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Distinguished Alumnus Kenichi Miura Recalls Career Path That Started With ILLIAC IV

4/19/2018 10:41:40 AM David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

When Kenichi Miura was working toward his PhD in Computer Science at Illinois, he assumed he was destined to work in academia in his native Japan. Eventually he would – but not before taking a decades-long detour thanks to an unexpected job offer and the lure of California.

Kenichi Miura (MS CS '71, PhD '73) is a 2018 recipient of the College of Engineering's Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.
Kenichi Miura (MS CS '71, PhD '73) is a 2018 recipient of the College of Engineering's Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.
Back on campus in April to accept the College of Engineering’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, Miura (MS CS ’71, PhD ’73) said that a CS professor who worked in the department at the time, Saburo Muroga, maintained strong contacts with Japanese companies.

“Somebody from Fujitsu came here and learned that there was an independent student from Japan, which is me,” Miura said. “That’s how I got recruited -- and the condition was that I work in Sunnyvale, California.

“So I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it,’” he said with a big laugh.

Miura went on to a long, distinguished career with Fujitsu as both a researcher and an executive. He contributed to Fujitsu’s VP series of vector supercomputers, and also had a hand in creating systems for high-speed execution of scientific computational applications through his expertise with parallel algorithms.

Miura was honored in 2009 with the Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award from the IEEE Computer Society. That year he also established Illinois Computer Science’s Kenichi Miura Award, honoring a graduate student for excellence in high performance computing.

Miura spent virtually his entire career working on high performance computing, starting with his work at Illinois as a research assistant on ILLIAC IV, the first real supercomputer.

Fujitsu sent Miura to Sunnyvale based on supercomputing, too, but with a different approach than ILLIAC IV’s massive parallelism. The company had formed a joint partnership with Amdahl Corporation, led by the influential computer architect Gene Amdahl, who Miura said was building a high-performance mainframe computer that did not rely on parallel computing, but on what was the latest semiconductor technology.

“It’s just one processor, but very fast circuits,” Miura said. “So I worked with both (approaches). Not very many people did that.”

From 2003 to 2008, Miura directed the Japanese National Research Grid Initiative, NAREGI, an effort to build a national academic grid of computers. It was similar to the United States’ TeraGrid project, which included the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois.

And Miura did, with NAREGI, finally make it to his original destination, academia. The job included an appointment at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo. Miura remains an emeritus professor.

Miura said he spent his time on campus moving between a fairly small set of locations – his office, classroom, laboratories, the Union and his old apartment – which sat just about where the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science is now built.

Miura noticed his old home was gone during a campus visit a few years ago, while talking with National Center for Supercomputing Applications Director and Thomas M. Siebel Chair in Computer Science Bill Gropp.

“I complained to Bill Gropp at that time, ‘Hey, I used to live here!” Miura joked.