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Inside Track: Blue Gene Architect Alan Gara Leaving IBM for Intel

insideHPC has confirmed that IBM Fellow Dr. Alan Gara is leaving the company to join Intel. As the chief system architect of the three generations of Blue Gene supercomputers, Gara was an IBM Fellow at T.J. Watson Research Center and was leading exascale system research at IBM.

As the 2010 recipient of the Seymour Cray Award, Gara has had a storied history in HPC. His Blue Gene/L system was the #1 system on the top500 list for 5 consecutive dates. The Blue Gene/P and the latest Blue Gene/Q systems both debuted as #1 in terms of energy efficiency on the green500 list. Alan Gara received his PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1987. Dr. Gara has received two Gordon Bell Awards in each of 1998 and 2006 for his scientific work in supercomputing.

Update:An Intel spokesperson confirming this story said that Dr. Gara will not be working in HPC for the first year. This is interesting in that the company has been staffing up with top-level supercomputing talent including John Gustafson (Sun) and more recently Dr. Bill Feiereisen (Lockheed Martin) and Mark Seager (LLNL). One thing is for sure, the loss of Alan Gara is a significant setback for IBM as it readies it plans to deploy several 10 Petaflop Blue Gene/Q systems in the near future.

Comments

  1. WOW !!!

    Clearly Intel needs an architect at this level to play in the exascale sandbox. Can’t wait to learn more about this move.

  2. It’s hard to believe that IBM employ some effort to stop this move. It could be that Intel now has a “cease and desist” order regarding the employment of Dr. Gara. This seems likely given Dr. Gara’s high visibility in the BlueGene project. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if IBM were to lose some contracts as a result of Dr. Gara’s departure.
    Then again, that could have been Intel’s plan all along — get Dr. Gara away from IBM. His employment at Intel may be secondary to his no longer being employed by IBM. Search the web for Al Gara and almost every hit includes BlueGene. If someone at Intel decided to go recruiting to undermine IBM and the BlueGene project, they couldn’t have picked a better candidate.
    Since Intel has stated that Dr. Gara will not initially be working on HPC based projects, it is possible that they are trying to avoid any falling out with IBM, or it could just be that Dr. Gara was a pawn in some nefarious plan.
    It will be interesting to see how this plays out: If Dr. Gara will be working on HPC at Intel in a year, or if he was simply some collateral damage in a play for HPC dominance.

  3. Les Karr says:

    Not a nefarious plan— employment contracts very commonly prohibit direct competitive employment for periods of time– I suspect Dr. Gara was under that type of agreement with IBM. Given his architectural talents– Dr. Gara will be a great asset to Intel in any product line.

  4. By nefarious, I simply meant that Intel may not care whether or not Dr. Gara is actually employed by them, so long as he is no longer employed by IBM. If IBM decides to sue Dr. Gara, it will be very telling to see whether they pay for Dr. Gara’s legal defense.
    Alternately, if IBM decides to sue Intel, will they put up a fight or simply withdraw their offer to employ him.

  5. If a company wanted to venture into the area of HPC/exascale computing, they would obviously want to start with someone with a proven track record in the field. In this modern age, finding such a person is elementary my dear Watson.
    As you’ve pointed out a search of the internet does reveal that Dr. Gara is linked closely with the BlueGene project at IBM. Additional web articles related to Dr. Gara show that he has been the recipient of multiple awards over the course of the last several years. That IBM thinks highly of Dr. Gara is apparent by their making him an IBM Fellow — no easy task.
    As I understand it IBM is not in the habit of using no compete employment contracts (however if they did, any employment lawyer with any level of competence could easily deal with that). Therefore the only issue here is one of theft of Intellectual Property (IP). As an employee of IBM, all of Dr. Gara’s work (either at the office or home) is the property of IBM (provided that they are in that business — for example, Dr. Gara could certainly come up with a better way to press grapes, an idea for which IBM would have little or no claim since they are not in that business).
    Intel, by placing Dr. Gara in a non-HPC position for a period of 1 year is simply doing their best to avoid any claim of theft of IP. Given the development cycle of computer processors, this time period should be more that sufficient.
    Upon receiving word of Intel’s interest and considering it as areal possibility, Dr. Gara would have been wise to avoid being placed in a situation where he could obtain any new technical information about existing/upcoming projects and certainly cease working on any computer related architecture.
    If IBM can show a timeline wherein Dr. Gara collected information from IBM knowing that he was going to move to Intel, they may have a case.
    Records of his attendance at internal design meetings will certainly be examined. If Dr. Gara used company equipment to access personal email at that time, those devices would certainly be subject to review, especially if said email account contained both work-related and Intel-related content.
    Further any personal equipment that may have been authorized to connect to IBM’s corporate infrastructure (BES, Exchange Server, etc.) such devices may also be requested by IBM to determine a timeline for the recruiting efforts an whether or not Dr. Gara took sufficient steps to protect himself.
    It would be surprising if Dr. Gara used the same device for both work and recruiting-related emails.
    If indeed BlueGene contracts were at risk as you suggest, it seems that IBM would have done everything possible to retain Dr. Gara as an employee.

  6. Well, something is odd. Consider the following:
    Phone IBM looking for Dr. Gara:
    “I’m sorry Dr. Gara is no longer an employee here”
    Phone Intel looking for Dr. Gara:
    ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have an employee by that name”
    Looks like he waas just a pawn in some corporate struggle for market share

  7. Holmes says:

    Watson, I believe your conclusions are somewhat premature.
    Consider the following:
    If you were in Dr. Gara’s shoes, having worked at IBM for several years on their HPC project (work hard enough in fact to get noticed to the point where you appointed as a Fellow — no small feat), would you not wish to take some time between jobs? I know that I would certainly take a break of perhaps a few months.
    Further, since we know that Dr. Gara is had been working on the BlueGene project, a project based at the Watson Research Center, he likely lived nearby, say within a 1 hour commute.
    Given the geography of the area, I would guess (in order of probability) either Westchester, Putnam, or Duchess county.
    It appears that Intel’s HPC projects are based in California. This would mean that Dr. Gara would have to move from the east coast of the US to the west coast.
    Assuming that Dr. Gara is married his wife would no doubt want a say in the process of selecting a new residence. While it is certainly possible that Dr. Gara could begin work nearly immediately and go along with his wife’s selection of a new home, what would be the point?
    Given the opportunity Watson, would you not take a brief holiday from employment were it possible for you to do so?
    Let us also assume that Dr. Gara has children. Such children are no doubt enrolled in school. Given the proximity of the end of term, Dr. Gara would likely prefer to allow his children to finish the term. Further, given the number of hours he do doubt spend away from his family, he may well choose to spend their summer break with them, before resuming employment, employment which will no doubt consume a great deal of his time.
    In summary, it is not a surprise at all that Dr. Gara is currently an employee of neither company.
    In all likelihood, he is spending time with his family, possibly on a house hunting expedition.
    Final conclusions regarding his being used simply as a pawn will have to wait until September at the earliest. If, by that time, he is not reachable by Intel, it is possible that your pessimism may have been accurate.

  8. Well, my dear Watson, it appears that your predictions of a dire future for Dr. Gara are incorrect.
    As I predicted, Dr. Gara appears to be gainfully employed at Intel, having relocated to Southern California. See his LinkedIn page: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/alan-gara/5/7b2/363
    If I were willing to place a bet upon your response, I’d say you’d likely claim that the information upon that page is most likely fabrication. Before you venture too far down that path, consider what his possible motivations for such a fiction might be. LinkedIn is a website used primarily for professional contacts and relationships. If he were truly unemployed, he would not place
    false information on that page.
    From this, I can only surmise that he is indeed at Intel.

  9. Holmes,

    I have no doubt that the information on Dr. Gara’s website is correct; he is indeed employed at Intel, and from the looks of it living on on the West Coast, no doubt having been given an ample relocation package as part of his deal with Intel.

    It is also likely that in an attempt to appease those he may have angered by leaving IBM given that he was in such a position of prominence on the BlueGene team that he will refrain from working on any exascale projects for some agreed upon period of time.

    I do not believe that IBM will not pay very close attention to Intel’s work in that field once Dr. Gara returns to the type of work he was doing at IBM. Given his deep involvement with the BlueGene project, he will not be able to prevent information that he has learned from influencing his work at Intel. It is human nature. Once you learn something you cannot “un-know” it.

    Dr. Gara has deep knowledge of BlueGene. He knows what decisions were made and why. He knows what doesn’t work and he knows what does. He likely knows what the plans were for the next several generations.

    IBM can pursue a legal course of action known as “Inevitable Disclosure.” (http://www.ivanhoffman.com/inevitable.html) Whether IBM chooses to pursue such a case is up to them. Their decision will no doubt be based upon what impact Dr. Gara’s departure has had upon their business.

    Considering the level of involvement Dr. Gara had with the BlueGene project, I would be very surprised if IBM would not pursue such an inevitable disclosure case, possibly resulting yet another change in employment for Dr. Gara.

    Perhaps he will return to CERN to continue his work in theoretical physics.

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