Gloom as Intel closes Cambridge lab

Massive cost-cutting exercise sees Intel shut its only university lab outside the US, as academics warn that valuable research could suffer

Intel has announced it is to shut the research laboratory it was running in conjunction with Cambridge University, as part of the company's current drive to cut costs.

The chipmaker has a policy of not disclosing the numbers of staff employed at its research facilities, but it is understood that around fifteen full-time staff work at the lab, along with a much larger number of interns.

"We had to look at several options, and while the lab in Cambridge had a relevant research agenda for us, it was unfortunately the smallest, and therefore relatively the most expensive one," an Intel spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Monday, adding that the company has "other labs which will continue the work on our research agenda".

The decision to close the Intel Research Cambridge Lab — the only university-affiliated laboratory that the chipmaker runs outside the US — in December has been met with a mix of disappointment and resignation by members of the academic community.

"It's somewhat of a surprise. I'd heard that they were cutting back and, from the research I could see coming out of the lab, it seemed to give Intel a heightened awareness in the community... but maybe that's not what Intel was looking for," one insider, who asked not to be named, told ZDNet UK.

"Most of the people working there were eminently hireable, and if they can, they will continue with their projects [elsewhere]," the insider continued, adding that some projects underway at the Cambridge labs could be dropped unless the people working on them are transferred to the company's remaining US-based labs.

Work at the labs has included the development of Intel's Xen virtual machine monitor, the Continuous Monitoring (CoMo) network monitoring software and research into wireless networking and ubiquitous computing. Intel's lab also contributed to the European Commission-funded Haggle research project, which aimed to develop a new architectural framework for mobile technology.

Although Intel's work in Cambridge has mostly been carried out alongside the computing department, it has also had a high degree of involvement with the engineering department's Centre for Photonic Studies, in the field of optical systems research.

"We were trying to work with them on future technologies for linking computers," said Richard Penty, Professor of Photonics, on Monday. "You'd hope that might become important to Intel in the future, but obviously not important enough."

"It's very disappointing — we thought we were doing innovative work with the people in Intel," Professor Penty added.

Intel announced in September that it was to cut more than ten thousand jobs, in the wake of increased competition in the chip market from the likes of AMD.

However, the closure of the Cambridge labs has also been attributed to the company's new research head, Andrew Chien. Denying that the move reflected a general disdain for investing in UK-based research and development, ZDNet UK's source said this "change in the aims and leadership" of Intel research was the most plausible explanation for the move.

"That's the way corporate research goes," the insider added.

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