North Carolina State University and IBM have announced plans to provide every student in North Carolina access to advanced educational resources through NC State's Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), a cloud computing-based technology. Through this cloud -- which is a set of Internet-based resources -- students at K-12 schools, colleges around the state and the University of North Carolina system campuses themselves will have access to the most advanced educational materials, select 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 a number of universities across the globe that wish to replicate this cloud computing model.
In support of this effort, the NC State Department of Computer Science and Office of Information Technology 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, helping improve the quality of education provided through the VCL platform and ensure reliability.
The VCL solution lets users remotely access a desired set of applications and environments over the Internet -- using a personal computer, laptop or mobile device -- from anywhere, at any time. To VCL users, even the most demanding software applications, operating systems and environments are easily accessible through license-honoring technology in a click of the mouse. Access is instant, and offers a range of options -- from single desktops to classroom-sized labs, to collections of servers and storage, to high-performance computing clusters.
"NC State and IBM are inviting universities worldwide to participate in the Virtual Computing Initiative," said IBM's Jai Menon. "Through this collaboration, universities that participate in the program have a tremendous opportunity to not only further enable their own students, but to also improve the lives of students in economically disadvantaged parts of the country and the world. The VCL technology is a conduit that can greatly enhance students' education, self confidence and overall quality of life."
Using VCL, elementary school students will access content appropriate for their advancement. For example, "Alice" -- an innovative educational software environment with 3D animation and story-telling -- could provide educational support for students across several functional areas. As another example, Disney's MathQuest grade school software helps build essential math skills like addition, subtraction, estimating, sorting and understanding patterns, all through participating in virtual mazes and expeditions. Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, the NC State Friday Institute and Duke University are lead partners in the K-12 effort.
Through the same system, university-level students can access high-end applications such as SolidWorks, MatLab and SAS, as well as complex networking simulators, mainframe computing facilities running IBM System z, and specialized IBM Cell microprocessors to learn, for example, about Service Oriented Architectures and IT Management.
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 securely stored in the cloud. Once a session is over and the user has saved the data they want 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.
With the creation of the Center of Excellence in Cloud Computing, NC State hopes to lead the way in applying cloud computing technology to the democratization of education for students in North Carolina, as well as around the world. The center will serve as a focal point for the many ongoing cloud computing research projects being conducted at NC State and other local universities, including the open source Apache project.
"We are excited that Apache.org has accepted the Virtual Computing Lab as one of its open source projects," said Dr. 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."
IBM and NC State collaborated to establish the VCL in 2004. Since then IBM has also assisted in expanding the VCL with technical support from IBM BladeCenter development teams in Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina, as well as through sustained funding from the IBM RTP Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) and IBM corporate university relations -- with several other corporations, and active support from The University of North Carolina General Administration and the state legislature.
The IBM WebSphere Technology Institute also assisted NC State in launching the VCL Apache incubator project. Through support from RTP CAS and the Academic Initiative, the VCL allows North Carolina faculty to create and deliver advanced educational material in support of programs that are preparing their students for the 21st century workforce. Through fellowships, grants and technical collaborations, IBM is supporting local faculty who are applying VCL in support of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) outreach programs to North Carolina K-12 students and teachers.
As part of its Cloud Computing Initiative, IBM has built 13 cloud computing centers around the world, many of which partner with universities and other organizations. In addition, IBM is working with a number of universities to help future computer scientists gain the skills they need to build cloud applications.