As a professional academic, I spend my weeks between the fall and spring semesters working on research projects, preparing for the classes I'll teach next term and, occasionally, sleeping. At MIT, however, students are taking advantage of the winter break to learn more about OpenStack, the open source cloud infrastructure, through a program sponsored by Rackspace that brings open source cloud computing and academia together in novel ways.
The program, which runs through this week, is part of a broader initiative by Rackspace to deliver training in cloud deployment for IT experts at universities and many other organizations. The classes normally span 32 hours, but Rackspace shortened them for the MIT program to coordinate with the university's Independent Activity Period, which is essentially the equivalent of what many colleges call intersession.
For the class at MIT, each student receives access to his or her own node on an OpenStack cloud. The hardware infrastructure is provided by 24 Dell laptops, which Rackspace has combined to create what it calls a "cloud in the box."
Rackspace has released a video detailing the class:
Although academia isn't always the first place commercial vendors tend to look to increase the exposure of their products, Rackspace is doing something smart, I'd say, by reaching out to MIT and other educational institutions. This is where the next generation of cloud computing scientists is forming. It's also a hotbed of innovation, especially when it comes to open source technology such as OpenStack.
And on that note, MIT seems a particularly fitting place to promote OpenStack. It was there, after all, that the open source (or, to use a term more proper in this context, Free Software) movement had its origins when Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, reportedly became frustrated with his lack of access to buggy proprietary code used to drive printers in an MIT computer lab. MIT also remains crucial to many open source projects today, such as Kerberos.
And perhaps most importantly, MIT is helping to pioneer the emerging Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement with its OpenCourseWare initiative. Right now, of course, the Rackspace OpenStack course shares little in common with the MOOC model. But both endeavors reflect highly creative thinking at the confluence of education and cloud computing. That intersection might not be able to lay claim to the largest number of investment dollars, but in intellectual terms, it promises to be one of the most fertile territories for innovation going forward.