Affecting Capacity to Conduct World-Class Research

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Al-Ghaslan, KAUST interim CIO, answers questions about summit for world-renowned IT experts taking place in Dhahran on October 28, 2007.

What are the trends in technologies such as supercomputing, data-intensive supercomputing, telepresence, and visualization?

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Interim (KAUST) CIO Majid Al-Ghaslan answered a variety of questions about the KAUST IT Summit. The event will bring together world experts in computer science, e-science and data-intensive supercomputing to discuss the digital infrastructure needed to support world-leading research in the next 10 to 15 years. Mr. Al-Ghaslan and other senior KAUST officials will join more than 200 local and global participants at the IT Summit in Dhahran on Sunday, October 28, 2007.

Q&A with KAUST Interim CIO Majid Al-Ghaslan about the KAUST IT Summit taking place on Sunday, October 28:

What is the KAUST IT Summit and what is the goal of the event?

Al-Ghaslan: The KAUST IT summit will bring together 17 of the world's experts in computer science, e science, data intensive supercomputing, and Internet scale systems to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to envision technological solutions to address the problem of efficiently connecting data, computers, and people with the goal of enabling derivation of novel scientific theories and knowledge essential to the conduct of 21st century science and engineering research and education at KAUST. 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 for sure of its kind in Saudi Arabia on this level.

Who are some of the distinguished panelists who will be participating at KAUST's IT Summit? What do you anticipate learning from them?

Al-Ghaslan: All panelists are highly recognized and well respected in IT. We were extremely lucky to attract them all together at once given their busy schedules and commitments. However, this was possible due to their trust of our King's vision for KAUST as a world-class 21st century research university. We anticipate learning from all of them. For example, Internet pioneer Dr. Larry Roberts, recognized as one of the founding fathers of the Internet. Dr. Roberts developed the first computer-to-computer network and led the team that designed and developed ARPANET, the world's first major computer packet network. He also wrote the first email application and founded the first telecommunications carrier company.

Tony Hey is Corporate Vice President of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research. Tony Hey is responsible for the worldwide external research and technical computing strategy across Microsoft Corp. He leads the company's efforts to build long-term public-private
partnerships with global scientific and engineering communities. His responsibilities also include working with internal Microsoft groups to build future technologies and products that will transform computing for scientific and engineering research. Before joining Microsoft, Hey served as director of the U.K.'s e-Science Initiative, managing the government's efforts to provide scientists and researchers with access to key computing technologies. Hey is a fellow of the U.K.'s Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of the European Union's Information Society Technology Advisory Group.

The two gentlemen I just mentioned, in addition to the rest of the panel, will assist KAUST in planning and preparing to build the next generation world-class computing and communications infrastructure. There is also Werner Vogles, Ramesh Rao, Peter Lee, Charlie Catlett, Dan Reed, Ron Johnson, and the list goes on … they are all truly pioneers in their own fields.

What are the areas of research KAUST will be focusing on within the field of applied mathematics and computational science?

Al-Ghaslan: We have ideas here but they are not set in stone yet and will be discussed with the panel. However, one model, for example, we are thinking of is trying to find niche areas that can distinguish KAUST. The beauty and uniqueness we have with KAUST is that we have a "Greenfield" or "Blue Sky" where we are truly targeting KAUST to be a forward thinking progressive university in all aspects. Traditional or legacy boundaries and systems simply don't exist due to the fact that we are starting from scratch. We realize that we are at a big advantage at KAUST. This was also based on the input we've received from many of our colleagues and friends we spoke with at other leading universities across the world. Therefore, the challenge will be to capitalize on this great opportunity and build a truly innovative computing and communications infrastructure that will enable KAUST to also innovate.

What are some of the requirements for information and communication technologies to support a world-class research and education institution like KAUST?

Al-Ghaslan: My last answer explains a lot of this. But we have to remember also we are catering to a "connected" or "digital" generation and in this day and age we are truly connected and people expect e-everything and the ability to gain high-speed access to computing and information resources securely from anywhere via any device. In my day you had to go to the computer labs on campus via one of the terminals and you had to be good friends with the lab administrator to ensure you always had a terminal for your work. These days, students build and compile their code sitting in a Starbucks while enjoying their lattes and are able to interact with high performance computing services and upload their code to a server on campus or submit it online to their professors. In addition, the ability to interact and collaborate with people on and off campus and across the globe is what this generation expects as well. Therefore, KAUST will also have high-speed connectivity to the major research networks across the globe in addition to the latest instructional technologies available. Again the uniqueness we have is that we don't have legacy systems or thinking. We have already defined some major elements in our computing and communications vision based on our understanding of the students, faculty, and staff we are catering to, and we also built in some future-proofing and flexibility for our planned facilities.

What is KAUST thinking about in terms of IT infrastructure that will appeal to world-class researchers and faculty?

Al-Ghaslan: Some elements of this answer exist in my previous answers. But the basic theme is to make our computing and communications facilities the latest and accessible from anywhere to our research and faculty while protecting the integrity of their data; all this done securely. One prominent researcher I spoke with said that his best ideas always came to him at night while trying to fall asleep at home, but when he tried to connect to his resources on campus he either gets the famed access denied message, or "you need to call your administrator!" This deficiency of course is an unwelcome obstacle to the next big idea!

We are targeting KAUST to become a "smart city" since the campus will have an adjacent community, town center, and recreation facilities. Wireless via the entire site and fiber optic connectivity to every residential unit where data/voice/video is delivered on the same infrastructure. The campus itself will be abundant in terms of both communications and computing resources and interactive in nature. A truly unified digital infrastructure capable of serving students, faculty, staff, and their families anytime and anywhere.

KAUST is building all of its facilities and research labs to cater to and conduct world class research. IT services will be the same. In addition, KAUST truly recognizes that IT will be one key factor enabling derivation of novel scientific theories and knowledge.

What are the most important trends in computational e-science and how can KAUST best position itself to participate in next generation data-centric supercomputing?

Al-Ghaslan: That's a good question and one we'll know how to answer more in-depth after the IT Summit. Computational science has emerged as a third pillar of research, one that complements theory and experiment. It is important to remember that innovations in telecommunications, networking, collaboration, and data management are also critical discussion points in the context of computational science. Prominence of higher computing power and ability to access and manipulate massive amounts of data drove researchers to become more ambitious and has driven their techniques and algorithms to higher and higher problem sizes and scales. Innovations in these areas are changing the way by which basic and collaborative research is done. We'll be asking ourselves this same question at the IT Summit: "What are the trends in technologies such as supercomputing, data-intensive supercomputing, telepresence, and visualization?" With the summit bringing together 17 of the world's experts in computer science, e-science, data intensive supercomputing, and Internet scale systems, we're confident that the most important trends will be identified and researched more intensely in the future. We at KAUST have a great opportunity to contribute and probably lead these emerging trends.

In what ways will KAUST be relevant and dynamic in the IT community?

Al-Ghaslan: KAUST is the realization of a decades-long vision of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The backing of our nation's leader and the fact that KAUST is a graduate-level research University, and its fundamental organizing unit will be not schools or departments, but interdisciplinary Research Institutes with multi-investigator, problem-oriented, often industry-collaborative Research Centers in itself makes KAUST relevant and dynamic. In IT, not only will KAUST be able to innovate in the use of IT but also the University will conduct IT research that is enabled by the dynamic academic model that KAUST will follow.

Majid F. Al-Ghaslan is KAUST Interim CIO and responsible for the development, support and operation of innovative technology solutions and services that advance learning and discovery at KAUST, and that protect and ensure the integrity of sensitive information and users' privacy. He works closely with the university provost and the senior leadership to innovatively leverage technology to advance and support the mission and goals of KAUST.
During his career at Saudi Aramco, Majid held several leadership roles in various areas of Information Technology. Majid began his career with Saudi Aramco in 1992. He holds various IT certifications and his main areas of interests are Internet scale technologies, high-speed deterministic networks, wireless technologies, and IT security.
Majid attended Texas A&M University, College Station TX and The University of the Pacific, Stockton California and earned a BS Computer Science with an outstanding graduating senior award from its Computer Science Department. Majid is a member of the Internet Society and the ACM.
For more information about the KAUST I T Summit and KAUST, please visit:
http://www.itsummit.kaust.edu.sa/default.aspx or http://www.kaust.edu.sa/

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