UNC Loses Leader in Computing to Private Sector

Dan Reed, founder of an ambitious Triangle universities consortium known as the Renaissance Computing Institute, has left the University to take a position with Microsoft Research.

Reed, who also has been Chancellor’s Eminent Professor and senior adviser for strategy and innovation to the chancellor, was considered a major catch for UNC when he was lured from the University of Illinois in 2003.

“It’s a big loss for us,” said Tony Waldrop ’74, vice chancellor for research and economic development. “Dan is a real visionary and accomplished so much with RENCI. But it’s a wonderful opportunity with Microsoft — it’s the perfect job, and he’s the perfect person for the job.”

Reed is leaving to direct Microsoft’s work in the transition to multiple processors per chip and the emergence of large-scale data centers that deliver Web-based services. He began the new job Dec. 3. “I have been an academic and high-performing computing researcher all of my professional life,” Reed said in a RENCI news release. “However, the chance to affect the future of computing on the largest scale at Microsoft was irresistible.”

In mid-December, the chief information officer at Florida State University was named as UNC’s new vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer. The UNC Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Larry D. Conrad, associate vice president for technology integration and chief information officer at FSU, effective Feb. 1, via a mail ballot.

Reed came from Illinois with a vision: “A multi-disciplinary institute that leveraged computing to enrich and empower research and education, support economic development and advance social issues,” Reed said. RENCI is Reed’s vision realized. The program began in 2004 and is supported by seed money from UNC, Duke University and N.C. State University.

“Basically we were put together to bring together multi-disciplinary groups to solve problems important to the state and to use cutting-edge technologies in addressing these problems,” said Karen Green, director of communications and outreach for RENCI.

These problems include but are not limited to responding to natural disasters, issues related to health care delivery and enhancing biomedical research, Green said.

Green said losing Reed is a big loss for RENCI but not a hindering one.

“These kinds of things happen when you have someone with an international reputation in a field such as Dan Reed,” she said. “They’re going to get offers to go elsewhere, and sometimes those offers are too good to turn down. But it doesn’t mean we’re falling apart; we’re entering a new stage in our history. It started as his vision … but the fact is that Dan Reed does not equal RENCI, so that vision will continue.”

RENCI Deputy Director Alan Blatecky has been named as the interim director. Blatecky also has been with RENCI from the start. Reed has been asked to become chair of RENCI’s national scientific advisory board. “So we will not have lost him completely,” Waldrop said.

Reed’s influence will remain at RENCI as well, Green said. “I think he pushed all of us to be the best we could, and I think we appreciate that. I think most of us, if not all of us here, feel an obligation to continue that and to keep it going. And we will.

“There will be changes. But RENCI’s all about change. What we’re doing one year and what we’re doing the next year are bound to be different because we respond to the needs of the state. It’s a loss, yes, but it’s also a new opportunity and a really exciting time for us.”

Conrad has been at FSU since 1998, and he also has been FSU’s associate vice president for technology integration.

Bernadette Gray-Little, executive vice chancellor and provost, said that Conrad “has more than 35 years experience in the field of information technology and has a diverse background in both corporate and university settings, with extensive experience in academic and administrative computing, as well as telecommunications.”

He was on several committees that implemented PeopleSoft for Florida State’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project. This background is expected to help with Carolina’s ERP project, Gray-Little said. The ERP is an initiative to streamline and integrate UNC’s student information, human resources, payroll and finance computing systems, many of which are more than 20 years old.

Conrad also led the effort to define and build a new high-speed research and education network in Florida known as the Florida LambdaRail, which provides opportunities for Florida university faculty, researchers and students to collaborate with colleagues worldwide.

“Equally impressive, Mr. Conrad found a viable alternative to state funding for the project,” Gray-Little said.

In addition, he previously served on the board of the National LambdaRail, a nationwide high-speed research network initiative, and has recently been elected to the Internet2 External Relations Council. He has been active for many years in EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association that promotes the intelligent use of information technology in higher education.

Before his tenure at Florida State, Conrad was at Arizona State University for 10 years, six years as director of the computer center and four as director of computing and network consulting services.

Conrad graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in computer science from Arizona State University.

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