“Chicago developed as an attractive market for data centers for the same reason it became a hub for railroads: its central location. Much of the fiber optic cable the internet runs on was laid along railroad tracks, and Chicago acted as the connector between east and west. Plus, the city has reliable electricity and isn’t at risk for the hurricanes or earthquakes that threaten the coasts.”
“There are 47 data center locations in Illinois.” Datacenters.com
“Chicago’s position as a hub for connectivity also is demonstrated in the data center at 350 E. Cermak Road. Besides servers that companies have located there, the facility houses major telecommunications carriers, such as Sprint and Verizon, and other networks.”
“Argonne’s high-performance computers provide […] the ability to model and simulate complex, dynamic systems that would be too expensive or impractical for experimentation. Argonne is home to a wide variety of computing systems, including some of the most powerful high-performance computers in the world.”
While working in Europe last month a peer asked me about Chicago’s tech environment during our lunch break. I managed to assemble some thoughts and, off the top of my head, I proudly shared these few ones:
- much of the country’s internet traffic is running through the Chicago area
- some of the world’s largest data centers are also located here around
- home of two of the most prestigious National Labs: Fermilab and Argonne
- Argonne is building one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world
- one of Chicago’s 20+ start-up incubators, 1871, has become the world’s #1
- and there is plenty of good talent coming out of prestigious universities
Photograph courtesy of 1871.
My workmate’s curiosity was somehow satisfied. He claimed to be impressed and we then changed topics. A month has gone by since and, interestingly enough, when listening to the local programming of NPR, National Public Radio, someone was talking about Chicago also being the best city in the world… which I wished I would have been able to add to the above list.
“Chicago is, in fact, the best city in the world right now, according to results from a new survey. Time Out said Chicago topped its global index of the most exciting cities for the second consecutive year (when considering the) town’s affordability, culture, food, drink, happiness, neighborhoods, livability, pride and friendliness.”
Chicagoland does not ony have an impressive research and technology pedigree, the city has a reputation for affordable quality of life. However, that would just be a tone-deaf statement if, at the time of writing this, one had chosen to simply ignore the city’s challenged safety record in the most underprivileged communities.
Nokia’s CTC, Chicago Technology Center, is based in Naperville. It takes about one hour drive to get there from downtown Chicago and 30 minutes from O’Hare Airport.
Those ETAs (estimated arrival times) apply to good traffic conditions. When accounting for Chicago’s snowy winter wonderland and summer’s ‘construction season.’ it typically takes quite a bit more driving time to get anywhere, which makes the local railway system a better option.
In any case Naperville is consistently ranked as “the best city to raise a family.”
“Niche unveiled its annual ‘Best Cities to Raise a Family in America’ and ‘Best Cities to Live in America’ for 2018, and Naperville achieved the No. 1 and No 2 respectively. Naperville also came out on top in the lists of ‘Cities with the Best Public Schools in America’ and ‘Safest Cities in America.’
Still thinking of further expanding my earlier list, here are is another compelling fact:
- the Midwest compares to California not only in population size, but also in the number of patents, which makes Illinois (Chicago and Naperville are located in that state) jointly with Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan, be an R&D powerhouse.
In the area of computer science, the Midwest’s three National Labs feature the following leading edge research:
- computational and decision science at Ames.
- high performing, extreme-scale / exabyte computing at Argonne (noted above)
- quantum information systems in partnership with AT&T and the California Institute of Technology at Fermi.
“The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) is home to some of the world’s fastest supercomputers dedicated to research on projects of national and global importance.”
It also makes sense to share these noteworthy research items:
- new Army Research and University of Chicago collaboration facility
- Fermilab’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) research proposal with Google to develop a co-design center addressing quantum computing systems.
- new Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago.
Whenever tech is the subject, FAAMG always comes to mind: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google (Alphabet being Google’s parent company.) FAAMG is just the combined acronym for these company’s stocks.
They all have been growing their workforce in Chicago, though Apple’s focus was placed on their flagship store.
Amazon is looking into building its second corporate headquarters. Apple is planning to build a second corporate campus. Chicago is seeking to be the location of choice for both.
“Amazon announced just over a year ago its desire to create a second headquarters campus, saying the company planned to create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs in about 8 million square feet of buildings […] and was back in Chicago last month to take another look at a South Loop site along the river, as the e-commerce giant narrows its search.”
Apple’s new flagship store in Chicago.
“Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the U.S.”
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded with an enthusiastic and unequivocal “Yes” when asked whether Chicago would enter the heated competition for whatever kind of campus that Apple wants to build to augment its headquarters in Cupertino, California.”
“Chicago is likely to play up the strength of its technical talent pool and its relatively low cost of living.”
When thinking of the fact that “digital transformation” projects happen to be on every CEO’s must-do list, a quick look at who is who in the Chicago metropolitan area reveals a fairly diversified economy. That is basically a fertile ground for tech.
Thirty seven of the global Fortune 500’s multinational corporations are claiming Chicago as their HQ. On that list, the are names such as Motorola Solutions, Boeing and CDW. But, to get a better picture of the local tech scene, there is a need for going further to include Accenture’s Chicagoan origins and home base. Ditto for Motorola Mobility, which was the result of splitting former Motorola into two companies.
Motorola Mobility was part of Google until sold to Lenovo four years ago. That business is centered on the “Moto” phones. The home device portfolio went to Arris.
In this context, it also makes perfect sense to position Nokia’s mark as follows. Chicago’s former Navteq (Navigation Technologies Corporation) had grown as the largest and leading provider of mapping and navigation technologies. The company was purchased by Nokia in 2007.
Five years later, what had become a Nokia business unit branded as “Here” was acquired by Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Nokia had also bought former Novarra in 2010. The company was based in Itasca, another Chicagoland suburb. They focused on web-based technologies and services, and BMW acquired that business in 2014 as well. BMW Technology Group is based in downtown Chicago.
Nokia acquired Motorola Solution’s wireless network infrastructure business (Arlignton Heights campus) in 2011 and, more recently, 100% of Alcatel-Lucent (ALU,) which includes Bell Labs. ALU’s purchase was completed in 2016 (Naperville campus.) We have consolidated Chicagoland’s locations since and are all now based at the Naperville facility, which has been rebranded as Nokia CTC, Chicago Technology Center.
Nokia CTC. 1900 Lucent Lane. Naperville, IL 60563. United States.
Discussing Nokia CTC also deserves a few more insights by connecting the following dots. Chicago’s history takes us all the way back to the late 1800s and the ground breaking technology innovations that came from the Western Electric Company out of its flagship Howthorne Works facility.
Encyclopedia of Chicago – Western Electric Co
Western Electric ended up owning 50% of Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs.) The other half was with AT&T. In 1915, the Western Electric Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T.
Let’s fast forward to 1995 when AT&T spun off Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs Innovations. Lucent was all set as an independent company and the successor of Western Electric. France’s Alcatel and Lucent merged in 2006 and together became Alcatel-Lucent (ALU.) As noted above, ALU was bought out by Nokia in 2016.
Whether we focus on Nokia’s 2016 acquisition to tell the story or, better yet, go all the way back to Western Electric’s foundation in 1869, the fact is that those of us working at the Nokia Chicago Technology Center get to enjoy a daily reminder of our legendary origins.
That happens on our way to our offices when taking a peek at a rather unassuming yet memorable museum set up by volunteers. We celebrated our campus’ 50th anniversary a couple of years ago. 700 employees joined Bell Labs’ new Indian Hill (former campus name) facility in August of 1966. Naperville’s community transformed from a largely rural environment to a leading edge technology center. Note that Nabisco (Mondelez) and Amoco Chemicals (BP) also set up shop there around that time.
Nokia CTC, Chicago Technology Center. Showcase (above) and Demo Center (below)
Today, Nokia’s impact in Chicago’s tech scene is centered on the work that we do in Naperville. That involves teams from a broad cross-section of the corporation, namely: Bell Labs (BL,) Chief Operations Office (COO,) Nokia Software Group (NSW,) IP & Optical Networking (ION,) Mobility Networks (MN,) Fixed Networks (FN,) Global Services, as well as NokiaEDU, our training resource.
Nokia CTC research on Advanced Decision Support Systems is showcased at global venues such as Mobile World Congress and at Nokia HQ’s Customer Experience Center.
Nokia CTC is also home base for our Technology Leadership Council (TLC,) a grass-roots and all volunteer organization, which I am a steering committee member of. There are quite a few things in the making right now, such as our annual Human Factors Engineering conference, Nokia HFE18, and more updates will follow for anyone interested.
As usual, welcoming feedback and input as a comment on this blog and/or over LinkedIn’s messaging… or in person if we happen to cross paths.
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