Arch-rivals Google and Microsoft are collaborating to fund research that aims to make the net easier to run.
Search giant Google is helping to fund the lab's work
Along with Sun Microsystems, the companies are contributing to the $7.5m (£4.25m) running costs of the Reliable, Adaptive and Distributed Systems Lab.
A five-year project at UC Berkeley, the new lab will aim to create software that automates the admin systems for web services and e-commerce sites.
Any software created by the lab's students will be given away freely.
Using a technique known as statistical learning the Rad Systems Lab will try to automate many day-to-day administration jobs.
Google, Microsoft and Sun are contributing to the lab because all three have enormous data operations that currently demand huge numbers of people to keep running.
The development of the software powering these huge operations typically takes place in a very haphazard fashion. The lab aims to replace the patched up programs with more formally tested software that does the same job with far less human oversight.
By making it easy to set up and run web-wide services, the lab also hopes to remove the technology barriers that prevent new competitors taking on giants such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Amazon.
Before now much of basic computer science research was funded by US federal agencies, but with cash from central sources dwindling, UC Berkeley looked for money from hi-tech titans such as Google and Microsoft.
"We realise if research isn't being done in university laboratories, then the pipeline of ideas and computer science graduates coming into our companies eventually is going to dry up," said James Larus, a senior researcher at Microsoft who will liaise with the lab for the software firm.
The two firms said that the decision to put money in to the lab did not signal an end to the fierce competition between them.
"We are not going into this with the idea that we are going to be collaborating with Google or that they will be collaborating with us," said Mr Larus.
The cash given to the Rad Systems Lab will fund research work for up to 30 graduate students.
At the same time Google announced that its Gmail service was now accessible via mobile phones.