A matter of perspective

ccac

As IBM has been struggling to reposition itself by investing heavily in cloud computing, big data and analytics, and enterprise mobile and social connectivity, so Marist College’s Cloud Computing and Analytics Center (CCAC) has been experimenting with providing software, services, support and training to local businesses “at a fraction of the commercial cost.” (Cloud computing operates like a utility, allowing economies of scale based on shared services and converged infrastructure.)

On April Fool’s Day, the college held what it described as an “introductory event” on its Poughkeepsie campus. Five Marist staff members discussed the CCAC’s services and user-friendly approach. Marist has been known for decades as one of IBM’s academic windows to the world.

Aside from the Marist folks and a couple of IBMers, 15 people, including me, sat through the all-morning session. Roger Norton, dean of the School of Computer Science and Mathematics, described how Marist was working with ten companies in its incubator. The CCAC, he said, specialized in service to small and medium companies.

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Monthly tech meetups in the Hudson Valley routinely attract scores of attendees. I was surprised at the low attendance at this Marist event. Many small businesses have recently been migrating to the cloud because of its convenience and affordability. Where were they all?

The CCAC has been named as one of 13 state-designated centers of excellence. Last June the state awarded Marist three million dollars for the CCAC; the money will be used for infrastructure, not for salaries. Marist has in the past also received substantial funding from the National Science Foundation as well as, of course, from IBM.

“The NYSCCAC works with companies on early-stage IT projects with the goal to develop and test ways to deploy commercial cloud computing environments,” said the press release from Empire State Development at the time. “The NYSCCAC also provides critical education and training, through the cloud, in analytics and cloud computing, as well as other critical areas.”

Dean Norton assured the attendees last Wednesday that the CCAC was flexible in terms of the kinds of projects its faculty and students would work on. “It can be anywhere between I have an idea for you to work on to let me use your equipment to execute my app,” he said. It was important for Marist to include an educational component in all projects, however. “You’re going to need a student to set up and service your environment,” Norton added.

The CCAC was not your father’s technical — or liberal arts — school. “We’re quite different from the rest of Marist,” Norton said in describing the computing center’s flexibility. “We’re entrepreneurial and innovative.”

That’s a claim that will need to be demonstrated. My guess — and it is only a guess — is that it’s not going to be easy. Innovation needs to be nurtured. The young audience most comfortable with digital devices and the social media have a radically different orientation, both technological and personal, than innovators encountered a decade or two ago. Entrepreneurs no longer take to data centers and enterprise computing as ducks take to water. They approach the opportunities offered by big data with a different perspective.

It’s up to big enterprises and ambitious educational institutions to learn to see things more from the new generation’s point of view.

Now that would be innovative.++

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