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IBM sends Blue Clouds back to school

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While cloud computing might represent a return of sorts to a shared, host computing model that was pioneered by companies like IBM, a lot of the key research, development, and production work done on cloud computing has been done by the big names in hyperscale, Web 2.0 applications: Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the like. It's tough for a meat-and-potatoes, server-and-operating-system vendor like Big Blue to figure out how to get its hands on some money in this cloud racket. Just like it was difficult, at least during the first few years of the boom, for the company to get its piece of the dot-com pie.

As IT vendors often do when they are trying to position themselves as thought/product leaders in a new field - and cloud computing is new, even if it really is just utility computing gussied up with a slightly different programming model - IBM is going back to school. In this case, IBM has forged partnerships with a dozen universities that will see them make use of the Blue Cloud twist on the open source Hadoop programming environment. Presumably, these clouds will run on IBM's System x servers. The feeds and speeds of the clouds that IBM is working with the schools to build were not available as we went to press.

One of the universities in the IBM partnership - and arguably the most important one - is Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. A slew of technologies have come out of CMU, including the Mach Unix kernel that was at the heart of IBM's AIX for a time. And more significantly for Big Blue's cloud efforts, Carnegie Mellon is also the school where Yahoo!, which is the primary contributor to the Hadoop project, gave techies access to a 4,000-processor, 1.5 petabyte grid - er, cloud - back in November 2007. The other important school in this deal is Texas A&M University.

There is an interesting twist on this Blue Cloud thing announced today. It is the Qatar campuses of CMU and Texas A&M that are working in conjunction with Qatar University to do cloud projects with IBM. Thanks to high oil prices over the past several years, Qatar has enough money to get American universities to set up campuses in this Middle Eastern country. The small nation has the highest per-capita income in the world and no income tax, and its future, like the rest of us, will be based on things other than oil. But in the meantime, some computing expertise with the latest programming techniques will come in handy.

The three Qatar campuses will be collaborating with IBM to do seismic modeling as part of oil and gas exploration and create integrated production software for the oil and gas industry, according to Big Blue. (What makes this clouds and not just supercomputing and ERP with a process bent is beyond me).

The universities are also working on an Arabic language search engine and will be testing and migrating unspecified Hadoop/MapReduce programming models (from what to what, they didn't say). The schools will also be creating a curriculum to teach cloud programming techniques. Over time, the schools expect top use the clouds as part of other search, data mining, simulation, computational biology, and financial modeling and forecasting applications.

The University of Pretoria in South Africa is also getting its own Blue Cloud and will be using it for medical research related to protein folding and how it is affected by DNA interactions with medicines. A consortium of seven universities in East Africa, known as the Higher Education Alliance for Leadership Through Health, will be making use of the cloud center in South Africa too.

The consortium is also getting access to a remote learning system called Sakai that IBM plans to host on Linux partitions on its mainframes to give students in Kenya, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda access to online courses relating to cloud computing. Finally, IBM said that it has been working with Kyushu University in Japan since last November to get cloud computing infrastructure in the hands of students.

IBM has opened thirteen cloud computing centers for academics, companies, and government agencies around the globe to play around with as they test code and has an internal cloud, operated by IBM Research, which the company says has over 100,000 users today. ®

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