University of Ottawa leans on IBM as preferred supplier

The University of Ottawa on Thursday forged a five-year, $25-million agreement with IBM Canada Ltd. and Lenovo that will make Big Blue the school’s preferred IT supplier and introduce a range of its products and services across the campus.

IBM will donate $7 million towards the university’s annual fundraising program, the company said, and in return the U of O will open an IBM “Lab of the Future” within its department of engineering. Besides offering the post-secondary school equipment – including its pSeries and xSeries servers, DB2 database and an array of software – the agreement will give students and faculty to almost 300 technical experts at Big Blue’s Ottawa Software Lab. Lenovo, meanwhile, will supply ThinkCentre desktops and ThinkPad notebooks.

U of O president and vice-chancellor Gilles Patry said the deal builds on a partnership with IBM that goes back 10 years. The idea is to create a deployment cycle in which new IBM equipment is installed in the most critical parts of the engineering department, while slightly older equipment makes its way in other parts of the organization.

“In some sectors of the (engineering) building you’ll see technology that is four or five years old. That’s not to say that equipment is obsolete, but it does become obsolete rather rapidly,” said Patry, who was once dean of the U of O’s Department of Engineering. “From an educational perspective, we want to ensure that the latest technology is available in key areas where it’s most appreciated.”

John Kutcy, IBM’s Americas education industry executive, said the partnership could see Big Blue help the university consolidate some of its systems or contribute compute servers in high-performance environments.

“With PCs, they have a going rate at which they roll out every year that’s fairly predictable, steady-state,” he said. “We advise them constantly on future technology that’s going to be coming out.”

Patry estimated that the U of O spends about $5 million on PCs and related software and services each year.

“Some labs might just be using the equipment for spreadsheets and word processing, whereas other labs are computational labs where they need more horsepower,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that engineers only need that equipment. Some of us are fine with a Pentium 4 computer, that’s what I have on my desktop right now.”

Channel partners may be involved in the provision of some equipment through the IBM deal, Kutcy said, particularly PCs. “It just depends on the project, on the technology on the need. Sometimes the university is very self-sufficient in taking delivery of technology . . . and sometimes they would prefer a partner because of a value proposition that partner is offering them.”

IBM’s history with the University of Ottawa includes the development of a student portal and online registration, and joint multiple research projects such as the Canada Century Research Infrastructure Project.

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