Image representing IBM as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

College students are always attractive targets for software vendors. Whether it is the effective targeting of college students in the desktop era by Microsoft or Google’s attempt to enter the market in this cloud era through their #gonegoogle campaign, there is no denying that software vendors find the route attractive from a marketing perspective. It gives them an opportunity to hook the young minds into their technology (philosophy) easily so that they can reap benefits later when these kids get into decision making positions in the industry, academia or government.

Last week IBM announced an initiative under the Smarter Planet campaign to help academic institutions get IBM software in the cloud computing environment. This will allow professors in these institutions to incorporate technology into their curricula. The idea is to let students of any discipline learn these technologies and use them effectively in their work.

IBM is initially working with 20 colleges and universities and have plans to expand it further in the future. The offering called, Academic Skills Cloud, will provide academia an opportunity to use IBM software on their cloud computing environment at no cost. The fact that it is running on the cloud ensures that there is no maintenance overhead for these institutions. This initiative will help college students gain experience in the newer technologies.

The advantages of using IBM Academic Skills Cloud for students include

  • learn the latest technology skills, such as software development and practical use of information management, Web 2.0 and cloud computing and how they can be applied for decision-making
  • access IT curricula and courses from anywhere using their laptop or netbook
  • differentiate themselves from other graduates by gaining key IT skills to better compete for jobs

From the professors point of view, it helps them to

  • quickly integrate new IT courses in their curriculum, regardless of subject taught
  • more easily facilitate group and long-distance learning programs for students
  • free-up existing university technology infrastructure resources

With this offering, IBM is all set to capture the minds of young students and a chunk of marketshare in the future.

I am pretty excited about how we can tap into cloud computing to change the face of education. Our own Dan Morrill is working on an effort that could potentially change the way our kids will get educated in the future. i will let Dan talk about the initiative when he is ready but I want to emphasize that cloud computing has a potential to overhaul the entire education system. If cloud computing is going to change the way education works, it is only natural that these institutions would want to give hands on training on these technologies to their students.

I really want the young kids to learn about these newer technologies very early in their life. In fact, it is my strong belief that such an early exposure will help them compete at the highest levels easily. But I am worried about molding them so early to a technology of a particular vendor. Whether it is IBM or Microsoft or Google, forcing vendor specific technologies down the throats of young students could be counter productive. Rather, the education institutions should expose the students to a wide variety of technologies from different vendors and open source projects. This will help students gain valuable experience on wide ranging platforms, an experience that could come handy for them even if they specialize on a specific platform in the future. Instead, drilling down specific vendor based technologies may even have undesirable side effect of hindering innovation.

Education institutions should not encourage such practices because this leaves their students unexposed to some amazing technologies available with smaller vendors who are lacking the money power to offer freebies like IBM, Microsoft or Google. Even though some people in this country think that the idea of capitalism is about winner taking it all, I have a different approach to capitalism. I am convinced that Adam Smith had the my kind of idea in mind when he promoted the concept of free markets heavily. My idea of capitalism involves having a level playing field where vendors, big and small, compete purely on the merits of their products and services. Any playing field that is skewed towards vendors with big money goes against the very spirit of free markets. Education institutions, by joining hands with such big players, are contributing to the very decline of the freedom in the marketplace.

Yes, this is a rant. Yes, this practice has been going on for quite a while now. Yes, it hasn’t completely killed innovation. I am just throwing this idea out in public so that some of us can take a moment and think about the impact of having an education system not influenced by powerful players. Well, I know that such initiatives help education institutions already burdened by lack of funds. But there are ways to work around such issues. For the very success of a markets based system, we need an education system that is vendor neutral. Keeping in mind that this is a rant and not an analysis, please feel free to jump in and offer your thoughts on this topic.

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Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at http://open.krishworld.com and Cloud Computing related topics at http://www.cloudave.com.

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