North Carolina State and IBM Expand Open Source Educational Cloud

North Carolina State University and IBM have announced plans to provide every student in North Carolina access to educational resources through NC State's Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), an open source, Web-based technology. Through this cloud--which is a set of Internet-based resources--students at the university, as well as K-12 schools and other colleges around the state will have access to educational materials, software applications and computing and storage resources.

NC State also announced that the code for its VCL technology is available through the Apache open source community for free and is in discussions with other universities that wish to replicate this cloud computing model. The VCL program allows users to remotely access a set of applications and environments over the Internet--using a personal computer, laptop, or mobile device.

In support of the effort, the state has announced the creation of a Center of Excellence in Cloud Computing, an applied research and development facility on the NC State campus that will spearhead collaboration projects between NC State and the IBM "Blue Cloud" development team.

"We are excited to partner with IBM to offer schools across North Carolina access to the academic resources of the NC State Virtual Computing Lab. The VCL has the promise and track record to allow for improvements in wide ranging activities from enhanced teaching and learning to improved business continuity," said Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for IT and CIO of the university. "Collaboration, partnership across educational and industrial entities, and shared innovation are hallmarks of NC State's approach and mission, so the cloud computing and open source technology is a perfect fit."

Through the system, university students can access applications such as SolidWorks, MatLab, and SAS, as well as networking simulators, mainframe computing facilities running IBM System z, and specialized cell microprocessors.

The content is projected through the VCL images, which consist of an operating system and set of prepackaged applications, middleware, or other material that is stored in the cloud. Once a session is over and the user has saved the data he or she wants to keep, that user's "virtual space" is wiped clean. This enables the computing resources to be re-provisioned by other users as needed. The VCL consists primarily of a pool of IBM BladeCenter servers, plus storage and software that can be shared by geographically distributed users.

"We are excited that Apache.org has accepted the Virtual Computing Lab as one of its open source projects," said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at NC State. "As part of this prominent open source community, the VCL will continue to add to the development of open source computing and improve access to high-performance computing power across the state."

Schools can download the VCL appliance at ibiblio.org/vclvm or learn more about the Virtual Computing Initiative at vcl.ncsu.edu.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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