There was a definite pall over IBM’s new software laboratory Markham Tuesday in the wake of the brutal terrorist attacks south of the border, but Big Blue forged ahead with a streamlined opening cerermony.

“None of us feel much like celebrating,” said Hershel Harris, vice-president of WebSpere Server development and director of Toronto lab. All of the visiting dignitaries representing three levels of government prefaced their remarks with condolences and words of support for their neighbors in the U.S.

IBM Canada Ltd. officially opened the doors of the IBM Software Solutions Laboratory with a ribbon cutting and a local high school band. The lab is now home to 2,500 employees developing software for IBM customers around the world. The 565,000 sq. ft. lab was originally announced in April 1999 and expected to house 2,000 people.

“IBM has a rich history of investment in research and development in Canada,” said Harris.

John Thompson, vice-chairman of the IBM board of directors, whose career began as systems engineer for IBM in Ontario 35 years ago, said the official opening of the facility represented a moment of great pride for him personally, “and it’s an important milestone in the rich history of IBM.”

The computer giant’s Canadian subsidiary was actually the first to sport the name International Business Machines until Thomas Watson decided to adopt the name for the parent company. “Almost a century later IBM continues to lead the information technology industry,” noted Thompson.

The lab is now the third largest R&D facility in Canada, he said, and has worldwide mission to develop software for IBM customers. Development for flagship products such as WebSphere and DB2 — which has six million users around the world — is done at the Markham facility.

Development of the lab was made possible in part by a $33 million investment by the Federal Government’s Technology Partnerships Program, as well as the cooperation with the Ontario government and the city.

The lab has facilities for customers to test-drive IBM software, as well as an applied research institute, the Centre for Advanced Studies, facilitating the transfer of advanced research into future product development.

In the year 2000 alone, the Toronto lab received 16 software patents.

In addition to the lab, IBM Canada has two innovation centres, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver. The latter is focused on e-business and works closely with IBM’s services group.

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