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December 1998

You can call him Al: Kellie journeys south to head SCD

Al Kellie. (Photo by Lynda Lester.)

He might be feeling a bit of deja vu. As the new director of the Scientific Computing Division, effective 30 November, Al Kellie is in a position with similarities to the one he just left in Canada.

From 1993 till last month, Al directed the Computer and Telecommunications Branch of the Canadian Meteorological Centre, the operations-and-research hub of Canada's weather service. For the past year, he also has served as senior director of the center itself, overseeing 250 staff and a budget of about US$25 million. At the same time, he's been the director of the project for ensuring that Canada's mission-critical weather service is able to deliver uninterrupted service into the year 2000 and beyond. Involved in that effort are more than 300 staff and a planned budget of more than US$15 million.

Al's energy and taste for innovation went over well with SCD staff (whom he met during a visit on 19 August) as well as the hiring committee. His involvement in helping to plan the implementation of a global data-processing system through the World Meteorological Organization dovetails with UCAR's international reach. Along with his other notable credentials, Al--a meteorologist--brings to the job a modeler's perspective with a strong background in operations at a numerical weather prediction center.

"I used to be on the user side, and through the acquisition of various supercomputers at our center, it became natural at a certain point for me to make the transition to being a provider. It makes a nice link--you've been a user, so you have a strong affinity for providing what's needed."

A native of Brandon, Manitoba, Al quickly rose through the ranks at the Canadian Meteorological Centre in his 20-year career there, which followed graduate work at the University of Alberta and a brief stint as a military meteorologist. Al had been to Boulder only once before his interview this year, but outgoing SCD director Bill Buzbee is a long-time acquaintance.

"I'm really quite flattered to have been chosen as a replacement for Bill. He's got respect in the community that's unmatched. To be considered as trying to move along in the direction he's set out is quite wonderful." Another colleague, as well as a golf partner and fellow expatriate, is Phil Merilees, former director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division and now director of research at the Naval Research Laboratory. "Phil's positive impressions and memories of NCAR encouraged me throughout the selection process," says Al.

As the person who oversaw NEC's largest installation of supercomputers outside of Japan, Al is well aware of SCD's aborted attempt to acquire a NEC supercomputer last year. "SCD is not solely a supercomputer division," he notes. "We have a large data-management mission and exciting opportunities in high-resolution visualization. Clearly we need to find the ability to deliver more high-performance supercomputing cycles to the research community, but that's only one of the challenges that I see facing SCD."

Al has faced tough challenges before as a manager, including a 40% budget cut at Canada's weather service in 1995-96. He arrives at NCAR with no set agenda, "other than to manage SCD in a very professional manner. I don't think that'll be too difficult because there are a lot of very good staff."

Boulder's chinook winds may stir up memories for Al this winter. His master's thesis at the University of Alberta dealt with lee waves on the Canadian equivalent of the Front Range. "I did some of the first computer modeling of chinooks on a Data General Nova 3/D in the 1970s," says Al, recalling that telex-style paper tape was used for the model's input.

One thing Al won't find in Boulder is hockey mania, Canadian style. Al spent a decade volunteering as president of one of Quebec's largest youth hockey programs. In that role, he oversaw 200 teams, 900 volunteers, and an annual operating budget of half a million U.S. dollars. There's always the Colorado Avalanche, but, Al sighs, "I'm going to have a hard time leaving the Montreal Canadiens behind." •BH


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