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Students Create Linux Code For Real IBM Products

Feeling Blue and Feeling Good

  • August 16, 2004
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

While some college students did little else but hit the beach, about 20 highly select computer science and MBA degree candidates interned with IBM this summer, creating Linux code along the way. Software developed through IBM's "Extreme Blue" internship program will turn into real IBM applications for electrical utilities, financial risk management, and other industries.

"Linux is inherent to everything we do," maintained Jane Harper, director of IBM's University Talent Program, speaking at an IBM Extreme Blue press event in New York City. "Students can 'grow' their skills in Linux and open source--and, of course, we want them to," she added.

In the North American component of the six-year-old program, student project teams worked this summer at IBM lab facilities in five locations. Assigned to IBM technical and business "mentors," teams also got a chance to pitch their development code to top IBM executives.

"It's a 'Wow!' experience. Students have an opportunity to work and in an environment that's second to none. They have full access to everything in the labs," Harper maintained.

Each year, IBM selects "the best and the brightest" out of a wide pool of Extreme Blue applicants, according to Harper. At the start of the summer, IBM staffers give each team a problem to solve, and for the next 11 weeks, the students proceed with software development. All students--including those going for MBAs--pitch in on the programming.

All of the code produced this summer runs on Linux, as well as other operating environments. Most interns created code with the use of IBM's Eclipse-based WebSphere Studio, from either a Linux or Microsoft Windows development platform. WebSphere Studio also supports code building from Solaris and HP-UX.

Conversely, all interns--computer science students included--are also encouraged to think about "the business value of technology," said David Barnes, Extreme Blue Site Manager in Austin, Texas.

Yet Extreme Blue isn't 'all work and no play,' either, Harper maintained. "The students all live together, too. They have fun." This summer's extracurriculars included rock climbing and skydiving.

From Big Blue's perspective, Extreme Blue is a key recruitment tool, as well as a way to benefit from the students' "fresh thinking. speed, and innovation," according to Harper.

"We invite the students to collaborate with us on innovation," said Tom Davis, director, Market Development and Innovation Champion for IBM Global Services (IGS).

Moreover, much of the code produced this summer will make its way into real IBM products, according to Barnes.

Two of the projects--Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) and mPower--have already resulted in demos that will be delivered to IBM customers by Big Blue's sales force.

Developed by interns at IBM's Austin, Texas lab, the mPower application is designed to take advantages of recent enhancements in utility monitoring that allow retail pricing to be adjusted in accordance with customer demand levels.

Adoption of this sort of dynamic pricing by utility firms could have prevented crises such as the East Coast brownout in 2003 and the California blackout in 2000, said Brown.

During the press event in New York, interns showed a "what-if" simulation tool that is part of the mPower software. The tool lets utility customers view how they might lower their bills by changing their energy consumption levels.

IBM's salespeople will start presenting a full mPower demo to utility firms later this year.

The new BAM, on the other hand, is a dynamic database monitoring and reporting tool for either single- or multivendor databases, said Derick McGee, one of four interns who developed the app at the IBM lab in Almaden, CA.

BAM integrates technology from IBM's recent acquisition of AlphaBlox. Other components include WebSphere Portal, WebSphere MQ, and IBM's Universal DB2 database, for example. Features include a user-customizable dashboard, along with the ability to set thresholds for sending out alerts, according to McGee, who is an MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

IBM's technical field sales force will start demoing BAM this fall, initially to financial risk managers and then to supply chain managers and other business pros who require realtime access to information.

Another Extreme Blue project, known as Extreme Web, was created at IBM's lab in Raleigh, NC. Extreme Web uses the Linux-based Apache TomCat servlet and JSP engine, according to team members on hand at the event.

Currently being tested by a real estate firm in Wilmington, North Carolina. Extreme Web is aimed at making it easier for SMBs to use Web services for publishing dynamic content, automating business routines, and collaborating interactively with co-workers and customers.

As the team sees it, SMBs need software like Extreme Web because their IT staffs tend to be small or even nonexistent. Meanwhile, in some sections of the US, such as North Carolina, real estate activities are growing increasingly Web-based, because businesses are relocating employees there. House hunting from afar can be easier over the Internet, the students pointed out

A fourth Extreme Blue project, BizMatch, is about to be tested internally within one of IBM's departments. Developed at the IBM lab in Cambridge, MA, BizMatch uses a "super search engine" to enhance the process of finding business partners over the Web. With BizMatch, companies can search for partners across 21 different criteria.

End users will access the Java-enabled BizMatch through NetScape's Mozilla browser, project members said.

Yet another project, Symbiosis, is designed to bridge the current gap in application troubleshooting between IBM's Rational development tools and Tivoli systems application environment. Symbiosis is also being internally evaluated at IBM, according to interns who built the application at the IBM lab in Toronto, ON.

As the interns head back to school this fall, another big takeway is that many will have IBM jobs waiting for them.

Roughly 90 percent of Extreme Blue participants receive job offers from IBM upon graduation. About 90 percent of them accept, Barnes said.

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