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IBM Serves Up Cloud Computing to Universities

IBM's Blue Cloud solutions are getting test driven by a number of universities in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The Qatar Cloud Computing Initiative, driven by three universities, will open its cloud infrastructure to local businesses and industries to test applications, including seismic modeling and the exploration for oil and gas. Another school is using cloud computing to test the development of drugs to slow the progression of illnesses in Africa. And IBM is working with other schools to give students access to virtual computer labs and training on how to work with this new approach to computing.

The cloud computing model allows users and organizations to buy access to services hosted by others, such as computer processing, storage, networking, and security, as it's needed. IBM has built 13 cloud computing service centers around the world.

The Qatar Cloud Computing Initiative is operational and initially located at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. That campus as well as Qatar University and Texas A&M University at Qatar will collaborate on this environment, along with a community of industry experts, researchers and clients, to develop a cloud solution to help solve industry problems.

"We are very excited to be working with IBM on creating the first cloud computing platform in the Middle East," said Majd Sakr, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon in Qatar. "This will help us realize our vision of developing, evaluating, and extending a cloud computing infrastructure in Qatar to target regional applications and projects to help advance research."

Anticipated uses include search, data mining, scientific modeling and simulation, computational biology, and financial modeling and forecasting. In addition, five pilot application projects have been identified to focus on seismic modeling and exploration for oil and gas, integrated production operation solutions for oil and gas industries, an Arabic language Web search engine, testing and migration of various applications using Hadoop and MapReduce programming methods, and the creation of curriculum to teach cloud computing at institutions of higher education.

"This collaboration will support the Secure and Reliable Server-Aided Computation project from Qatar University, which are techniques businesses can use to outsource computationally intensive tasks to a server in a secure way," said Qutaibah Malluhi, head of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Qatar University. "Engaging with IBM and leveraging their expertise will help us work with government and business agencies in Qatar to outsource their computations to a high-end data center without worrying about data confidentiality."

The development of this cloud computing center will be based on a phased approach. Initially, the universities will collaborate with IBM on building the infrastructure. Next, they'll collaborate on developing applications that will leverage the Hadoop programming model as a first step in improving the local knowledge of this new programming model. Hadoop is a software platform that lets users write and run applications that process vast amounts of data.

The Computational Intelligence research group at the University of Pretoria will use cloud computing for medical research. Through this initiative, students will study drug absorption rates and protein structure folding of a person's DNA once introduced to a certain type of medication. In the past, students lacked dedicated hardware to run research projects, and it was impossible for multiple students to reliably run workloads together on one computer. In addition, the students also had to manually collect experimental data results themselves due to limited data management applications availability. The shift to cloud computing has sped up research times and made multiple variations of research tests available, the school said in a statement.

The Higher Education Alliance for Leadership Through Health (HEALTH) Alliance, a consortium of seven universities, is working with IBM and industry experts to extend education through virtual computing labs that students access remotely. Through this cloud, students of the Alliance will have access to advanced educational materials, software, and computing and storage resources, without incurring the expense of maintaining or powering full computing environments.

IBM is partnering with rSmart to deploy Sakai, an open source learning management system, to provide Sakai learning management services from the IBM South Africa Cloud Computing Center for the HEALTH Alliance to use. Eventually, the HEALTH Alliance cloud solution may migrate from the IBM facility to an on-site cloud hosted at one of the seven participating universities.

Finally, students at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan will take part in hands-on classes to help them understand the cloud computing management system and design applications and cloud infrastructures that can run extremely compute-intensive jobs using thousands of computers at once. The cloud computing environment at Kyushu has been operational since November of 2008.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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