Inria Awards 2013
Pascale Vicat-Blanc: Inria – French Académie des sciences – Dassault Systèmes Innovation Award
Pascale Vicat-Blanc, founder of the Lyatiss company, has recently received the lnria - French Académie des Sciences (Academy of Sciences) – Dassault Systèmes Innovation award. She sees in this personal honour a recognition for her team and her company – and an interest in young women that may be inspired by what she has accomplished. Conscious of being a sort of role model, she has campaigned for the European de-compartmentalisation of the spheres of research, business and investment.
Three key events have guided the entire career of Pascale Vicat-Blanc. The first one took place very early on: at the age of eight, she discovered computers. It was a revelation. She would tell anyone who would listen that she would become a researcher in computer science, a very unusual vocation at that time for a young girl (the PC did not yet exist). "I wanted to know how things worked: I have always been, and remain, extremely curious," she recalls. And indeed, later she embarked on a science degree. At the INSA Lyon (French Engineering University), when she stated that she wanted to study real-time industrial computing systems, it was pointed out to her that there were no women in the field. All the more reason then... With her eagerness to obtain an in-depth understanding, she was first interested in issues pertaining to hardware and operating systems. Computer systems fascinated her precisely due to this alliance between the abstraction of software programs and concepts on the one hand, and the hardware used in their implementation, on the other.
The magic of networks
Duly qualified with a degree and destined to become an engineer, Pascale Vicat-Blanc was still not satisfied. Always attracted by research, she embarked on a PhD programme in robotics. "Robots must communicate among themselves and interact with the world; therefore, right away, I went to work on software issues relating to synchronization and cooperation," she recalls. Communication and distributed systems remained a permanent core issue in her work. It was while working on her thesis that she discovered the Internet, still emerging at that time. This was a second key event for Pascale: "When I realised the power and simplicity of the protocols and the architecture of the Internet, it came to mind that there was huge potential behind it." In her own words, "the possibility of extending the 'machine' to infinite dimensions" fascinated her. It was all set: as a researcher, she would work on networks and distributed systems. After being a lecturer for about ten years at the École Centrale de Lyon, she then decided to devote herself exclusively to research and joined Inria. In a short period of time, she managed the RESO team, whose work focused on very high-speed networks which enable the pooling of IT resources and the solution of major problems. Recognised as an expert in this area, Pascale Vicat-Blanc coordinated several international projects about clusters and computing grids, such as DataGRID, eToile, Grid5000 and Hipernet, among others. As always, the core issue was communications, whether between machines or human beings.
She then worked extensively with CERN in Geneva, implementing a worldwide computing grid to process its experimental data. Clearly, she sensed that "here was something that went beyond the Internet and the Web." Shortly thereafter, the U.S. firm Amazon hit the nail on the head by offering its Amazon Web Services (AWS). This time it was for good! Even if the idea had been germinating for several years, especially within the scientific community, cloud computing was then thrust to centre stage. This was the third key event for Pascale Vicat-Blanc. "The cloud was for me THE revolution that would change the face of computing," she recounted. Since 2005, the RESO team has focused on the virtualisation of networks in the context of the cloud, trying to overcome the limitations of the Internet whose protocols are not adapted to this new demand.
From Lyon to California
In 2010, after more than twenty years doing research in government laboratories, Pascale Vicat-Blanc seized the opportunity offered by the "cloud revolution" to take the plunge. Together with the PhD students and engineers on her team, she founded Lyatiss, a company selling CloudWeaver. Heir of some projects and patents of the team, especially the Hipernet software, CloudWeaver is an online service used to interconnect, on demand, computing resources available throughout the world and to view and control the respective virtual network created in the process. All of this is offered with an interface that is as intuitive and transparent as the Internet is today. "We are developing this platform to deliver the true potential of the cloud to users," says Pascale, convinced that research should not only increase human knowledge, but also contribute to economic development through innovation.
Having become CEO of Lyatiss SaS (France) and CEO Lyatiss Inc. (United States), Pascale, who does not do things by halves, moved to Mountain View (California) in 2011. It is the beginning of a new life for this woman who thinks that "one is not born a researcher, and one should not remain a researcher indefinitely. Today, I present myself as someone who creates businesses. 'Creation' and 'business' are magnificent key words, as is, as a matter of fact, 'risk-taking'," she notes.
Dominique Florack, deputy managing director of Dassault Systèmes, in charge of research and development
Why did you choose recognise Pascale Vicat-Blanc?
At Dassault Systèmes, research and development are at the heart of our strategy for our value creation chain. Ms. Vicat-Blanc's journey is exemplary because it demonstrates a remarkable continuity throughout this chain: from scientific excellence, with over 20 years of top-class research (CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Université Claude Bernard-Lyon 1, Inria), to entrepreneurship with the creation of Lyatiss, to identifying value for customers and end users, economic activity and commercial ventures. Her journey emphasises that research, development and marketing are not mutually exclusive and that an industrial project is much more than an end-product of an upstream innovation – it constitutes a fertile and virtuous field. It is for this reason that Dassault Systèmes began a very ambitious research and development policy when it was first founded, encouraging innovation projects worldwide that foster both scientific innovation and economic progress, such as those awarded the Inria – French Académie des Sciences – Dassault Systèmes Innovation Award in France.
What is your take on the current developments to cloud computing?
For me, the cloud is much more than an infrastructure or a deployment mechanism: the cloud is a veritable way of working. It is where consumers express their demands, their ideas and opinions; it is where training and innovation efforts are energised and where ideas take shape; it is where major engineering programs are structured. Finally, it is in the cloud that scientific communities organise themselves and where they interact during projects and developments. Therefore, we believe that the cloud is evolving to a new stage, moving beyond its technical characteristics, enabling us to now connect and merge communities, as well as intelligent information, in a flexible and lively manner, which thus allows us to have digital experiences that will prove significant in our societies. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform that we offer unveils and unleashes this potential: the cloud offers individuals and manufacturers a holistic and unified view of their activities and ecosystems, in order to provide better experiences for all parties concerned. In some ways, the cloud, with its social, semantic, elastic and media qualities, has allowed us to enter into an entirely new era of Realistic Digital Experience.
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Born in 1961, Pascale Vicat-Blanc graduated as an engineer (INSA Lyon) in 1984 and obtained her PhD in computer science and control at the INSA Lyon in 1988.
She then combined teaching and research at the École Centrale de Lyon until 2000, when she joined the Laboratoire de l'lnformatique du Parallélisme (Parallel Computing Laboratory) of the ENS Lyon.
From 2003 to 2010, she managed the Reso project-team (INRIA, ENS Lyon, CNRS and Université Lyon 1).
After obtaining her French qualification to conduct research in 2002 (Université de Lyon), and becoming a Research Director at Inria in 2005, she left public research to create Lyatiss in 2010. In 2012, she created Lyatiss Inc. in the USA.
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