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IBM Academic Initiative Benefits Educators, Students and Businesses

IBMer Nicki Anzivina explains how PSAI trains future members of the Power Systems workforce.

IBMer Nicki Anzivina explains how PSAI trains future members of the Power Systems workforce.

Image by Arūnas Kačinskas

Every industry requires a skilled labor force of some sort. Hence colleges, universities, trade schools and certification programs. 

IBM Power Systems* clients require employees trained to work on the platform, no matter the company goals. That’s why IBM is supporting a program to help develop these necessary skills to keep the Power Systems pipeline full, from school to workplace.

At the core of this is the Power Systems Academic Initiative (PSAI), which is part of the larger IBM Academic Initiative. It was created with a four-part structure in mind, as Nicki Anzivina, PSAI program manager explains. “We increase awareness and education about POWER* technology and OSes, including IBM i, AIX* and Linux*. We provide educators with materials, technology and resources. We help educators establish connections with their local Power Systems business community in hopes that they’ll collaborate. And we have a job board to facilitate linkage between graduates and clients, including internships and entry-level and experienced professional jobs,” she says.

A Collaborative Effort

On the educational side, PSAI offers free curriculum materials depending on teacher and classroom needs, and similarly provides free access to a cloud-computing platform powered by multiple Power Systems servers. This cloud availability allows schools—sometimes including high schools—to develop noncommercial or
open-source projects, whether for graduate-level projects, heavy-duty research or smaller projects created for general computing courses.

PSAI representatives speak with interested parties to help them configure their cloud partition environment based on compute requirements. For example, a representative from the program will find out how many students are going to need accounts, or, if it’s a research project, how long cloud resources are going to be required. Based on responses to those and other queries, the PSAI rep will determine how much bandwidth, memory, storage and more are needed and create the appropriate environment on a cloud server.

Of the more than 740 participating schools, at least half of those are using the cloud at any given time. Typically, they’re booked on the length of their semesters, which allows PSAI to move organizations on and off the cloud in predictable time frames. Some research-intensive university projects may stay online for more than a year, although these are the exceptions.

In either case, students are gaining both educational and practical experience on Power Systems. And that’s the primary goal of the PSAI: readying students to hit the ground running on their Power Systems careers. In fact, some companies and schools will collaborate on this skills development. PSAI also facilitates this school-to-work model with IBM sales representatives, for example, citing a lack of qualified candidates for company X, approaching PSAI to introduce said company to a school that has a Power Systems curriculum.

When that happens, Anzivina says, “We’ll look at the list of all of the colleges that are PSAI members that are in a company’s state and connect the two. If they’re in Wisconsin, for example, we might tell them to take look at Gateway Technical College. They have a great IBM i program and have almost a 100% placement rate. This type of collaboration benefits everyone.”

Similarly, if there’s a lack of qualified Power Systems in certain areas, PSAI will reach out to nearby schools that aren’t PSAI members and ask them if they’d like to be. Given the compute resources and teaching materials are free, many do. Although it may take a few years to educate Power Systems-ready employees, businesses in the meantime can offer internships or part-time employment so students can learn both in a classroom and at a real-world business.  

Prelude Institute’s Security Recommendations to the PSAI

  • Adding additional software to the network and performing regular software updates
  • Policy changes
  • Ensuring listening agents are installed
  • 2-factor authentication for remote users
  • Further configure the IDS Firewall
  • Defend management ports on smart switches
  • Update the business continuity plan and Incident Response Standard Operating Procedures
  • Harden the SSH with maximum authentication attempts of three, strong passphrases; setting a universal timeout; disabling empty password fields; and more

Cybersecurity in the Real World

One such example of this type of business/school collaboration involves the PSAI itself. Kevin Langston, principal enterprise systems architect for PSAI, created a graduate-level cybersecurity project for students at the Prelude Institute in Seattle. At the same time, the PSAI was experiencing a attacks on its servers that were consuming a lot of its bandwidth.

Realizing a little outsider advice might be beneficial, it approached the Prelude Institute and students of the cybersecurity project to examine its machine. The studies used IBM QRadar* on a Power Systems server to analyze and monitor all of the attacks, and then came up with a set of recommendations (below) that would help the PSAI eliminate the attempted but unsuccessful intrusions. 

According to the executive summary of the students’ report, “This topic was chosen because it would allow students to recommend the implementation of security features in a real environment that was under near constant attack.”

As further stated in the same report, “Upon completion of this project, we’re confident that we have accurately assessed the topology of the PSAI data center. Once the implementation of these appliances is complete, an SSL VPN tunnel will exist. Considering the cost of hardware will hopefully not exceed the cost savings due to the reduction of bandwidth costs. An expected byproduct would be that this approach will save PSAI money. The cost of bandwidth alone was staggering and while these security appliances are very expensive, this project was still worthwhile financially for IBM.”

As Anzivina explains, “Saving bandwidth is equivalent to saving money, because we pay for data. So, when they did their analysis, they found that we were getting over 16,000 attacks per day. In a year, that worked out to be 28 GB of bandwidth. If we implement all of the students’ recommendations, not only will we have a safer data center, but we’ll also have saved some money.”

In cases such as these, the students are learning by doing, dealing with real-world issues and gaining skills that can now be applied to post-school positions. Similarly, companies can be assured that new hires who experience this type of hands-on cybersecurity and Power Systems education will be of immediate value when they show up for work on the first day.

We're trying to build skills so that when students leave school, they can start contributing to the workforce right away.
Nicki Anzivina, PSAI program manager

Hands on With AI in Healthcare

Another example involves the University of Miami, a PSAI member school, and its newly installed Power Systems AC922 servers—the same servers at the core the world’s two most powerful supercomputers, Summit and Sierra. One project now being hosted on the school’s Triton high-performance computing environment involves patient-centric research for developing customer care applications. 

To that end, researchers, instructors and students alike are analyzing massive amounts of data in very short periods of time—hours versus days—using PSAI-provided IBM Watson* Explorer, IBM Rational* Developer for i and IBM Db2* for i. What they envision is a digital experience manager that will engage with patients before, during and after a visit using a platform that analyzes incoming patient data at all steps of the patient journey. This will allow for both human- and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven personalization of patients’ individual portals as their lives and conditions progress, including with mobile capabilities to establish patient communications via text and spoken language.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that students involved in programs such as this and the many others hosted on Titan will have had experience on Power Systems, as well as the software that runs on it. As in the case with the Prelude Institute, they’ll be ready for many different real-world experiences, such as AI.

PSAI in a Nutshell

Power Systems awareness. Power Systems education. Power Systems collaboration. Power Systems professional skills. In a nutshell, that’s what PSAI is charged with, creating an environment in which everyone involved comes out ahead, including educators, students and businesses. 

“We’re trying to build skills so that when students leave school, they can start contributing to the workforce right away,” Anzivina says. “Instructors may not have downloaded a course or aren’t working directly with the OS. But they may be teaching their kids on the application layer, which is key, because that application is running on Power Systems servers—and students are learning about everything the platform has to offer.”

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