IBM solar panel announcement fits into green ambitions

IBM’s recent announcement of its technique for recycling silicon chips into solar panels, is the kind of environmental-related news that fits in with Vermont’s high-tech ambitions and green sensibilities.

Vermont is developing a high-tech industry, mostly composed of small firms and solo individuals attracted to its rural environment. As part of that, the state this year embarked on an effort to provide ubiquitous broadband access to its residents. It hopes the move will hope foster economic development, including high-tech.

Patrick Martell, who was hired just this year as first full-time executive director of the Vermont Software Developers Alliance, estimates that there are 2,800 developers in the state and says the number may double in two years. Vermont is currently home to about 620,000 people in an area of 9,600 square miles.

One of the reasons for that growth, says Martell, a former CIO of a family-owned ski Al’s Snowmobiles, a snowmobile-parts company in Newport, is the growing demand for “Vermont-crafted software.”

“The people who live and work here have a sense for quality all around them whether it’s in maple syrup, fine furniture or software,” said Martell, a native Vermonter.

Martell said the IBM announcement fits in with the state’s environmental focus as well. IBM said it developed a new process to repurpose the silicon for other uses, citing as “inspiration” a shortage in silicon for making solar panels. IBM is one of the state’s largest employers, with 5,600 employees in Burlington.

But one thing Vermont needs is serious telecom service, and the state has embarked on an effort to create ubiquitous broadband access by 2010. The state this year created the Vermont Telecommunications Authority with the goal of ensuring that ever household has broadband access, as well as cellular service and mobile broadband.

The importance of broadband is manifest in Westchester County, New York — home of IBM’s corporate headquarters in Armonk. That county doesn’t have the rural cachet of Vermont, but it does have a OC-192 fiber backbone capable of 9953.28 Mbits — more than 800 miles of fiber packed into the county’s 500 square miles, said Norm Jacknis, the county’s CIO.

This broadband development was championed some nine years ago, when Westchester offered itself up as an anchor tenant to providers by aggregating all the telecom needs of its schools, government agencies, hospitals, libraries, creating a multi-million dollar annual incentive.

Jacknis believes the county has one of the best broadband infrastructures in the nation. Some independent affirmation of that came Monday when the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum said that Westchester was on the list of 21 communities worldwide to be selected as sem-finalist for one of Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year, a global competition. The award recognizes those communities positioned to prosper in the digital age. The Intelligent Community Forum is an independent think tank based in New York.

Jacknis believes that its network has been a major contributor to the county’s economic development, prompting some major firms to open up back office and headquarter operations in it, as well as helping smaller companies grow.

And Jacknis said the backbone has helped county government in many ways, including widely deploying teleconferencing, which allows county workers to be more productive. “The reality is, they could be doing other things. Now they are,” he said.

Because of its network, the county is also looking at Cisco’s TelePresence, which creates large, lifelike images. “It makes that video conferencing experience a lot more real,” said Jacknis.

Jacknis is now working on using the fiber network to create wireless networks that can be used by government, and even imagines the possibility of applications such as live video feeds from a police cruiser as it’s moving.

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