NetApp to partner with Wichita State, expand onto university campus

04/12/2014 10:34 AM

06/17/2014 10:54 AM

NetApp, a global data storage company that already employs more than 500 people in Wichita, will create a partnership with Wichita State University and expand part of its operations onto the WSU campus, university and company leaders told The Eagle.

NetApp is the first announced tenant of the new innovation campus that university leaders say could foster more jobs and innovation for Wichita and Kansas.

WSU and NetApp leaders announced the partnership Friday. NetApp is a California-based Fortune 500 company with operations in Wichita.

In a statement, NetApp said it expects to “collaborate with WSU on a new center that will act as a hub, or connecting point, for network storage solutions companies.”

WSU’s John Tomblin said the university wants to make this agreement pay off by creating new high-pay jobs and business opportunities.

“As a core part of the WSU mission, we expect the Innovation Campus to be an economic driver for the region and for Kansas,” he said.

The new innovation campus building that NetApp will work in won’t be built until probably next year, but 12 people hired by WSU are already at work on joint projects with NetApp, and another 12 will be hired by the end of this summer, WSU officials said. At first, they will be housed on the WSU campus inside Donald L. Beggs Hall, the engineering building.

That initial NetApp foothold on the WSU campus will probably expand eventually, Tomblin said. All the employees are either WSU students or graduates learning from and working with NetApp.

NetApp, in its statement, said it expects to provide the center with projects “and the modern, industry-standard tools necessary to complete them.”

“The new center will give students the opportunity to work with enterprise-class storage and data management technologies and obtain the critical skills necessary to address the increasing complexity of data management,” said Joel Reich, senior vice president of the E-Series Products Group at NetApp.

NetApp and another global company with WSU ties, Cisco, create data storage and network underpinnings for the Internet. They’ve partnered with WSU for years and hire some of its graduates.

This agreement will expand and accelerate that partnership, said Tomblin, WSU’s vice president for innovation and technology transfer. He said it should be a signal — to other big companies and to smaller-scale innovators and business people — that WSU plans to create business opportunities and back them with WSU researchers and technology tools that some businesses can’t afford on their own.

WSU will do all this while giving students an education while working often side by side with NetApp and other companies’ employees, he said.

Cisco has partnered for years on the campus with WSU and has given $19 million for operations and salaries at the Advanced Networking Research Institute in Beggs Hall. The company plans to stay, and Tomblin last week hired a Cisco technologist, Ken Russell, to run that institute.

The Russell announcement came just a couple of days after the Kansas Legislature gave WSU $2 million for the first of four buildings in the innovation campus that President John Bardo plans to build on the southeast corner of the campus and on half of what is now WSU’s 18-hole golf course. Construction is expected to start next year.

“All of this is pretty good news for a building that hasn’t even been built yet,” Tomblin said.

Early last year, NetApp’s Stan Skelton said the company employed 525 people in Wichita. He said NetApp invested heavily in Wichita in part because it valued not only the university but the quality of technical training WSU gives students.

Skelton, the senior director of advanced development architecture and E-series products at NetApp, said the company has hired a large number of WSU grads over the years, including himself. He is a 1972 graduate of North High School and a 1977 graduate of WSU.

Bardo came to WSU in mid-2012 as WSU struggled from the after-effects of the 2008 recession and resulting state budget cuts. He has said that WSU needs to evolve, not only to survive but to grow while putting the campus and Kansas on the world map with technology innovation and the research and business tools to back it.

He proposed the innovation campus to create space not only for more technology at WSU but for business partnerships. Tomblin, as part of that effort, is talking to multiple tech companies, hoping to attract a variety of businesses to the new building.

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