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The University I am working for is undergoing a major renovation of the ICT system. The team currently undertaking the task is designing a centralized system with the intent of providing most (if not all) services of the institution electronically. Most of us are academicians with little practical experience. The questions we need answers for are

  1. What are the systems (preferably free, as in Beer, and/or open) and best-practices in use in other academic institutions?
  2. What are the experiences of people administering academic ICT systems?
  3. What are the overheads of attempting to provide services through an intranet cloud (like UEC) for us (a medium-sized academic institution, in a third-world country)?

We would very much appreciate it if you could give us your take on the situation.

Thanks

EDIT: Based on the responses I got, I have added the following info to my original question. I hope this discussion will also serve as a reference for other implementers.

We have already designed a system and evaluated some products. These are some of the services our system is intended to provide

  • Centralized Authentication and Authorization (together with support for windows domains). Systems considered: Microsoft AD, kerberos (krb5), ldap (slapd), CAS, samba.
  • Centralized Network Services (DNS, DHCP, proxy, ...). Systems Considered: bind, dhcpd,squid.
  • Mail and Groupware (e-mail, collaboration, file sharing, calendaring ... ). Systems considered: postfix, dovecot, zimbra, openXchange, egroupware, kolab, citrix, Microsoft Exchange
  • Student Information System (Student enrollment, course registration, academic advising,... . Systems considered: openSIS, focus-SIS, Blackboard.
  • Course (Learning) Management System (with e-learning support). Systems considered: moodle, sakai
  • Web Portal (where all services are made available via the web). Systems considered: uPortal, LifeRay.
  • Human Resource Management System (personnel matters).
  • Financial Management System (All things finance). Systems considered: Peachtree
  • Knowledge (Content) Management System (for managing documents and information). Systems considered: Alfresco, Nuxeo.

Our goals are:

  • Minimum cost to setup and run. That is why we prefer free software. This is also why we are opting for server virtualization.
  • Reliable and maintainable. That is why we prefer opensource.
  • Secure.
  • Future-proof. That is why we are planning on implementing a 'private cloud'. Making our system easy to port if management decides to outsource ICT to 'the cloud'.

If you are a sysadmin in an educational institution or someone who has experience with university information systems, please share your experiences with us.

Thanks again

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We need more information, like what specific goals your trying to accomplish. –  Chris S May 25 '10 at 15:05

4 Answers 4

Welcome to the exciting world of e-learning!

There is an opensource product for e-learning called Moodle. there are many schools & business I know that use this product, although you will still need someone that knows what they're doing to heavily customize it to get the best out of it.

The other less known opensource e-learning project is dokeos.

There's also a standard for 'training content' called SCORM which you will learn to hate.

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Thanks for the reply. We will look into dokeos. I already have learned to hate SCORM as a means for simple (and flexible) course management but I had once loved it as a means for course distribution. In other words, SCORM is great for content developers who want to distribute course content (complete with tests, progress checks, and what-not). It however, is an unreasonable solution for instructors who manage their own courses. –  birukw May 26 '10 at 15:49

You need to be more specific about what you need it to do. ICT means very different things for different types of institutions (Cloud, however, means nothing in the way you've used it: "intranet Cloud" is like saying "internal Internet". Cloud services are, by definition, not hosted locally. If it's local it's a "cluster".)

Just in a very general case, I'd suggest going to Sourceforge, and looking under "Education". There is an "Administration" section that includes a number of OSS projects that will probably do some of the things you need done.

From personal experience, you're going to find that they're not really supported, and that they're pretty customized. Still, it's a lot better than starting from scratch, and you may get lucky and find that there is a package that is being actively maintained (some kind of yearly class project? Who knows.)

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Thanks a lot for the reply. To elaborate ... ICT means different things but we were hoping for some common 'features' of academic institutions. We have already looked at projects in SourceForge and a multitude of other sites (With no adequate resources to benchmark them all). What we were hoping for were expert 'directions' based on the practices of others. We eventually plan to outsource our ICT to providers in 'the cloud', whatever the term gets to mean by then. Hence the need for a future-proof design running on a 'private cloud' as provided by UEC (ubuntu.com/cloud/private) –  birukw May 26 '10 at 15:38

if you just require a web-app solution managing all all courses, assignments, online tests, etc. kind of needs ... then most suitable open-source package I could suggest is MOODLE

its a PHP-built OPEN-SOURCE solution... with a great community and have myself seen used greatly in several institution including mine

http://moodle.org/

too easy to implement also, using packages like LAMP/WAMP/MAMP/XAMPP you can get it working in seconds {excluding time for downloading and extracting} :)

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We already have a neat moodle implementation in my department running on Fedora linux and authenticating against MSAD (which we also use for the computer labs). We are using it extensively and it is very good software. It is one of the options we are considering for course management, together with Sakai (sakaiproject.org) - another opensource LMS. –  birukw May 26 '10 at 15:45

You need identity management and the business process around identity management before you can successfully do anything with the rest of these services.

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Thanks chris. That will be our priority. Is there a one-stop solution for IdM? We were planning on providing the "creation", "deletion" and part of the "management" aspects through the SIS and HRM components. All other components will be responsible for the "service" aspect and the centralized authorization and authentication system is to handle the "user access" and most of the "management" aspect. And of course, we will deploy a PKI. –  birukw May 27 '10 at 6:11
    
I'm not sure if there is a free product out there for this. Generally it's just a bunch of scripts that take feeds from your sources of authority that then dump the info into a database, which then feeds your identity providers after reconciling everything. Use whatever mechanism your group feels most comfortable with. Just think carefully and document your business logic before you get started implementing it. This is the foundation of your enterprise. –  chris May 27 '10 at 13:40
    
Thanks a lot. We just did an IdM.priority++; The sub-group working on that is looking into a platform called CAS from jasig.org. I will post an update on how that goes. –  birukw May 28 '10 at 16:10
    
CAS is more of an authentication system than an identity management system. You need to focus on how the data gets into (and out of) the ldap / SQL / whatever datastore that reflects the true state of who is and isn't affiliated with your organization(s). –  chris May 29 '10 at 14:54

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