On February 26th, 2015, UTSA President Ricardo Romo and Rackspace Co-Founder and Chairman Graham Weston officially announced the establishment of the Open Cloud Institute at UTSA. The cooperation between UTSA, Rackspace and other partners has attracted an investment of $9M.

Referring to the partnership as “one of the greatest events in the last 45 years,” President Romo generated unanimous applause with the claim that “this institute will position UTSA as an academic leader in cloud computing in America, if not the world.”

The Open Cloud Institute will bring new degree programs, new research initiatives and new partners to UTSA. The 80/20 Foundation — established by Weston with the objective to increase San Antonio’s entrepreneurship, promote technology education and provide more urban options — committed $4.8M to the project, which will bring four faculty and ten graduate student endowments and provide resources for faculty support and research funding.

“Never, in the history of our campus, have we launched anything with such energy, such expertise and such resources,” said President Romo. “Very few folks are as advanced as we are right now in open cloud projects.”

Rackspace is one of four major cloud infrastructure companies in the world; Google, Microsoft and Amazon complete the list. Cloud computing is a relatively inexpensive way of storing data. It harnesses the power of thousands of very inexpensive computers working together through a software. Four years ago, Rackspace and NASA were able to combine their technologies to create such a software, called OpenStack.

“The way to make super computing available to us all is by bringing the cost down,” said Weston. “OpenStack is the way this will happen.”

Open cloud computing is affecting more people every day. In an essence, any business that uses a mobile application with its customers — from pizza ordering and delivery to controlling the thermostat of a home through one’s phone — relies on cloud technology.

“The innovations in the private sector have just begun,” said Weston. “There is so much that is going to come in the next 10 years – things that will make our lives better.”

Harnessing such shared and open space will increase innovation in scientific research for academia.

“What is happening today is the very beginning of the cloud revolution of academia and academic research,” said Weston. “The Open Cloud Institute and OpenStack will be the bridge to help academic researchers utilize the cloud for research.”

Weston visited UTSA a couple of years ago and observed the long and expensive process of waiting to gain access to a “super computer” in Austin. “I think that academia needs its own cloud-computing model,” said Weston. “There is data – information from a terabyte of genome, for example – that is so heavy to be moved from place to place.”

The announcement of UTSA’s Open Cloud Institute was given in the presence of special guests, including Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

“Communities are going to progress if they attract young smart people and hold onto those people,” said Wolff.

On this note, Dr. Romo reminded the audience of last year’s news about UTSA’s recognition as the top ranked institution for cyber security educational programs in the country. Since then, UTSA has attracted many of the nation’s sought-after scholars as it moves closer to its path to Tier One, Romo said.

“UTSA faculty and students from the departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and information systems and cyber security have been leading the cloud computing research at the university,” said UTSA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, John Frederick. “Now, through the UTSA Open Cloud Institute, they will establish UTSA as the top academic institution for education, research and technology transferring cloud computing.”

UTSA students are already working with computing technology on several projects.

Patrick Benevidez, a PhD candidate focusing on Robotics, Systems and Controls, is currently developing two robots that will help the disabled. One robot will be a programmed floor cleaner with an arm to pick up objects; it will clean an area for a specific time and to move to another area. The second robot will be an assistant walking device with four wheels to help people navigate in their own home.

“The open cloud institute will give us many resources,” said Benavidez. “Currently, we have to buy all of the computers we have, and this takes a hit on the budget. If somebody else already has computers that we can use, all we have to do is network with them.”

The cooperation between Rackspace and UTSA offers implications beyond student and staff development. President Romo is hopeful that UTSA’s Open Cloud Institute could serve as a precedent for future projects and contacts with potential partners, including Facebook and Google.

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