Located in Fayetteville, AR, the University of Arkansas stands out for its ability to combine academic education in technology with “real-life” enterprise database and application experiences.
“The university has incorporated enterprise systems in its curriculum for the past 10 years, in part because of the need for IT graduates with enterprise-caliber skills that was present in our surrounding business community,” says David Douglas, professor of Information Systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, and also director of Enterprise Systems. The University of Arkansas’ immediate community of businesses is impressive; it begins with names such as Wal-Mart, Dillard’s Department Stores, Tyson Foods, Baldor Electric, ConocoPhillips, J.B. Hunt, and Federal Express.
Douglas said that when the university developed its initial coursework, it collaborated with Wal-Mart and other businesses and began offering coursework on the IBM mainframe.
“This program gained momentum in 2007, when IBM, as part of its Academic Initiative Program, donated a System z900 to the university,” says Douglas. “We continued to develop courseware for that system and in August 2010, we received a System z10 business-class machine that included free hardware and software maintenance. These donations have been instrumental to the build-out of our enterprise computing program. … Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.”
Focusing on Enterprise Applications
Central to the University of Arkansas’ enterprise program was the IBM System z mainframe and other operating systems, applications, and databases common to enterprise computing. Three areas the university targeted were:
- Linux skills in an enterprise context
- Database skills
- Skills in strategic applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).
There’s no shortage of faculty skills in teaching Linux, but what’s been missing previously are ways that Linux can be taught to students that truly emulate the enterprise environment. While many universities focus on teaching Linux in isolated lab settings that use dedicated physical servers with small databases and applications, the Information Systems Department in the Sam M. Walton College of Business was interested in creating a learning environment that used larger databases and enterprise class applications in combination with virtualized instances of Linux that ran on enterprise computers such as IBM System z.
“As far as I know, we’re the only university in the world that presently runs the SAP application on a mainframe using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server [SLES] for System z, employing DB2 as a database engine,” says Douglas.
In its enterprise IT program, the university first puts students through an introductory course, where they learn principles of Web development, MySQL, Apache, PHP, DB2, and SLES. Once students have this foundation, they proceed to an enterprise environment on System z, where they use virtualized instances of SLES that are resident in z/VM.
“We teach the basic ability to do things in Linux, such as copying and moving instances of the operating system,” says Douglas. “We don’t cover Linux installations since the software is already loaded. But we do move into Web development exercises, where students practice creating HTML and PHP applications and running shell scripts. When the students bring these applications up, they also drill down into database drivers and Websites. At the end of the process, we assign students to teams and let them develop their own data-driven Website process—using SLES, DB2, and other Web technologies.”