IBM plays bigger role than ever at Marist

Unless you are a computer science or math major, you probably have no idea about LinuxONE computer operating systems, or that Marist is one of the three schools from around the world hosting this new technology.

IBM Corp., the largest employer in Dutchess County and one of the driving forces of the local economy, announced in August that it would partner with Marist College to host LinuxONE mainframes, which are open-source computer operating systems available for free to students and developers around the world. The machines were fully installed in the Data Center in Donnelly Hall on Sept. 23, but students and faculty will have to wait until the project launches in mid-November to access to them.

“It’s really exciting because it is such a great opportunity to have such a close relationship with IBM where they can give us all these toys to play with and things to work on,” said Dan Martino, a third-year computer science major with a concentration in software development. “We’re pretty privileged.”

This is the LinuxONE system in the Data Center in Donnelly Hall. It is fully functioning, but won't be available for use until mid-November.

This is the LinuxONE system in the Data Center in Donnelly Hall. It is fully functioning, but won’t be available for use until mid-November.

William Thirsk, vice president of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Marist, says that the Linux Foundation, a San Francisco-based technology trade association, was impressed with Marist’s prior experience with Linux mainframe technology and asked the college to host one of its computers. In coordination with IBM, one of the college’s long-standing business and academic partners, Marist readily accepted. Syracuse University and Leipzig University in Germany are the two other schools hosting LinuxONE systems.

“The more programmers that use Linux and write computer application programming, the better off we will be as a society,” said Thirsk. “The idea is to get as many people involved by giving them great resources that they couldn’t afford on their own.”

Although anyone from around the world will be able to access the LinuxONE computers through online cloud servers, Marist students will be able to directly benefit from the technology just by being on campus. They will be able “to get their own virtual machine, write an application, experiment and do whatever they want,” according to Greg Lacey, the Marist-IBM Joint Study manager.

Students will also get experience managing the boxes. One box is currently in Donnelly Hall, but the School of Computer Science and Mathematics is trying to get funding from the National Science Foundation in January to be able to purchase another LinuxONE box to put in the enterprise computing research laboratory on the first floor of the Hancock Center, where many computer science and software development students work.

“IBM is really trying to encourage students and developers to get into the Linux world, but you can’t just go in there cold,” Lacey added. “For the LinuxONE, you really have to have some understanding. You do need to have some background.”

Luckily, for students who want to be able to use Linux technology but may not have the technical know-how, Marist offers an eight-week introductory enterprise-computing course for free that teaches operating system and commercial computing basics. This course, along with the new LinuxONE initiative, is just one of the many rewarding byproducts of the Marist-IBM relationship.

The inside of the LinuxONE system may seem a bit knotty or complicated, but students can take a free enterprise computing course online to learn more about it.

The inside of the LinuxONE system may seem a bit knotty or complicated, but students can take a free enterprise computing course online to learn more about it.

The Marist-IBM Joint Study partnership began in 1988 as a way to bridge technological advancements made in the community with how university students study and learn. For almost 30 years, the partnership has not only enhanced the presence of technology on campus, but it has also transformed students’ academic experiences.

“Whenever a student takes an online course, that software was developed partially out of the Joint Study,” said VP Thirsk. “When anyone gets on our high-speed network, that was developed out of the Joint Study. There are a thousand examples of how it touches each discipline. The people in the Joint-Study believe strongly that the students we have are literally going to change the future.”

IBM has also helped to bring state-of-the-art technology to every academic building on campus, most notably the $20 million James A. Cannavino Library and the cutting-edge Hancock Investment Center, as well as providing 24/7, campus-wide Internet access to all students and faculty. The average student may benefit from various course offerings and the physical presence of technology equipment on campus, but computer science, math and software development students have a much more direct role in how IBM actually operates.

Thirsk says that when IBM has a difficult question to solve or new technology that they want to develop, it comes to Marist for help. Marist then takes a team of students, faculty members and professional staff to work on the problem.

“More often than not we solve that problem and it goes back to IBM for them to commercialize. Students are not only learning about technology, but they’re inventing it,” Thirsk said.

Roger Norton, the Dean of the School of Computer Science and Mathematics, says that Marist students have played bigger and more important roles in the Joint-Study as the partnership has evolved.

“The Joint-Study was initially made up of projects between the [Marist] IT department and IBM. Our faculty and students had nothing to do with the programs. But at this particular point, the vast majority of projects are housed within the school [of Computer Science and Mathematics], which include faculty and students within my school,” said Dr. Norton.

“The Joint-Study went from being an IT project to more of a computer science and IT research project,” he added.

Dr. Norton says that about 10 to 15 students intern with IBM each year. In terms of the number of Marist alumni working at IBM, Dr. Norton says, “there are thousands.”

But as the financial and corporate world becomes more and more competitive, Dr. Norton says IBM will have to stand out from the rest of the pack to attract Marist students.

“When I first came to Marist in 1980, more than 50 percent [of our computer science graduates] went to IBM. Now we probably send five students a year out of 100 graduates. IBM has a challenge hiring our students. Our students are sought after by major companies,” he said.

Dr. Norton specifically cited Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Twitter and Apple as some of the main companies that IBM has to compete with when recruiting college graduates.

Still, IBM plays a major role on the Marist campus.

Lacey, the Joint-Study manager, cited a new initiative that is currently in the works with Mobile Identity, a phone app that allows Marist students to prove student identification with a digital copy of their student ID card on their phone. Marist and IBM conducted a pilot with the Computer Society on campus last spring, but they plan to hold another test later this year with Habitat for Humanity.

Marist hosted a successful pilot run of the Mobile Identity phone app last spring, in partnership with IBM.

Marist hosted a successful pilot run of the Mobile Identity phone app last spring, in partnership with IBM.

In August, Marist announced another joint project with IBM called Supplier Connection. The purpose of this initiative is to give support to minority companies in the Hudson Valley and help them buy and sell software equipment on a global scale.

“We want to make sure that Marist as a college and an economic engine in the Hudson Valley is doing as much as it possibly can to make sure people are buying and thinking local first,” said Thirsk.

Despite Marist’s successful partnership with IBM, there are some concerns in the Poughkeepsie community that the corporation’s recent financial struggles could impact the relationship.

Earlier this year, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported that the number of local employees at Dutchess County’s two IBM plants, located in East Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, reached an all-time low with an average of 6,105 combined workers in 2014, a drop off of 1,320 employees from the previous year. The East Fishkill plant has since been sold to GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor manufacturing company, forcing thousands of workers to relocate to the Poughkeepsie plant or to a similar branch in Burlington, Vt.

Just last week, IBM reported worse than expected third-quarter shareholder profits, down 9 percent from 2014, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Revenues, which came in at $19.3 billion, were down 14 percent as well as net income profits, which were down 11 percent from a year ago at $3.3 billion.

“The relationship with IBM is really about the future. It’s not about the last quarter. The work that we do with IBM is not really about what’s being sold on the floor. It’s about the next thing they’re going to sell,” Thirsk said.

“If it gets really bad, it could affect us, but IBM is a strong company that will successfully navigate our economy,” he added.

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One thought on “IBM plays bigger role than ever at Marist

  1. Pingback: Local government officials look to strengthen college-community relations | The Red Fox Report

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