GRAPEVINE, Tex. – Re-affirming its commitment to the open-source philosophy, IBM Corp. Tuesday launched a program to work with educators in teaching students the open standards skills needed to compete and stay abreast of changes in

IT.

The IBM Academic Initiative, which has been piloted by a handful of schools around the world, aims to reach “”millions of students to drive in-demand skills for an on-demand world,”” said Buell Duncan, general manager of IBM developer relations, software group, at the firm’s Rational Software Development User Conference 2004.

The initiative, which builds on a long-standing research-based relationship with schools, offers assorted middleware tools, hardware and services to help universities and colleges bolster students’ experience using programs like Linux, Java and WebSphere, said Duncan.

IBM’s goal is to reach 1,000 schools worldwide and plans to be “”actively engaged”” with 250 schools this year, said Duncan.

One of the pilot schools, Northface University in Salt Lake City, Utah, offers an accelerated program in which students attend school for much of the year and undertake 70 per cent of project-based work. Under this regime, they graduate with a computer science degree in 28 months and enjoy an experience mirroring the environment of a real IT department, said chairman and CEO Scott McKinley.

McKinley said Northface students learn technical and theoretical skills, as well as gain leadership and other high-level efficiencies, building about 12 enterprise applications by the time they leave.

Dr. Mayur Mehta, chair of computer information systems at Texas State University-San Marcos, said his school joined the IBM program to “”gear up for that shortage”” in computer science graduates that companies like IBM describe as a major concern for the industry. He said IBM trained faculty to teach courses and developed curriculum.

Over the last two years, said Mehta, the university has achieved a “”100 per cent placement rate (for students) even in down times”” with firms that generally didn’t recruit on campus.

IBM also announced yesterday it would have in place at year’s end an open, standards-based lifecycle software development solution that simplifies Java and enterprise development for developers and business partners.

Big Blue also introduced tools to help developers build applications for the IBM Workplace, extended functional testing for zSeries and iSeries terminal-based applications, provided developers with a comprehensive set of Rational software resources, debuted a self-configuring technology to create autonomic computing solutions and unveiled tools to improve the integration of applications for .Net and graphical user interfaces.

Derek Bildfell, CEO of CARO Systems, said he is interested in the new developer tools, particularly the introduction of UML 2.0 modeling, which automates model-driven architecture and that IBM said can improve the integration between business, development and operations teams by providing a common language to communicate more effectively.

The Toronto-based company, which has been a Rational partner since 2000 and an IBM partner since 2001, is “”encouraged by the direction IBM has been able to take Rational,”” said Bildfell. He said IBM is trying to improve relationships with partners (as witnessed by the launch of PartnerWorld Industry Networks, which helps partners market and sell their solutions to individual industry sectors) because “”Rational was not partner-oriented. It was a direct model before the acquisition.””

For the most part, many of the announcements made at the conference revolve around IBM’s message that its tools are preparing developers for an on-demand world, explained Thomas Murphy, vice-president of the Meta Group in Stamford, Conn. “”What they’re trying to do is figure out (how) does on-demand fit into all of IBM. It fits very well from a services perspective. It fits from a hardware perspective. You’ve got to kind of make it fit into development. The way that it fits into development is, how do I scale up and add new members to a team in a project I’m working on?””

The growing trend of using offshore software development, which relies heavily on collaboration across time and language barriers, has in part fuelled IBM’s on-demand strategy, said Murphy. He said another driver of an on-demand approach is the commoditization of hardware and software with the growth of open-source software.

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