August 15, 2011, 6:41 AM — Five years ago Clemson University named James Bottum chief information officer and gave him the mandate to overhaul the school's IT infrastructure and build out a high performance computing environment. The goal: catapult the school into a leading research university and help attract faculty and students.
Mission accomplished. The South Carolina school is now among the top five non-federally funded University Supercomputing sites. But just as importantly, the environment Bottum helped create is driving creative funding efforts, everything from attracting partners that want to use the high-performance computing (HPC) system to sale of commercial software and new grants that benefit both the school and IT.
BACKGROUND: HPC experts look past petaflop to the exascale
"Last year the Clemson president told us our best years of public sector funding from the state were most likely behind us because of the financial crisis, and we needed to rethink our business model," Bottum says. "The encouragement was to become entrepreneurial."
Fortunately many of the changes Bottum's team made properly positioned Clemson for the new normal. The university has seen 180% growth in revenue from external sources, which helps supplement the school's IT budget, and a 250% increase in federal grants, part of which help offset IT costs.
"The main goal is to continue to run and support a robust set of services and infrastructure for Clemson University," Bottum says, "but do it in a way where we can grow and leverage what we're doing and create a stronger set of infrastructure and services that also contributes to the state economic development."
Bottum has unique qualifications that are helping get it all done. He spent 20-plus years in the research sector, including a stint at the National Science Foundation, then 15 years at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and for the last 10 years he has been a CIO (at Purdue before this).
Bottum's team at Clemson has a lot of recent achievements to be proud of, but they also get to investigate leading-edge stuff, everything from the huge HPC grid to new OpenFlow tools and the school's own Orange File System. It's a rich environment.
When Bottum ( pictured at right) arrived at Clemson the school had 48 IT groups, each of which had its own servers and storage and many of which ran their own networks.