The Heart of the (e)Lion
On Saturday, October 2, 2010, the #22 Penn State Nittany Lions will walk on the field at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City to challenge the #17 Iowa Hawkeyes in a primetime competition. Both football teams have storied pasts and each time these teams butt heads on the field, it is a colossal match-up. Iowa prides itself in a blue-collar style of play, while Penn State football is best personified by their iconic and legendary coach, Joe Paterno. The fan base for each school is quite large, but the Nittany Lions boast, not only one of the largest universities in the Big Ten Conference, but in the entire country. With 24 campuses, 160 majors and over 87,000 students, Penn State is considered to be one of the top ten universities in the United States. Now, imagine the logistics of organizing such a large and diverse group of students, faculty and staff.
To help with these logistics, the university wanted to create a storehouse for their academic and advising references, student information systems and a variety of support services that was easy to search and access on any campus – a program they dubbed eLion, after their school mascot, the Nittany Lion. When PSU was looking for a software program that could help make its archives of information readily available to students, faculty and staff, they turned to Cincom Smalltalk.
Penn State began to use Smalltalk after their previous attempt at creating eLion as a two-tiered system overburdened the mainframe, effectively halting business applications due to heavy usage.
That system’s failure wasn’t a complete loss, however, as it helped the IT department realize one important issue – most of the data requests were being made by students trying to access course information, grades and transcripts at peak times which slowed down the entire system.
PSU began looking into a system that would allow the students to access the information they were looking for in a secure fashion that wouldn’t overload the system.
In response, they found that Cincom Smalltalk would allow them to create a three-tiered system. The existing mainframe would remain as the data server, while web servers would host applications and traditional desktop clients and thin clients running web browsers would host the presentation layer.
Smalltalk allowed PSU to save on labor and equipment costs due to its easy-to-use development software which put their client-server application on the web with very little effort in a short amount of time.
They were also able to save time and money as Penn State programmers were able to use Smalltalk to write functions once and place them on servers accessible by all applications rather than taking the time to write and implement them on each application directly.
Once the core system was completed, they were able to also set up remote web access and access through typical client computers like Apple and Windows, linked to the legacy system for database access and included a security system for password protection and authentication.
Smalltalk also allows for the system to be readily expanded, which means that more and more information can be added to the system and made accessible with ease.