Uni extends messaging platform to public IM

Third-party access key for collaborative research

In an effort to facilitate collaboration with third parties, Griffith University in Queensland has started a messaging and groupware upgrade for its 6000 staff and postgraduate research students.

The university's manager of identity and messaging services in enterprise information systems, John Scullen, said the main driver for the project is to "get beyond organizational boundaries".

"Universities are all about networks, not hierarchies [and] we are hoping to address these difficulties quicker," Scullen said.

Having chosen IBM's Lotus Notes messaging system back in 2001, this project will involve an upgrade to the SameTime IM service and integration with other enterprise applications.

"One of the major drivers for upgrading to SameTime is the ability to integrate with public IM networks like Google Talk," Scullen said. "We are planning on enabling students to contact our service desk using IM and it could also be used for consultations with academic staff as another avenue for learning. Integration with public networks means students can continue to use their existing IM client of choice."

Scullen, a twelve-year veteran of the information and communication technology services departments, said the university is unique among organizations of its type by having IT mostly "all centralized" and not faculty based.

Back in 1997 the university underwent a consolidation process to bring its staff information systems together with the initial drivers being standardization, SOE, and getting rid of duplication of effort.

"We had every e-mail system - from Exchange, Sendmail on Unix, and Mercury on Novell - so we wanted to standardize and went through a tender process," Scullen said. "We settled on Lotus and began deploying it in 2001. There was also a push for a centralized calendaring system. There are a lot of meetings and a lot of waste effort with e-mails, so centralized calendar was really important."

Deciding between Lotus and Exchange was a "close call", but the ability to develop applications "pretty quickly" was the clincher for Notes, and at the time there were a lot of Exchange-based viruses going around, according to Scullen.

"That was Notes 5 and it's not the best e-mail system in the world, but there are value-ads like being able to integrate IM with apps. We now have about 60 Notes-based apps," he said.

The new contract is a continuation of the existing deal with IBM, but Griffith took the opportunity to re-evaluate some products, including the WebSphere portal and IBM forms products.

"We are interested in the Portlet Factory to access Domino apps in the existing PeopleSoft portal," he said. "We want to look at the IBM portal but there is no thought of a rip and replace. In terms of forms there are still a number of paper-based form products and they easily get lost and misplaced. We will see if we can streamline some of those processes."

Staff have started using SameTime 6.5 and are collaborating with QuickPlace, which has "certain limitations".

"The interface we have is not great so we made a Griffith uni template," Scullen said.

Griffith initially ran the Notes infrastructure on Solaris but had some stability issues and after a while "got it going pretty well".

"When we came to an upgrade cycle of the hardware we migrated to Windows about three years ago," he said, adding e-mail for the 33,000 students is still on Sun's messaging platform.

With four Windows servers across two locations for redundancy and DR, Scullen is increasingly looking at virtualization for servers that have excess capacity.

"We're looking a fair bit at introducing new services. We are upgrading to SameTime 7.5.1 and looking at integrating telephony and videoconferencing," he said.