University, IBM join in cloud-computing project

IBM and North Carolina State University have teamed up to bring “cloud computing” to every student in the state—giving them free access to centralized computing power, data storage, sophisticated software, and other educational materials, the two parties say.

The new program, provided through N.C. State’s Virtual Computing Lab, could revolutionize how local school systems, community colleges, and universities provide computer access to students, officials from IBM and the university said at an Oct. 25 event on IBM’s campus at Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The program—called the Virtual Computing Initiative—would expand a concept that has been in use at N.C. State since 2004, when the school and IBM started the virtual lab, which university students can use from remote locations. N.C. State also said it would make the programming code that underpins the system available to other universities around the world, so they can set up similar cloud-computing systems for schools in their regions. The university has received corporate help, including a $2.4 million grant from Intel Corp. and a $1.2 million grant from IBM, for the lab.

Local school systems often struggle to find enough money for computers, software, and tech support, campus officials say. But using the virtual computer lab could give them access to less costly—and in some cases, free—software that is frequently updated. They also could use less-expensive computers to access the system and need less technical support, because the software would remain on the virtual lab’s servers, said Samuel F. Averitt, N.C. State’s vice provost for information technology.

Pilot projects have begun with some schools, Averitt said, but it’s unclear when the system will be made fully functional for all North Carolina schools.

Programs available through the initiative range from educational tools for kindergartners to cutting-edge digital modeling and statistical analysis programs for university students. Elementary school students, for example, could use "Alice," an educational software environment with 3D animation and story-telling, or Disney’s MathQuest software for boosting math skills.

The only requirements to participate are broadband internet access and a computer or mobile device capable of accessing the internet.

Schools can get information on how to join the project at its web site.


Virtual Computing Initiative

N.C. State’s Virtual Computing Lab

IBM Corp.