CSC News

October 30, 2006

IBM-based Lab Improves NCSU Educational Experience

Sparks Statewide Education and Research Initiative
Raleigh, NC, October 27, 2006 - North Carolina State University's new Virtual Computing Lab uses IBM servers and software to make it easier for students and educators to perform a broad range of computing tasks, while fueling a statewide education and research initiative.

The lab is expected to support the daily needs of up to 8,000 NCSU students and faculty this semester, as well as the high-performance computing needs associated with research projects, like simulating biochemical processes, modeling weather patterns and mapping genetic information.  

The NCSU Virtual Computing Lab uses over 400 IBM BladeCenter servers and Tivoli and WebSphere software so that students and faculty can tap into the power of the lab on-demand – anywhere, anytime - via the Internet.  

To expand this model, IBM and NCSU announced the 'Virtual Computing Initiative' today.  The VCL model forms the platform for providing a better educational experience across the state -- including K-12, community colleges and universities -- by allowing students and educators to access needed educational solutions over the Internet.  This will increase the availability of educational services and applications at a reduced cost, while enhancing the overall learning experience.

“This new lab sparked the idea behind the Virtual Computing Initiative that we believe will make it easier and less expensive for students and teachers across the state to access computing power, applications and services to help build skills, especially in rural or disadvantaged areas in North Carolina,” said Sue Horn, IBM Vice President for IBM Software Group in RTP, while speaking with area university students and faculty in attendance at IBM’s University Day.

IBM will provide support for research into the applications and infrastructure needed as the Virtual Computing Lab is expanded to include other educational institutions across the state.

In addition to the founding partners, IBM and NCSU, initial participants in the Virtual Computing Initiative include:  Duke University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  K-12 schools in Granville, Franklin, Halifax and Northampton counties will also participate in the education initiative.

The NCSU Virtual Computing Lab

With the Virtual Computing Lab, NCSU students and faculty have flexibility when working on complex projects since they can either share a server, use a dedicated server or use a cluster of servers depending on the computational power required.  The lab provides a library of pre-packaged tools, applications, operating systems and services for classroom and research activities.  For example, a student working on a cancer project can request healthcare-related tools and applications to be loaded onto a server to support their research.  If a pre-packaged offering isn’t available, one can be created to meet a researcher’s needs.

“We’re at the forefront of creating a completely new lab experience for our students,” said Mladen Vouk, NCSU Computer Science department head and Associate Vice-Provost for Information Technology.  “This effective and efficient approach will enhance the skills development of our students, as well as drive projects to advance science and engineering, like healthcare and genetics research.  This lab will also allow our distance education students to access the same resources as on-campus students from the comfort of their dorm room or homes.”

The new Virtual Computing Lab runs on IBM’s BladeCenter – the industry’s top selling blade server – which integrates servers, networks, storage and applications in highly efficient one-inch systems that sit in a rack like books on a shelf.  In addition to some resource management software written by NCSU, the university also uses IBM Tivoli and WebSphere middleware products to manage and monitor VCL operations and quality 24/7.  

The university purchased hundreds of blades to support the new Virtual Computing Lab and received grants from the Shared University Research program, IBM RTP Center for Advanced Studies, IBM Academic Initiative, and the Autonomic Computing Technology Institute.  

The Virtual Computing Lab is also being utilized by NCSU’s William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.  Institute faculty and information technology administrators are currently working with several K-12 rural school districts to demonstrate the power of the VCL model in serving their needs.

The Virtual Computing Initiative

The goal of the Virtual Computing Initiative is to create a multi-institutional shared computing services community based on the VCL model.  With the success of the Virtual Computing Lab, NCSU and IBM are inviting educational institutions from across the state to participate in the initiative by creating their own lab clusters, contributing open source software, or contributing to educational projects.  Future announcements will provide details. Ultimately, these clusters will be linked together to form a larger shared cluster that will enable students and educators to more economically access computing resources, information and build key skills.  

It’s expensive for individual schools, especially K-12, to support IT equipment, like servers.  This new model allows schools to have access to the computational power they need with minimal cost.  As more and more educational institutions adopt this model, it becomes much more efficient and effective to run the lab.  For example, with the availability and performance management of the VCL, a K-12 class of students and a university researcher doing complex calculations can share the same resources in the most effective way throughout the day.

IBM and NCSU are working with area universities that are participating in the initiative to help them establish their own lab clusters that will be shared across and between their campuses.

“With the aid of an IBM Shared University Grant, NCCU has established a Virtual Computing Lab BladeCenter cluster that will support a variety of projects, including our Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise Center of Excellence,” said Greg Marrow, North Carolina Central University Chief Information Officer.  “This center provides lab resources for scholars conducting research in the biotechnology and biomanufacturing area.  By joining this initiative, we are increasing the computational resources available to that project, as well as for our faculty and students.”

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Media Contact:
Alise McNeill
IBM Corporation
Mid-Atlantic Media Relations Manager                        
919-254-6262 or 8/444-6262
919-254-7211 FAX

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