Pall cast over IBM lab opening

In a celebration tempered by the tragedy in the U.S., IBM Canada Ltd. forged ahead Sept. 11 with the official opening of its $150 million dollar Toronto Software Solutions Laboratory in Markham, Ont.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was briefly delayed as officials shuffled the program to accommodate the absence of scheduled speaker Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who could not attend due to the emergency situation. Key dignitaries such as IBM Canada president Ed Kilroy, Markham Mayor Don Cousens, Markham MP John McCallum, Markham MPP David Tsubouchi, and several U.S. IBM executives were on hand, and an impromptu moment of silence cast an unfortunate pall over the event.

“Although many of us are affected by these events, we will continue with a somewhat muted celebration,” said Toronto Lab director Hershel Harris.

The 88-acre, 565,000 square foot facility will employ more than 2,500 employees and employs wired/wireless technology to integrate up to 23,000 devices into one virtual network. Some of the key technologies being developed include database management (DB2 Universal Database, DB2 Connect), application development tools (VisualAge for Java, MQ series Family), and the WebSphere e-commerce suite.

The goal of the Toronto Lab is to advance software development in Canada and marks a commitment to develop software worldwide, Harris said.

“Major products we’re developing here is data management, such as DB2 products for Unix servers, NT servers, WebSphere tools for developers, and Java development. Any of the tools that our customers use to develop applications, we use to develop our own,” Kilroy said.

A tour of the facility revealed an ergonomic, open space work environment with such amenities as bistros, cafes, game rooms, fitness centre and a child-care facility.

The Lab is the third largest R&D facility in Canada and before it was expanded, it accounted for a quarter of IBM software US$12.6 billion worldwide revenue, said John Thompson, vice chairman at IBM Canada. He added that the Lab will encourage the adoption of e-business in the Canadian marketplace.

All three levels of government are committed to this Markham expansion, Kilroy said, and called it a “win-win” situation for all.

“One of the major criteria for us is availability of skills. We felt that Markham as a centre provided us an ability to attract skills from Canadian universities and colleges, which produce outstanding (personnel). It has been 34 years that we’ve been located in Toronto and we have tremendous success and growth…this space provided us an expansion capability (and) access of the (highway) and Toronto International Airport,” Kilroy said.

IBM already has a solid presence in the Markham area and the new expansion reflects IBM Canada’s software development contributions to IBM on a global scale, said Alister Sutherland, an analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto.

The decision to remain in Canada is based on both practical and economic reasons, but the economics were secondary to IBM’s desire to be a world leader, Sutherland said. Compared to the U.S., there is an competitive advantage to operating out of Canada, Sutherland said, and there is a large pool of skilled Canadian developers to draw from.

“A company like IBM is really looking only for excellence at the end of the day. They are looking to be deliver the highest quality product…I think that it is much (more) a quality issue than anything else,” Sutherland said.

The new centre is concrete evidence that Markham is fast becoming the “Silicon Valley of the North,” McCallum said.

IBM Canada Ltd., in a Markham, Ont., is at