IBM makes cloud computing available to academia

Cloud computing could relieve increasing strain on college IT infrastructure.
Cloud computing could relieve increasing strain on college IT infrastructure.

IBM has joined technology leaders Google, Microsoft, and Amazon in providing colleges and universities with free cloud computing aimed at easing campuses’ IT strain and enhancing distance learning.

IBM announced Feb. 10 that the company will make its cloud computing servers available to college professors at 20 colleges nationwide—a growing trend among technology giants forming partnerships with higher education.

IBM’s Academic Skills Cloud will be used by faculty members to make course curriculum available on students’ laptops any time, “free up” campus technology resources, and advance online course capabilities, according to the IBM announcement.

University IT officials said outsourcing data analysis to off-campus servers managed by technology companies could become necessary for researchers who rely on intensive computing power.

“What we are seeing are data sets that are growing exponentially larger on a daily basis, thus putting stress on institutions that do not have the infrastructure to support such growth,” said Aaron Doering, associate professor of learning technologies and the Bonnie Westby-Huebner Endowed Chair of Education and Technology at the University of Minnesota.

Jeff Rice, executive director of career management at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business—one of IBM’s 20 participants—said increasing student familiarity with cloud computing will be essential as the business world embraces the technology and gravitates away from traditional private networks.

“The ability to apply technology will be essential to differentiate our graduates as they prepare to enter the work force,” Rice said. “Fisher College has established multiple research centers where faculty, students, and business leaders can collaborate on contemporary business issues. Several of these centers focus on implementing technologies to improve business processes or commercializing new technologies.”

In April, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $5 million to 14 campuses to participate in the IBM/Google Cloud Computing University Initiative, which provides students and researchers with computing power for data-rich projects that sometimes bog down average computers.

The University of California-Irvine, Yale University, the University of California-San Diego, and Purdue University are among the schools that will use the IBM/Google Cloud Computing University for research engineering, science, and a range of other fields.

The IBM-higher education partnership comes days after Microsoft began accepting applications from university researchers in need to cloud-computing resources.

Researchers and academic teams chosen by NSF officials will use Microsoft Azure, a program that offers enormous data storage and computing capabilities using the corporation’s data centers. (See “Microsoft opens its cloud to researchers.”)

Along with access to Windows Azure for a three-year period, Microsoft will offer a support team to help researchers integrate cloud technology into their research. Microsoft researchers and developers will work with grant recipients to give them a set of common applications and data collections that can be shared with the broad academic community.

Microsoft’s cloud-computing program will allow researchers to compare and analyze numerous data sets, said Jeannette M. Wing, assistant director for the NSF Computer and Information Science directorate.

A Harvard University computer science course used Amazon Web Services cloud computing network that allowed 330 instructors see student work without making students go through a complex process that included eMailing computer code. Cloud computing streamlined an otherwise bulky and time-consuming process, Harvard officials said.

IBM’s Academic Initiative web site also allows member schools to share courseware covering a wide swath of curriculum focuses. For example, North Carolina State University made its “Managing the Digital Enterprise” material available for free on the IBM site.

The courseware covers intellectual property, web analytics, business models, channel conflict, and data privacy. Material is separated into beginner lessons and more advanced teachings for experienced students.

Higher education has increased its reliance and cloud computing in recent years, but security questions persist. Cornell University released a report on cloud computing last month that urges colleges to create a “baseline” of security measures when using off-site servers that will store sensitive student and faculty information.

“It is … all the more imperative that colleges and universities collaboratively create a consensus around a baseline set of standards to render outsourcing a viable choice and to create competition within the marketplace for those vendors most willing to tailor their services to the specific needs of higher education,” the Cornell report said.

Doering from the University of Minnesota said college officials’ lingering skepticism of cloud computing is predictable, but could recede as the benefits of the cloud become more evident.

“It is simply the climate of academia to debate and challenge the norm, which is a good thing,” he said.


IBM Academic Initiative

Cornell University report on cloud computing

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