IBM issues faculty grants

Amanda Wilczynski Mar 24, 2008

IBM just made a big financial investment, not in the stock market but with Carnegie Mellon students. The company gave a series of research grants last week aimed at collaboration in software development.

The grants were awarded to faculty who will work closely with students to utilize IBM’s new Jazz platform, a platform which was developed to allow software creation through information sharing across global time zones and technical departments. The Jazz platform supports a number of programs, all of which address the increasing globalization of the software creation process.

Jim Herbsleb, associate professor in the Institute for Software Research (ISR) was awarded the grant at Carnegie Mellon. He will be working alongside Anita Sarma, a post-doctoral associate in the ISR, as well as a number of computer science students.

The other universities that received grants were Brown University, North Carolina State University, Saarland University in Germany, and the University of Calgary in Canada, all of which were asked to investigate different areas of the Jazz platform.

Carnegie Mellon was given the grant to study ways to enhance the platform’s collaboration capabilities through evaluating its dependency and means of communication.

According to Li-Te Cheng, a research scientist in the Collaborative User Experience Group at IBM, the importance of Carnegie Mellon’s research lies in its study of coordination between developers allowing all members of the development team to clearly understand project goals and share their suggestions and ideas.

Karen Lilla, from Global Communications for IBM, helped explain the reasoning behind the grants.

Software development has greatly changed due to globalization, especially in the ways in which programming is handled, she said. In the past, it has been a rather isolated process done by a small group of professionals in only one country. However, today’s software requires the collaboration of developers from all around the world.

Jazz has the power to unite these global teams through one platform in a centralization of all the development work involved. Developers in Japan and the U.S., for example, can all work from Jazz, which serves as a universal software platform, thus increasing communication and productivity.

U.S. universities may not be prepared for the rapid transformation that is occurring, Lilla said. Moreover, the evolving industry threatens U.S. competitiveness in the technology industry. With fewer U.S. students majoring in technology each year and software developers continuing to spread across the globe, the problem for the country is only increasing.

As the world’s second largest software company, IBM has reacted to these changes in its creation of the Jazz platform and in offering grants to universities to explore the platform’s possibilities.
“It’s important for our students to understand the global dynamics of software development and Jazz provides us with a platform for that,” said Frank Maurer, head of the Agile Software Engineering group at the University of Calgary, in a March 17 IBM press release.

According to www.jazz.net, the platform’s name came from its creators’ expectations. The website makes a comparison between working on software as a part of a team and performing in a band.

Ultimately, the goal of the Jazz platform, according to the site, can be likened to the fine tuning of a band; creators of the platform aim to build software more effectively while also making it more productive and pleasant.

The platform’s official website open to the public and is home to the early Jazz-supported products available for download.

Cheng pointed out the collaborative nature of the platform sets it apart from past innovations and other software platforms.

“Jazz is not just a technology, it is also a community,” Cheng said. “A team of students should get the feel of how a software team can get work done together.”

IBM has worked with Carnegie Mellon in the past.

IBM was crucial in the development of the Andrew network in the 1980s and remains an industry partner to this day, providing research grants and panel discussions at the university, among other means of support.

In accordance with this most recent Jazz grant, an IBM research team will be closely collaborating with Carnegie Mellon. The grant lasts for a year, so publishable results may be available as early as next March.