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IBM challenges NC State students to hack its BlueMix XaaS platform

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Last month, IBM jStart challenged more than 30 students at North Carolina State University to hack IBM’s next generation everything as a service (XaaS) and cloud platform called IBM BlueMix. The theme of the hackathon focused on rapid web application development as well as social data web applications.

During the event, students were invited to compete in small teams to build applications on the IBM BlueMix platform. This provided IBM an opportunity to gather feedback on how developers may utilize key services while building applications.

What is IBM BlueMix?

As mentioned before, IBM BlueMix is a next generation XaaS and cloud platform. It is currently in the private beta phase for select clients and customers. BlueMix leverages Cloud Foundry, OpenStack, SoftLayer and several IBM enterprise software applications.

The goal of BlueMix is to allow developers to rapidly build, deploy and manage cloud applications while also enabling users to benefit from a growing ecosystem of available services and runtime frameworks.

NC State Students & IBMers

Ready, set, hack…

The students were given early access to the BlueMix environment four days prior to the start of the on-site hackathon. Students were challenged to create a novel application that incorporated a social data source as well as used one or more pre-specified BlueMix services.

Each team then worked for several days to develop an application that would be presented to a panel of judges including representation from IBM as well as the department heads from the university.  The students were judged on application functionality as well as the presentation and demonstration of their application.

The students of NC State University definitely brought their A-Game and submitted applications that were truly novel while successfully using a new IBM platform.

“It was great to hear all of the innovative ideas from the hackathon participants. It was exciting to see how quickly the NC State students could take their ideas and implement an application using the BlueMix technology.” – John Feller, Event Coordinator and Manager for IBM jStart Emerging Technologies Development (Hackathon Judge)

The winning team: Shashank Chandre Gowda, Aaron Pope, Charles Hensley

And the winning application was…

Although there were many amazing submissions, in the end the judges chose an application called SMS4Twitter that allows users to set an alert that monitors tweets real-time from a specific set of users, and looks for keywords identified by the user of the application. If the application finds a match, it then sends an alert to the user’s phone. The team was able to rapidly combine pre-built services already available on BlueMix into a new application solution.

Several IBM employees attended the event and served as judges, including IBM distinguished engineer Bala Rajaraman, who noted:

“What was most interesting to me was how the students could take a personal need or observation and quickly translate that in to a functioning application. For example, the need to quickly get informed on tweets of particular urgency led to building out an app that converted specific tweets from specific users on specific topics into a SMS message. That was cool!”

Why did IBM choose a university hackathon?

IBM chose to build on an existing relationship with NC State University to leverage an amazing pool of student talent in an effort to get valuable feedback on the IBM BlueMix user experience.

Following the hackathon, the students were asked to complete a survey about their experience using IBM BlueMix. The survey results were very positive with a few highlights shown below:

  • 100 percent of students who completed the online survey answered yes to the question: “Would you recommend BlueMix to a classmate/friend for another project?”
  • 70 percent of students felt that using BlueMix is better than their traditional way of developing applications.

After reviewing the event, I was interested in hearing more about the user experience directly from the students who were using the platform. The direct quotes from the students were a great testament to the capabilities offered by the new platform:

• “I was not expecting to deploy my apps to be that easy. I just pushed out the Python apps and it worked. It was wonderful.”
• “I liked the ability to have flexible control over what type of application you wanted to make. Being able to close and open entire platforms at the click of the button made me feel empowered.”
• “This event was incredibly enjoyable.”
• “The IBM BlueMix Hackathon was awesome!”
• “Robust deployment, never crashed during push. Modern db/frameworks services supported.”

The Judges: Dr. Mladen Vouk, Dr. Dan Stancil, Dakota Medd, John Feller (not pictured: Bala Rajaraman)

In addition to the great reviews, the students also gave a lot of constructive feedback that offers IBM an opportunity to improve the platform prior to offering it to the public.

What’s next for IBM BlueMix?

IBM will continue working on BlueMix to harden the platform into a secure solution that can be offered to enterprise customers. Nathan Gibbs, Lead Delivery Architect for IBM SmartCloud Application Services explains the future of IBM BlueMix best by stating:

“IBM BlueMix is a promising new platform that handles infrastructure and services for developers so they can concentrate on building apps quickly as the hackathon showed. With IBM hardening and security, it will bring the same platform to enterprises.”

In December 2013, there will be a Proof of Concept (POC) for IBM BlueMix using a closed beta for a selected group of customers. There will also be additional hackathons early in 2014. If the future events for BlueMix turn out as successful as this hackathon, then IBM BlueMix should be on everyone’s cloud radar for 2014!

I personally love the idea of utilizing the talent available at universities to help introduce and get feedback for new products and platforms. It’s a great experience for the students as well as the company—a complete win-win situation! I would love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or follow me on Twitter @shelbee_se to continue the conversation.

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