IBM Designates University of Nebraska as an iSeries Training Hub
March 6, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In the summer of 2004, IBM launched a cross-platform education and training effort called the Academic Initiative that had the main job of getting colleges and universities around the world to use IBM hardware and software technologies in their coursework in computer science programs and to get many tens of thousands of students–the IT users and leaders of tomorrow–exposed to Big Blue technologies.
Last year, IBM started focusing on specific platforms, particularly its iSeries and zSeries platforms, both of which have an aging workforce and which are arguably scarcer these days at colleges and universities than they were one or two decades ago.
In August, when IBM was talking about the Speed Teams intern program that it used to train newbies in the way of the iSeries, Linda Grigoleit, iSeries education program director, said her most conservative estimate is that of the hundreds of schools worldwide that teach the iSeries in some form or another, about 30,000 students a year get some exposure to the box. That exposure runs the gamut from a minimum of teaching its architecture alongside alternatives to putting out seven or eight detailed programming courses on the machine. Exposure is good, and teaching the box is better, and the entire iSeries division knows that it has to boost education and awareness about the iSeries.
And so, IBM is doing just that, and has designated the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which has had no formal affiliation with the AS/400, iSeries, or i5 product lines for the past two decades but which wants one now, as a hub for iSeries education. The hub concept within the iSeries Academic Initiative builds on IBM’s old Partners in Education program, which gave universities cheap access to OS/400 servers and partnered IBM, the schools, and local resellers together to make sure that people who were trained on OS/400 boxes had some prospect of actually getting a job.
Under the collaboration agreement inked between IBM and UNL, IBM is putting a System i5 box at the school and the school is responsible for not only maintaining it–which is part of the learning experience for students–but is also responsible for being a hub training center for other colleges and universities that IBM want to sign up to be part of the iSeries Academic Initiative. By moving to a hub concept, each university–particularly small local colleges–does not have the burden of supporting the iSeries, but can nonetheless provide the same coursework that UNL develops with IBM and actually time slices on the iSeries box at UNL so student can do coding using OS/400, RPG, Java, WebSphere, and other tools.
“IBM used to provide low-cost systems to schools and local business partners supported them,” explained Grigoleit. “Now, we are ramping it up to the next level, and all of us are working more closely. Eventually, IBM would like to see universities and colleges becoming bigger educational resources for customers.” Grigoleit was not able to talk about specific financials, but said that the System i5 division was dedicating more resources to education and training in 2006 than it did in 2005, and that this relationship with UNL was part of that expanded budget. She also said that IBM has created a similar educational hub with an unnamed vendor, and that each of the managers in the 16 worldwide System i5 sales regions are working with local colleges and universities to either get them plugged into these hubs or start new ones so they can ramp up the iSeries Academic Initiative in their areas.
The first project that IBM and UNL will work on together is creating an interactive tool that allows the students at remote schools to plug into the hub and access training resources that are actually running on the System i5 box in Lincoln. Grigoleit said that IBM is enthusiastic about how this “gaming generation” might come up with a nifty 3D interface for the tools, including avatars (think of them as an electronic persona you take on when you go into collaboration mode on the hub). The university will be doing a Speed Team intern program to create this, and students will be taking a few trips north to Rochester, Minnesota, to help build it. Students will get credits for the work they do and the ability to put an IBM internship on their resumes. The university will also be developing approximately 15 courses with System i5 concepts and projects in them–not exclusively, of course, but at least the OS/400 platform is in there. “The intent is to make these curriculum modules available to other universities,” explained Grigoleit. The university will also develop case studies highlighting System i5 technologies, and IBM and UNL will bring guest lecturers into the MIS classes at the university to talk up the OS/400 platform, too.
The most hopeful aspect of this relationship with UNL is that it had no prior experience with the OS/400 platform, and that it was driven by graduates of the school with OS/400 platform experience. The other interesting aspect is the speed with which IBM got it all hammered out. IBM and members of UNL’s School of Business started talking last May, and by August five professors were being brought up to speed on iSeries technologies in the labs in preparation for building out the hub. That is lightning speed for IBM. Now, the trick will be to get the curriculum and coursework done and replicate it to as many schools as possible in the world.
Being from Penn State and a big fan of Joe Paterno, I have no great love for the Cornhuskers when it comes to football, but they are certainly doing right by the iSeries by stepping up and being the first university hub for the box. And while I feel a certain competitiveness with the other 10 schools in the Big Ten conference–I am still annoyed at the Golden Gophers for beating PSU so many times (1999, 2000, 2002, and 2003, but not in 2005, roar!)–it seems pretty obvious that the University of Minnesota should be the biggest System i5 educational hub, given that the iSeries is the state computer system. And if the Gophers don’t get in touch with Grigoleit soon and get a hub deal signed, I might just start making some calls to State College, Pennsylvania. Ball’s on your 20, Minnesota, and the clock is ticking. Don’t let me intercept it.