SGI wins ATIC contract

by Nathan Stubbs

After more than a year of negotiations, Lafayette Economic Development Authority is planning to award a $6 million contract this week to California-based Silicon Graphics Inc., making it the main computing partner for the Acadiana Technology Immersion Center. ATIC is a 70,000 square foot 3-D visualization lab, touted as the city's biggest economic development tool in decades. The center is under construction on Cajundome Boulevard and slated to open early next year.

Next on the ATIC docket is finding the best candidate to run the operation. LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux says a search committee has recently forwarded him three finalists for the job of the center's director and he plans to fill the position in the coming weeks. The new ATIC director ' set to make an upper five-figure salary ' will primarily be a salesman for the center and also will become LEDA's chief information officer. (The state granted LEDA and ULL a $17 million grant for the construction of ATIC, which is expected to operate self-sufficiently after its opening.) Offices rented out to the university and other businesses are expected to cover the bulk of the building's basic maintenance, but the visualization lab has yet to secure an operating fund. The new director's main job will be lining up clients.

ATIC's main attraction will be its six-sided "immersive visualization cave" ' one of less than 10 in the world. Planners say the center will provide businesses and researchers with a one-of-a-kind tool. Other visualization centers are now being used for oil and gas companies to explore seismic data, for engineers to design and test machinery, and for training programs for a variety of workers including utility techs and emergency responders. UL, which is also a partner on the project, is in the process of bringing in new researchers and staff to work specifically with ATIC.

According to sources close to the project, SGI's bid includes building what would now rank as one of the top 100 supercomputers in the world for the center, supplying the majority of its other computers and electronics and bringing in business to help with the visualization center's operating costs. SGI will share revenue with ATIC for services it sells out of the center to its corporate clients. The SGI name will also be attached in some form to the ATIC center.

"In the end, after all was said and done, [SGI] offered the most comprehensive package," says a source at UL.

SGI is best known for the technology it develops for big name clients from Hollywood to Washington, D.C. The company provides some of the cutting edge innovations used in major film studio special effects and in the national government's satellite surveillance and anti-ballistic missile defense systems. SGI also is the technological force behind Landmark Graphics, a Halliburton-owned software and visualization service provider for oil and gas exploration.

SGI landed the ATIC contract after more than a year of negotiating between LEDA, the university and the country's top computer manufacturers. The other finalists for the contract included IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Sun Microsystems. Sources say LEDA was set to award the contract to IBM in July, before IBM pulled back on its proposal due to its own internal deliberations. As a result, ATIC now represents SGI's first substantial venture into Louisiana.

"I think SGI will pay more attention to [the center]," says a source close to the negotiations. "In the grand scope of things, this is statistically significant to them. Plus IBM is already in the state and SGI wasn't and now they are."