Earving "Erv" Blythe served as Virginia Tech's vice president for information technology and chief information officer from 1992 to 2012. Erv attended college at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in English. He returned to the university in 1977 to work as a project manager in systems development, and his career advanced from there.
Throughout his career, Erv led a number of high-profile IT initiatives for Virginia Tech, including the Faculty Development Institute (now the TLOS Professional Development Network), the Blacksburg Electronic Village, eCorridors, and the design and installation of System X, Virginia Tech's first supercomputer. Erv sat down with us in the summer of 2021 to share memories of his time at Virginia Tech.
Expanding Virginia Tech's cable network infrastructure
One of the many large undertakings of Erv's career was the effort to install cabling networks across campus during the 1980s. Working within a tight budget, Virginia Tech hired technicians locally and used the project as a training program while successfully building the network and developing IT talent at the same time.
System X: Virginia Tech's first supercomputer
Erv tells the story of how System X (pronounced 'System Ten') went from big idea to big success. With a $5 million budget, faculty, staff, and students from both the Division of IT and Computer Science department pitched in to build the worlds' third most powerful supercomputer of its time — out of thousands of Apple desktop computer processers.
In this first video, Erv tells how he pitched the idea both to Virginia Tech and Apple.
In this next clip, Erv talks about the rush to get System X built in 90 days — which involved creative thinking, hustle, and a little good luck.
Virginia Tech won international awards for System X, which ranked as the third most powerful computer worldwide when it went online in 2003.
The Blacksburg Electronic Village
Erv Blythe was instrumental in making the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) a reality. The BEV, which launched 1993 was truly a revolutionary experiment. Virginia Tech partnered with Bell Atlantic of Virginia and the Town of Blacksburg to provide internet access to members of the Blacksburg community outside of the university. (previously, the internet was largely restricted to researchers in academia and government sectors)
Blacksburg received global attention for being at that time "America's most wired town," and the BEV thrived through the 1990s and early 2000s. In this first clip, Erv shares how he helped garner support for the BEV.
In this next clip, Erv recalls how the Blacksburg community used the BEV, from selling wine to connecting with patients, and how the project received international attention.
The eCorridors economic development program
Following the success of the BEV, Virginia Tech was asked to help economically depressed areas of Virginia, primarily along the US Highway 58 corridor, leverage the internet for economic revitalization. Erv helped to spearhead eCorridors, a program that worked with citizens, private-sector, and municipal partners to facilitate rapid development of advanced, fiber optic, wireless, and "next generation" Internet infrastructure in these communities.
The impact of the internet over 30 years
As someone who was at the forefront of so much technological change at Virginia Tech, we asked Erv to reflect on how the introduction and evolution of the internet has impacted research, communication, and life in general.