A recently opened IBM software lab in Ottawa is helping to develop the open source software that is becoming increasingly attractive to public sector institutions.

The lab, which is modelled on Toronto’s 13-year-old software lab,

is one of several that IBM is opening worldwide, including Dublin, Barcelona, Bangalore and Sydney.

Gabby Silberman, director for IBM’s Centre for Advanced Studies program, says Linux is making inroads in the public sector because governments are so cost-cautious.

“In particular they like the idea of getting stuff for free, so IBM has always supported the open source concept and open source standards to allow customers such as government to be more efficient and productive in how they handle their IT investments.”

Much of the open source work the lab is doing centres around Eclipse, an open source universal tool platform.

Marecellus Mindel, manager of the Ottawa IBM Centre for Advanced Studies, says Eclipse has formed the basis for the vendor’s WebSphere product offerings and it is also used in the products offered by dozens of other companies, he adds.

“Eclipse is a universal tool platform, so vendors, regardless of who they are, build plug-ins for this environment and all their tools work together,” says Mindel. “It focuses around Java development but there’s also C+ and a variety of other projects.”

One of those other projects centres around pervasive computing. And while most pervasive computing initiatives look at how people interact with their environment, this one looks at how the environment interacts with people.

“The idea is you walk into a room, the room detects you’re there and offers you access to various devices,” explains Dwight Deugo, an associate professor from Carleton University’s School of Computer Science working at the lab. “Some of the research involved is around modelling the environment, detecting where you are in the room, your proximity to different devices, and working with a lot of embedded devices to get the control applications down to handheld devices.”

His research is not looking at detecting who the person is by using facial recognition or other such security technologies, but rather at detecting the person’s proximity to Bluetooth devices.

“We’re trying to get away from the personal identification part. We’re not denying it’s required; it’s all part of the security realm, but there’s a lot of difficult technology before we can even get to look at that particular problem.”

The advantage of working at an IBM lab, he says, is that he doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

“The biggest thing for me is that a lot of the base technologies are done here in the Ottawa lab, so if I have a problem or question I can go and talk to people,” says Deugo. “For example, their J9 Java virtual machine technology works on some of these embedded devices like a Palm or a Pocket PC. If I have a problem or need to know how something works, the guy’s here in Ottawa.”

The other benefit he says, is that the CAS provides an opportunity to work on real-life business problems.

“I’m sitting in academia and the type of stuff I’m working on would be further down the road,” he says. At the lab, “a lot of stuff I’m working on is just fundamental technology people can take and build businesses around. More than anything, I think about doing things that that will enable people to do things. Companies like IBM can take it and make products out of it because me being a prof, I publish.”

The Ottawa lab, which now employs 280 people, is expected to grow by 10 per cent over the next year — a much greater rate than IBM itself, says Mindel.

IBM is pushing to expand its research capabilities because the model has proved it allows a greater degree of collaboration across the globe, adds Silberman.

“Once I realized these models for collaboration between development groups and academia were successful, I convinced IBM it would make sense to open in other sectors, not only to benefit from interaction with their local community, but also so we could network the centres and bring the talent to the problem,” he says.

In one case, he says, a development group in Austin, Tex. had a problem that was solved by a faculty member associated with the Raleigh, N.C. centre.

Projects are decided upon jointly with IBM, professors and students, who are awarded fellowships for their work at the centres.

“When we find a good match for a project we support the student’s studies, and the outcome of that is usually publication in top journals and conferences,” says Silberman. “The biggest advantage from our point of view is we have those results earlier than everybody else, and in today’s tech world having a head start of a few months is a big advantage.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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