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A Lesson in Collegiate Community


 

Jonathan Rood, San Francisco State University (SFSU) associate vice president for IT, notes today's colleges and universities have changed a bit over the years. "Now, everyone has a life and a car, and they go to class and leave class; they don't live in a dorm, and they don't hang out with their classmates," he says. "That sense of campus community we once had is quickly disappearing."

           

Indeed, on many campuses, the days when students would hang around the quad discussing world politics or playing touch football seem like quaint notions from the past, swept away by the hum of modern life. But as SFSU has discovered, advanced technologies can reignite campus camaraderie with university students, faculty and staff able to become part of virtual communities, easily able to contact one another and keep on top of coursework, class schedules and day-to-day, back-office school operations.

 

Key to the success of a portal environment, however, is identity management. Without it, organizations such as SFSU wouldn't be able to allow single sign-on (SSO)--making it simple for users to log into the system--or enable access to information on personalized "portlets," as Rood calls them. SFSU is deploying such a system, complete with SSO and secure, tailored sites that students, faculty and staff can easily log on to and use to conduct school-related business. "We're offering a different kind of community--one that's online but no less effective," Rood says. "So far, so good."

 

Simple in Theory

As its name implies, SFSU is based in San Francisco. Established in 1899, it's home to one of the largest campuses in the California State University system. In fact, some 30,000 students now attend the school, and it has about 3,500 faculty and staff on its payroll. As far as its online community is concerned, that's not the end of it. "We have some 18,000 additional users, and that's not even including alumni," Rood says.

 

These additional users include both prospective students and recently graduated students, all of whom are given some sort of access to the SFSU portal. As Rood further explains, "As soon as students are admitted but not enrolled, we give them online community privileges, such as an e-mail account. When people graduate, we don't cut them off the day after commencement; they may take a class next semester. So the total number of users is more than 50,000 at any given time."

 

This large user base results in a lot of computer activity. That's why SFSU has a rock-solid IT environment in place that comprises some 19 eServer pSeries* systems running the AIX 5L* OS, including some IBM* pSeries systems running multiple partitions. Because SFSU uses the latest version of the AIX OS, it can share loads between logical partitions (LPARs), allowing the university to move resources where they're needed as demand requires. "If one LPAR gets overloaded, it'll simply pull resources from another," Rood says. SFSU is also running a homegrown student-administration system based on Oracle and PeopleSoft ERP software, which handles human resources and financials.

 

 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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