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IBM invests $27 million over five years to educate Syracuse University students on smart data center technologies

As more corporations and government organizations digitize their business processes for efforts such as electronic medical records or mobile banking, universities are aiming to educate a student workforce that is knowledgeable about current IT challenges beyond traditional enterprise computing techniques.

Thanks to a $27 million investment over five years from IBM, Syracuse University students will now have access to IBM hardware, software and maintenance services to learn about innovative enterprise computing technologies like the System z10 mainframe. At roughly the size of a large refrigerator, the IBM z10 operates as “a data center in a box” by replacing more than 1,400 x86 servers with intelligent software.

For students, exposure to the IBM z10 means that they will get firsthand experience on a computing system that is optimized for blazingly fast and secure transactions, such as the same technology that major credit card companies use to support the busy holiday buying season and new, information-intensive applications such as advanced fraud analysis and mobile payments and services.

In addition to the IBM z10, SU students and professors will also have access to an IBM DS8000 with 18 terabytes of storage (enough to store all the X-ray films for 18 large technological hospitals or data printed from nearly a million trees saved).

“It is rewarding to see IBM recognize the significant level of expertise and dedication to preparing the next generation of smart data center experts here at Syracuse University,” said iSchool Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy. “The iSchool has aggressive plans for adapting our curriculum to ensure that our students will have hands-on preparation for professional careers working on critical challenges, like using intelligent technology to run an energy-efficient data center.”

“IBM’s investment goes beyond teaching our students about systems support. Exposure to the hardware and software of the IBM z10 introduces students to today’s world of virtual data centers and the growing importance of mainframe-like quality required by a broad range of applications, like helping doctors make smarter healthcare recommendations from countless data sources,” said David Dischiave, an iSchool professor of practice who leads the M.S. in information management program and teaches database and large-scale enterprises courses. “IBM’s investment will allow us to do things we couldn’t do before in our database and enterprise technologies courses.”

Dischiave and his wife, Susan, also an iSchool professor who teaches advanced database and database security courses, were integral in acquiring the IBM mainframe for the University. They participate in IBM’s System z Academic Initiative and received the program’s 2006 Faculty Award. Through the program, they were allowed to tap into an IBM mainframe in the company’s Innovation Center in Dallas to teach their students about large-scale computing environments.

The z10 System will enable the Dischiaves to build and “hand out” virtual machines to students so that the students can become familiar with building and processing large-scale data sets. “Basically, each student can have their own mainframe to work on, and we can mirror the large-scale systems that many big employers have,” Dischiave said. “Now, our students will have worked within these environments before they graduate and will be better prepared for the workplace. They will have access to a whole new classification of tools in their toolkit to solve modern computing and information management problems for organizations.”

The system will enable the Dischiaves to also teach students how to virtualize many small computers within one large-scale system and thereby reduce energy costs and save on physical space for an organization.

The Dischiaves have already revamped their courses for this fall and included lab exercises that employ the new z10. IBM has also offered a “sanitized” Medicare claims database to serve as a sample data set for students to access in their courses. Until now, the Dischiaves have made up problems and data for their students to use, but David Dischiave said, “There’s no substitute for real problems and real data to teach students about the system.”

The duo will also be responsible for connecting SU researchers to this powerful campus resource. Researchers will be allowed to import their data sets into the system, which will be able to process the data at a rate faster than any resource currently available to them.

“This is a tremendous investment,” Susan Dischiave said. “We feel so fortunate to be able to expose our students to IBM’s latest and smartest computing system.”

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