Here Comes the Sun

Why can’t we all just get along -- we, in this case, being the multitude of databases and information in your campus’ systems? It’s the year 2002 already. Shouldn’t devices be smarter, shouldn’t information flow more freely and shouldn’t your school get a good return on the technology investments it makes? Maybe it’s time to take a look at something new.

Founded 20 years ago when it developed a workstation for the Stanford University Network, Sun Microsystems has always been proud of its educational roots. It is just as proud of its open systems standards. And its Open Net Environment -- known as Sun ONE -- along with a bouquet of software products, can help your departments and databases “talk” to each other, keeping students, faculty and staff connected.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. The evolution of Sun ONE starts with a closed environment. Perhaps run on a huge mainframe, the closed network requires that you install applications written for specific functions and customized to function with your current software. While this worked well for a while, there is only so much these closed applications can do. Maintaining and updating them also becomes costly and time consuming. “It can take five minutes to fix a problem, and then 45 minutes to test the solution,” explains Dinesh Bahal, director of educational solutions for Sun.

Moving all of these applications to the Web offers a more nimble solution. Based on the concept of a directory, Web application environments let you have entries for students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, classes and school buildings. They might also include services such as calendars, e-mail, registration, textbook buying and ticket sales. At first, hosting and coordinating these services on the Web was complicated but, as technology evolved, Web-based information management solutions are now the norm.

Yet, they are still cumbersome. Multiple passwords are needed and clusters of information don’t communicate with each other. Enter Sun ONE, a set of standards based around XML for creating, assembling and deploying Web serves. “Everything interacts with everything else,” explains Bahal. “For instance, if a student is trying to register for a new semester but still has some outstanding parking fines, a red flag will pop up.”

Sun One might also change the way students buy their books. A student may register for several different book-buying services and then explicitly allow those services to access his or her class schedule. At the same time, instructors could publish a class schedule on a calendar service, along with the books to be read by certain dates during the semester. With explicit permission, bookstores might combine information from the student’s class registration and the instructor’s class calendar and e-mail students offers for the right books at the right time.

Bahal also sees how something as small as a class change can send ripples through the system. “A professor reschedules a class. The product can let each of that professor’s students know when and where the new class is taking place and then shift their schedules accordingly. It can also let the building service know that light, heat or air conditioning needs have changed.” The information can be sent to PCs, Macs, Palm Pilots or cell phones. “Our mantra is, ‘anywhere, anyone, anytime on any device,’” says Bahal. Parents can also be included in the information chain.

What this means for institutions is speed, agility, easy changes and, therefore, reduced costs. It also means that, since Sun ONE is an open system, it does not require the use of a particular directory platform. It uses a directory based on the LDAP Internet standard so, while it includes the iPlanet Directory Server (one of the many iPlanet software products offered by Sun Microsystems), any LDAP-based directory can be used. Ultimately, it allows you to maximize your current assets without incurring the added costs of ripping out and replacing their current environment.

Universities can purchase and run the Sun products on their own or they could join the 100 or so schools like Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and sign on with Campus Pipeline, Inc.’s, 3.0.1 Web Platform. Campus Pipeline uses Sun ONE technology to offer the benefits of “greater flexibility, functionality and scalability at a much lower price than they could secure on their own,” reports Craig Spencer, senior manager of strategic marketing Campus Pipeline.

Ultimately, the biggest benefit of the product is openness. “We’ve integrated the Sun ONE architecture to offer an open and integratable solution for customers -- providing the ease of integrated products but the choice to use others,” says Ed Zander, Sun’s president and chief operating officer. “No one else offers this approach.”