Earving L. Blythe, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Virginia Tech, will retire from his post Aug. 1.

“Erv has been a towering leader in higher education computing and information technology,” said President Charles W. Steger. “He leaves the university on excellent footing. His innovations and leadership have well served Virginia Tech, particularly his support of research computing and advanced network infrastructure and applications. It will require a world-wide search to fill his shoes.”

Blythe was appointed interim vice president in 1992, with temporary title removed in 1993. During his two decade tenure at the helm, innovative programs have continued to define and burnish Virginia Tech’s reputation as an information technology leader and pioneer.

“I am proud of the fact that Virginia Tech, over the last 50 years, has been amazingly perceptive and effective in its anticipation of major shifts in technological underpinnings of our quest to be a great research university,” said Blythe. “I’m equally proud to have played a role over the last 35 years helping the university harness and expand the role of technology in this noble quest.”

His team, in partnership with the College of Engineering, developed the revolutionary System X supercomputer using 1,100 off-the-shelf Apple units. At the time, it was only the third system to exceed the 10 TeraFlop benchmark and the fastest university computer in the world.

The achievement was even more startling because the cost was a small fraction, about $5 million, of costs for similar computers. By comparison, the fastest supercomputer at the time cost about $400 million.

University computing and information technology applications became embedded in teaching and learning through the Faculty Development Institute. The program, developed under Blythe’s watch, is an important cornerstone in the institutional information technology culture, and has been mimicked by many universities. The nationally recognized Math Emporium traces its roots to early Faculty Development Institute workshops.

Virginia Tech has remained a leader in computer and network security. The Information Technology Security Laboratory under the vice president for information technology has a world-wide reputation. Through it, Virginia Tech is helping to create strategies and techniques for protecting cyber information in the next generation Internet.

In 2010, the university was ranked by Google as one of the largest deployments of IPv6 (Internet Protocol, version 6) worldwide behind only the countries of China and France. IPv6, with its larger, globally-unique address space, is intended to replace the current Internet protocol, IPv4.

Virginia Tech was an early adopter of networking technologies such as BITNET. Blythe was actively engaged in seeking federal support and funding of the national effort that became NSF Net (National Science Foundation), the proof of concept for the protocols behind what we now know as “the Internet.”

Blythe also led the team in the late 1980s and early 1990s that developed the now legendary Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV). Blacksburg was the first community in the world where Internet access was opened to the public and became the site of the first Internet-based retail sale. The BEV, launched long before consumer “browsers” like Netscape or Explorer, confounded many because it was so new, unfamiliar, and ground-breaking.

“It was a head-scratching conundrum for many because they had no point of reference. There was nothing like this in the life of anyone outside research academia,” said Blythe

Blythe has been actively positioning Virginia Tech for leadership in networking and computing advances and served on many boards and advisory councils including Internet 2, National Lambda Rail, Common Solutions Group, The Mid-Atlantic Terascale Partnership, and the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads, among others. He was a founding principal driving the National Lambda Rail initiative.

“Many of these initiatives have supported Virginia Tech’s advanced research applications. But also through Erv’s leadership and Virginia Tech’s involvement, other schools and school districts as well as entire towns now have access to affordable Internet or high speed networks,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Mark McNamee.

This networking effort led by Blythe and dubbed Network Virginia, is a statewide partnership between telecommunications providers and Virginia institutions of higher education. At one time, more than 1.4 million Virginians obtained low-cost and otherwise inaccessible Internet service. It continues today under Virginia Tech management.

Former Congressman Rick Boucher worked with Blythe on many Internet, telecommunications, and economic development projects.

“Erv was extremely helpful to my efforts to bring affordable broadband Internet to rural communities,” said Boucher. “Thanks to the vision and leadership of people like Erv Blythe and his associates at Virginia Tech, our region has made major strides.”

Virginia Tech’s eCorridors program is working throughout Virginia to help communities and regions develop the economic potential of broadband infrastructure. The eCorridors program helped bring more than 1,500 miles of fiber into underserved regions.

Much of the eCorridors work has been enhanced as a result of Blythe’s vision for the expansion of expertise and information technology infrastructure for hosting and storage of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS applications and spatially-enabled data are now integrated into many operational aspects of the university.

Another state political leader, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who was also a telecommunications pioneer, shares his admiration of Blythe’s contributions.

“I have long been impressed by Erv’s service to the Commonwealth of Virginia as the CIO of Virginia Tech. During his three decades of service, he has built a successful record of visionary large scale projects,” said Warner.

One of the many who began his Virginia Tech career with engineering aspirations, Blythe graduated in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He quickly found work in technology and spent a decade in various defense related posts with the U.S. Navy or Defense Department in positions of increasing responsibility as computer programmer, analyst, and systems manager, before rising to director of a computer systems center for the Department of Navy and Department of Defense.

He left that role in 1977 to take a position with his alma mater as a project manager for systems development. He again quickly rose through the ranks holding various positions such as director of Computing Resources, director of Communications Network Services, director of Communications Resources, and chief of staff for the Information Technology Division before his appointment as vice president.

While employed at Virginia Tech, Blythe also obtained a Master of Science degree in urban affairs in 1983 and later engaged in doctoral studies in environmental design and planning.

Scott Midkiff, professor and head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, will chair the search committee for the next vice president and chief information officer. Steger says he expects the position to be filled by the beginning of fall semester.

Members of the committee are

  • Paige Atkins, vice president for cyber and information technology research, Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation;
  • Ralph Byers, executive director of government relations;
  • Jeff Crowder, executive director, strategic initiatives, Communications Network Services;
  • Jack Davis, dean, College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
  • Karen DePauw, vice president and dean for graduate education;
  • Ben Knapp, professor and director, Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology;
  • Don Leo, vice president and executive director, National Capital Region Operations;
  • Madhav Marathe, deputy director for basic simulation science and computer science, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute;
  • Anne Moore, associate vice president, Learning Technologies;
  • Cal Ribbens, professor and associate department head for undergraduate studies, Department of Computer Sciences;
  • Dwight Shelton, vice president for finance and chief financial officer;
  • Kevin Sullivan, associate vice president for administration and general counsel, Virginia Tech Foundation;
  • Robert Walters, vice president for research;
  • Tyler Walters, dean of University Libraries;
  • Daniel Wubah, vice president and dean for undergraduate education; and
  • Sherwood Wilson, vice president for administrative services.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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