UW Information Technology

October 17, 2017

GIX develops leaders in innovation

High tech, huge bandwidth support innovation at new Steve Ballmer Building in Bellevue’s Spring District

By Elizabeth Sharpe

Imagine a master’s program where the outcome is less about the degree and more about learning to create technologies and devices to solve global problems.

This fall 42 graduate students from around the world are taking up this challenge. They are part of the first two cohorts of students pursing master’s degree programs offered by the University of Washington at the newly opened Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) facility in Bellevue, Washington. GIX is a collaboration between major research universities and companies from around the world.

Here students will imagine, design and build smart, connected devices that tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues – from climate change to chronic disease.

And their work is supported by a super-fast computing network and powerful off-site computing thanks to early involvement and coordination between the GIX team, UW Capital Planning & Development, and UW Information Technology.

David Maddox, chief operating officer for GIX

“The program is completely dependent on robust connectivity to the computing resources that will primarily be off-site,” said David Maddox, chief operating officer for GIX.

Access to robust fiber optic network bridges geographies, bolsters collaboration

Within the new three-story 100,000-square-foot building, a new approach to fostering entrepreneurship is underway.

GIX brings together a unique blend of academic and industry partners from across the globe to support technology innovation degree programs — with the University of Washington and Tsinghua University in China as founding academic partners, and Microsoft providing $40 million in additional support.

The highly collaborative programs emphasize a mix of design thinking, technology development and entrepreneurship, with students earning either a master of science in technology innovation from the UW, or a dual degree that also includes a master of engineering in data science and information technology from Tsinghua University. Students in these programs will build prototypes to solve a global problem or business need.

The new building — named after Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s former CEO — is well-equipped to handle the data-heavy work involved in building these devices of the future, and in enabling collaboration with people across the globe.

But what’s striking is the building does not house any of the computing servers or storage necessary to support this work onsite. Instead, it connects to a fiber optic network around Lake Washington constructed and operated by the Community Connectivity Consortium, a group of 26 public institutions that includes the UW. The network provides a secure and high-bandwidth connection to powerful computing and data storage at the UW-IT’s data centers, to cloud services managed by UW-IT and to international networks.

High-bandwidth fuels device development, tech innovation

At the heart of the GIX facility is a purpose-built Makerspace that boasts a comprehensive set of shops, labs, and making equipment  for students to realize their ideas and develop these devices. The space depends on high-bandwidth connections for 3D printers, laser cutters, an industrial digital sewing machine, and electronics fabrication tools for designing and making circuit boards.

Other connected GIX spaces and classrooms give students access to experts from around the world, while augmented reality and virtual reality studio space will extend the application of their coursework and opportunities for innovation. All of this is supported by high-speed connections provided by UW-IT.

UW-IT’s Thomas Hammond coordinated the team that implemented GIX’s internal network.

“In total, around 100 locations in the GIX building are outfitted with 10-gigabit network connections, which is 10 times the bandwidth of an average desktop connection on the UW campus,” said Thomas Hammond, the technology project manager in UW-IT who, along with Dan Shackelford, coordinated the team that implemented GIX’s internal network. The team included Al Caro, Paul Cozine and Dave Gage from UW-IT.

The GIX facility’s reach truly will go well beyond its walls.