IBM Sows Seeds for a Future Cloud

IBM is using its relationship with universities around the world to help create a new generation of software developers and engineers ready to take on the challenges of cloud computing, as well as solve some of the vexing problems facing adoption of cloud computing by the enterprise.

Through connections with over 200 schools worldwide, IBM is working to change computer science curriculum to offer skills in cloud computing. The courses are part of a larger academic initiative called Services Science Management and Engineering, said Lou Masi, director of global university programs at IBM.

“We’re trying to train up a different type of computer scientist and engineer for the 21st century, working with IEEE and others,” Masi said.

“Today in computer science curricula, they teach students how to write programs for a single server,” said Dennis Quan, director of cloud computing for IBM’s software group. “But students coming out of these classes have written parallel computing algorithms that span hundreds of virtual machines, that can do analyses of extremely large datasets, like the entire Wikipedia corpus.”

On the research side, IBM is funding faculty positions at universities and getting early access to cloud computing and other computer science research as a result. IBM has partnered with Google and the National Science Foundation to help provide cloud infrastructure to universities for research.

“The roots of the revolutionary model of cloud computing are a completely different way of thinking about writing software,” said Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research.

“So it’s very smart of IBM to get into the universities to not only help train the next generation of developers so that they associate IBM with the technology, but also to learn from it so that IBM can understand what its impacts and opportunities will be,” Gillett said.

Masi said that 15 universities are currently using the IBM and Google cloud infrastructure, and IBM is planning to expand that. “We’re working with Google to double the number of universities that have access to the IBM-Google cloud infrastructure,” he said.

Cloud computing is something of a greenfield for IBM, which has limited software offerings in the cloud market. “They don’t have that much available as a product right now,” said Anne Thomas Manes, research director at Burton Group, “but they are planning on having images of their software that will run on Amazon’s EC2, which will be available as Amazon based systems. The challenge with that is that Amazon is not yet delivering Enterprise strength service level agreements.”

IBM also offers its Lotus collaboration software as a service, and through its Blue Cloud initiative is offering server infrastructure for cloud computing. But the research and education efforts IBM’s Global University Programs are driving in the cloud field are only tenuously connected to these current efforts, said Gillett.

“IBM’s effort there are only loosely linked to what enterprises need,” Gillett said. “It’s sort of a long range strategic bet that IBM should be involved in fostering the education of developers who will need to figure this stuff out, and get as early a market feedback as possible about where the technology is going so that they can understand what the opportunities are for IBM coming out of this new technology.”

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