052712 alex philp

Alex Philp stands outside the headquarters of his four companies in Missoula recently. Philp’s work with big data – sorting, analyzing and correlating huge amounts of information – has led to partnerships with IBM and potential government contracts.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

A group of innovators at TerraEchos and IBM believe the future of analyzing massive amounts of streaming data may lie in part at the University of Montana, where a new course is set to launch this fall.

Designed to teach the basics of IBM’s InfoSphere Streams program, backers believe the course will open the door for students looking for global employment opportunities after graduation.

“At the end of the day, the people who take this class are the people we’re looking for in this job field,” said TerraEchos founder Alex Philp. “Our entire company is based on this technology platform developed by IBM, and these are the skills we’re looking for.”

Coding the software needed to analyze data streams measured by “Xs” and multiplied to a certain power isn’t for the faint of heart, nor are the applications for big-data computing still rooted in science fiction.

The technology is here, Philp said, and the challenges now lie in finding creative ways to make use of the data as it pours in from cyberspace.

“Maybe you want to build a smarter hospital, or maybe it’s better monitoring of stock market transactions,” Philp said. “Maybe we want to do a better job looking at fire modeling. All these things you can do by processing massive data in motion.”

Efforts to develop the IBM Streams course at UM go back at least two years. Philp said the move involved the city of Missoula, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and a push by the Missoula Economic Partnership, among others.

It also saw TerraEchos leverage its relationship with IBM while further building its alliance with UM, where President Royce Engstrom is preparing the university to meet the challenges of the “global century” by 2020.

The IBM program, Philp said, is a strong first step in meeting the 2020 initiative, both for the university and the city.

“Offering this IBM Streams course to an interdisciplinary student body demonstrates a commitment by UM and Missoula to be an internationally recognized leader in advanced information systems,” Philp said.

“This helps define a sector of our local economy based upon innovation,” he added. “It addresses immediate global opportunities for student competitiveness through next-generational information technology skills.”

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Eric Tangedahl, who heads the information technology department at UM’s School of Business, was selected by Philp and others to teach the inaugural IBM course this fall.

While teaching the Streams platform will be new for Tangedahl, it won’t be a reach to fill the role. He served as web and application developer for Washington Cos., and has analyzed large amounts of satellite data to model changes in hydrology after wildfires.

“While this is new to me, it’s conceptually the same thing,” Tangedahl said. “We’re taking large amounts of data and utilizing tools to solve those problems.”

By approving the course, Philp said, UM will be the first university in the world to teach IBM’s InfoSphere Streams as an undergraduate course.

While most technology users are more interested in sending photos over their smart phone or uploading videos to YouTube, somebody, Philp noted, has to bring it all together and make use of the information.

“The game right now is analytics,” said Philp. “It’s about providing the right analysis at the right time against the right sources to provide the right answers.

“It’s a Holy Grail problem and that’s why you see so much investment going into companies that are involved in big data plays.”

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