IBM eyes cloud pacts in more places and industries

New open source partnerships between IBM and universities in Japan, South Africa, East Africa, and Qatar will be followed by more pacts in other geographic and around more application areas of cloud computing.

"A lot of the focus on the global stage is on making sure that as many geographic regions and industries as possible get exposed to cloud computing," said Dennis Quan, IBM's director of autonomic computing, in an interview with Betanews. "We also want to be able to train the next generation in development skills for cloud computing."

The new pacts with universities announced this week are part of a series first sparked back in 2007, when IBM and Google built cloud computing centers spurred by a common recognition of a need for development geared to highly scalable systems.

"Traditionally, computer science programs had focused instead on applications for one computer or a small group of computers," Quan told Betanews.

In its cloud center computing work with Google, IBM has "learned a lot about parallel program through a system from Google called MapReduce, and we've improved support for certain kinds of workloads," he elaborated. The schools involved in the IBM's latest projects are all paying customers of IBM, he said. "These are client engagements where the clients happen to be universities."

IBM is working with the universities on building cloud computing centers and on creating applications aimed at regional economic and social needs. Computer science classes will be taught at all of the centers, but these will vary according to the specific engagement, said Quan, who took part in faculty training sessions held last year in Ireland in conjunction with Google and Yahoo.

In oil-rich Qatar, the open source applications to be built will include seismic modeling and exploration for the oil and gas industries, along with integrated production operation. Participating schools include Qatar University and the Qatar campuses of US-based Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Texas A&M.

At the University of Pretoria in South Africa, on the other hand, students taking classes at the Computational Intelligence Research Group will work on cloud-based medical research applications designed to slow the spread of serious illnesses.

In addition, IBM will use Sakai, an open source learning management system, in applications deployed to remotely accessible virtual computing labs operated by the HEALTH Alliance, a consortium of seven universities in East Africa, according to Quan.

Over time, the Alliance expects to migrate the "incubated cloud solution" in South Africa to an on-site cloud hosted at one of its seven universities, and to establish a "center for excellence" which will provide medical services to the surrounding sub-Sahara region.

At the same time, students at Kyushu University in Japan will work on creating highly compute-intensive cloud infrastructures and applications capable of running across thousands of computers at once.

The Japanese students will also take "Social Information System Engineering," a course with objectives that include "obtaining foresight about long-term changes in social conditions and learning how to develop software accordingly."

Quan also talked about some of the differences IBM is finding in cloud computing across various industries.

"There's the public cloud, and there are private clouds," he pointed out. Industries such as financial services and the public sector tend to be particularly interested in the security levels and governance controls associated with private clouds, he said. "They often have a desire to specifically control the servers," he added.

In building oil-and-gas cloud applications in Qatar, IBM and the participating universities will use Hadoop, an open source parallel programming environment run by MapReduce. "We'll also be working on an Arabic search engine," Quan noted.

Beyond health care and the petroleum field, other industries IBM is now targeting with its cloud initiatives include telecommunications and banking, according to the IBM exec. "And you'll also see us move on to additional industries, and to additional areas of the world," he predicted.

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