Switch, a high-tech company that started in Las Vegas, houses digital data for a number of Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government in its expansive facilities.
By J.D. Morris (contact)
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 | 8:30 p.m.
UNLV secured one of the world’s most advanced computers thanks to the relationship between the university’s top administrator and a local business leader.
About two months after UNLV acting President Don Snyder assumed his position in February, he met with a university task force on information technology. The group, which had already been meeting for a year and a half, wanted to clue in Snyder on their efforts to make sure that UNLV was “positioned for the future,” technologically speaking.
Snyder asked whether any of them had been out to see Switch’s SUPERNAP data center, a powerful IT facility in the southwest valley. They said no.
So Snyder called Switch founder and CEO Rob Roy, whom Snyder knows well because he serves on Switch’s board.
He asked whether Roy was willing to host a visit from the UNLV task force, and if he’d personally be willing to have a conversation with them.
A few weeks later, the task force was out at the SUPERNAP center, where Snyder said they were “blown away by what they saw.”
In a meeting with the UNLV group, Roy told them he’d had “many good conversations” about engaging with the university. But he was disappointed — beyond the talk, progress seemed to move at a glacial pace.
Snyder understood what he was talking about.
“Things happen at Switch pretty quickly,” Snyder said in an interview with the Sun. “Sometimes, in academia, they don’t happen as quickly.”
So the two men made what Snyder called a “handshake agreement.” Snyder said that if Roy was committed to working with UNLV, he was committed to moving things along.
Roy told him the most important step UNLV could take was to connect itself to his company’s fiber optic core. That would essentially put UNLV’s computing powers on steroids and make it “the most connected university on the planet,” Snyder said.
They began to move forward on the idea. Not long afterward, Roy got wind that Intel wanted to put its “Cherry Creek” supercomputer in the hands of a university.
The names of a few top West Coast schools were floated — including Stanford University, according to Snyder, although he didn’t know how advanced those discussions were.
In any case, Roy nudged Intel in UNLV’s direction when he told them about how his company was turbocharging the university’s technological abilities.
“That kind of stopped the presses for Intel,” Snyder said. “What Rob did in terms of teeing that up was absolutely the game changer in terms of having a conversation that resulted in the Intel supercomputer being here.”
Then, this week, UNLV confirmed that the supercomputer was officially coming to Las Vegas. With its 10,000 processing cores — akin to the power of 2,500 Mac desktops — the computer can process data in hours that would previously take the university a week to get through.
Snyder expects the computer to help elevate UNLV’s status as a top research university — an advancement he said was made possible because of the university’s relationship with Switch.
“What helped is, I think, that Intel saw that both the university and Switch were in sync here and doing something that was special,” he said. “They wanted to do something with a university and clearly saw that what we were doing … would enable this thing to happen in the right way.”