The 2013 Influencers: Ian Foster

19:56, Sep 05 2013
Grid computing pioneer Ian Foster.

Expat Kiwi professor Ian Foster may be a relative unknown in his home country, but don’t mistake that for lack of influence. 

Along with American Carl Kesselman, Foster virtually invented grid computing, in which computer resources from multiple locations are combined to reach common goals.

That technology - and the New Zealander’s work - has paved the way for cloud computing. 

Scott Houston, CEO of New Zealand-based global software firm GreenButton, says Foster laid the platform for the emergence of companies such as GreenButton and Xero, which are entirely cloud-based. 

In fact, Foster gave early advice to GreenButton on market opportunities and tools.

“As the cloud becomes more pervasive, the work that Ian and his team are doing on advanced supercomputing, grids and very large datasets is going to become increasingly relevant to standard business computing,” predicts Houston, who describes Foster as a thought leader. 


Despite living overseas since 1980 (he's is now the director of the Chicago-based Computation Institute and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory), Foster has maintained ties with home, offering help and support to the likes of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI). 

Speaking at the 2013 Multicore World event that brought together leaders in the technology that brings us computing power with grunt, held in Wellington earlier this year, he said New Zealand had the potential to reap economic rewards from developing exporting solutions at the leading edge of multicore. 

Foster cites the “100 companies” vision of the late Sir Paul Callaghan as inspirational. “I like the notion that New Zealand doesn’t have to compete in mainstream businesses,” he says.

“By building niche companies that are highly competitive in areas where not many people are competing, and by using the New Zealand lifestyle and environment to attract smart people, we could do remarkably well.”