IBM awards Rice $700K for shared university research project

Rice and IBM collaborate to help schools integrate academic software applications

HOUSTON, Oct. 6, 2006 -- Rice University and IBM today announced they will collaborate on the development of an open-standards-based, service oriented architecture (SOA) that will help higher education institutions tie together their increasingly diverse academic software applications.

The collaboration is supported in part by IBM's Shared University Research (SUR) award program, created to exemplify the deep partnership between academia and the industry to explore research in areas essential to innovation. Through the SUR award and software from the IBM Academic Initiative, IBM has donated IBM BladeCenter hardware technology, software for an SOA platform and related services valued at $700,000.

"In academia today, discrete, open-source, academic applications such as courseware management systems, digital libraries and content commons are becoming central to the life of a university," said Kamran Khan, vice provost for information technology. "It is important to tie these stand-alone applications together into a more coherent whole."

IBM's gift will enable Rice to collaborate in the research and development of an open-standards-based, SOA for higher education called the Rice Open Collaborative Learning Environment (Open-CLE). Rice will provide a working demonstration environment to validate the approach.

"The open architecture resulting from this work will help institutions collaborate on research efforts and tie together their academic applications," said Tony Befi, IBM senior state executive for Texas. "It also will make it easier for institutions to deploy and for individuals to use open-source, online, research and education tools."

The work will also encourage involvement with industry-standards groups, such as the IMS Global Learning Consortium and the e-Framework for Education and Research Initiative, and other institutions interested in participating in the development of an open-source-based learning and research community.

A service oriented architecture, or SOA, enables computers to share data and tasks among disparate applications, helping an organization to more closely align technology with business goals. In academia, an SOA also enables each member of a group of institutions to create its own suite of tools to support particular research, collaboration, and learning needs. Providing such integration and customization is critical if open standards-based environments are to become a viable alternative for meeting the needs of higher education institutions around the world.

Rick Peterson, director for academic and research computing at Rice, is eager to capitalize on open standards systems. "Rice is already utilizing great, individual, open source/open standards-based tools such as D-Space, Sakai and Connexions. With this new research project, made possible by the IBM grant, we can create a framework that will allow these applications to operate well together. More broadly, the framework we develop may be of help to those in higher education who wish to tie together other stand-alone systems and applications. We want the work resulting from this grant to make life easier for faculty and students by allowing them to create a more integrated learning and collaboration environment."

Rice University and IBM will collaborate to design an SOA for Rice's Open-CLE. This SOA will allow individual educational and research applications to "talk" with each other. Rice's largest open standards applications today include Sakai a leading open source course management system; OwlSpace, powered by Sakai and operating as the framework for Rice's web-based Collaboration and Learning Environment; Connexions, a collaborative, educational web-based environment composed of independent teaching modules that can be used alone or connected into larger courses; and DSpace, a digital repository system that captures, stores, indexes, preserves, and distributes digital research material.

"The SUR grant is a big step forward for open education," said Richard Baraniuk, Victor E. Cameron Professor in Engineering and founder of Connexions. "Fusing Sakai, Connexions and DSpace will make it easy for large and small educational institutions to get involved in this important movement."

This SOA will provide a working integration layer that ties together disparate applications of interest and importance to higher education, using IBM's WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). The integration will provide an open standard for linking higher-education applications together and will provide a strong foundation for both continued application development and user acceptance.

IBM's highly-selective SUR program awards computing equipment globally to higher education institutions in order to facilitate research projects of mutual interest, including: the architecture of business and processes, privacy and security, supply chain management, information based medicine, deep computing, grid computing, autonomic computing, and storage solutions. The SUR awards also support the advancement of university projects by connecting top researchers in academia with IBM researchers, along with representatives from product development and solution provider communities. IBM supports over 50 SUR awards per year worldwide.

The new open architecture initiative also will be supported by the IBM Academic Initiative program which offers faculty and students at universities a wide range of technology education benefits to encourage the use of open standards technologies.

Currently, more than 1,900 institutions, 11,000 faculty members and 450,000 students are taking advantage of the training programs offered through the IBM Academic Initiative, a partnership program designed to educate millions of students for a more competitive IT workforce.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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