Java development facility opens in Newfoundland

A small population spread over a large area is not typically a formula for business success, but a new initiative in Newfoundland is turning that disadvantage upside-down.

“We will use distance as a positive for the first time, [it will be] our calling card,” said Des Whelan, the director of Pivotal Networks in St John’s Nfld.

Pivotal Networks was designed to enhance the availability and development of Java technology in the province of Newfoundland, in part by utilizing Newfoundland’s pre-existing fibre-optic infrastructure and digital networks.

The initiative is based on a 1998 agreement between Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc., Operation ONLINE Inc. and the College of the North Atlantic. Pivotal Networks has three main functions, according to Whelan. The first function is “the development of the IT industry in Newfoundland by developing technology and software in conjunction with the local companies,” Whelan said. Newfoundland has already developed expertise in distance education, tele-health and telecommunications, according to Whelan. “Our goal is to take that expertise…build the Java expertise and the HR knowledge on top of that and allow it to fully help develop technologies here.”

The second function will be the pre-testing of software applications using Java technology. The intention is to use the province’s telecommunications infrastructure as a test bed prior to sending the applications to an independent certification centre for Pure Java certification, according to Whelan. Labrador and Newfoundland’s expansive geography and relatively small population can act as a site to test network technologies for large scale deployment on a small scale network.

Corporate training is the third function of Pivotal Networks. In order to raise local Java expertise, local companies will be able to send employees to Pivotal Networks to top-up their Java training.

Pivotal Networks is located in the technology centre on the Prince Philip Drive campus of the College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s. The college sees the location as a big plus. “The relationship between Pivotal Networks and the college is a firm and dynamic and evolving relationship. Any linkage to a major IT corporation (Sun) pays dividends,” said Steve Quinton, chair of the School of IT in Clarenville, one of the college’s 18 campuses. According to Quinton, future plans include creating work terms for the college’s IT students and having faculty work on projects at Pivotal Networks.

Sun provided both the hardware (five desktops and a server) and the software to get the project started. “Sun is very committed to working with Pivotal Networks to make sure the project is successful. We see it as a great opportunity for developing Java expertise,” said Garry Mees, Director of Corporate Development of Sun Canada in Markham, Ont.

From the beginning, Operation ONLINE acted as a broker to bring the various parties together. “I guess they are our child. The concept of a network computing centre dated back several years,” said Jack Botsford, president and CEO of Operation ONLINE in St John’s. The not-for-profit corporation was set up in 1996 with a five year mandate to advance the growth of the IT sector in Newfoundland and Labrador by creating partnerships, accessing markets and building human resources. Funding is supplied through the Canada/Newfoundland Agreement on Economic Renewal.

One of the first areas Pivotal Networks will pursue is the development of distance education using the Internet. “We want to start with a wide area of any technology that helps with the delivery of services through distance, such as distance education,” Whelan said.

Botsford agrees. “We see it as a particularly good fit with our geography and our history, where we have a large rural population and people who want to learn a new skill set. In a sense, you or I could sit down and do a course at our own pace generated through the Web, in anything from technical applications to how to be a rodeo clown,” he said.

“This unique partnership represents a new way for us to enhance our developing IT sector,” Premier Brian Tobin said in a press release. “In addition, having this innovative facility, the first of its kind in the world, right here in Newfoundland and Labrador is sure to bring many economic and educational benefits to our province.”