Penn State University
Cincom Smalltalk Lets Penn State Roll Out Web-Based Access Without Losing Legacy System Investments
Penn State University, with 24 campuses and 80,000 students, wanted to make its huge storehouse of information readily available to students, faculty, and staff. First-generation web applications were mainly designed as stand-alone systems, and simply combining legacy mainframe systems with client-server functions quickly crashed key business applications during heavy usage.
Penn State undertook a massive internet development project designed to give students and staff direct access to its wealth of institutional information. Dubbed eLion, the new system would deliver a custom search engine, a hypertext listing of suggested academic and advising references, open access to student information systems, an artificial intelligence-based advising service, and a variety of support services for faculty, staff and students.
Unfortunately, PSU’s first solution, a two-tiered system, was unsuccessful. The mainframe was so overburdened that key business applications halted during heavy usage. PSU’s IT professionals realized they needed to off-load much of the processing requirements from the legacy system if things were to get back on track. Many of the data requests were being made by students on their own behalf, such as course information, grades, and transcripts. Ken Blythe, Penn State’s Senior Director for Administrative Systems, recalled the staff’s deliberations:
“Accommodating the web is meaningless if you can’t preserve existing application and database investments. We had been building mainframe systems for 20 years. As we create client-server and intranet applications, our philosophy is to transition and improve the capabilities ofthose mainframe systems, not replace them…So we wondered, what if the university could set up a system that would let the students help themselves to this information in a secure fashion? It would save on administrative expenses, speed information response and take a tremendous load off the university staff.” – Ken Blythe, Senior Director for Administrative Systems, Penn State University
With Cincom Smalltalk, PSU developers rapidly created a three-tiered system that reused components. Functions could be written once and placed on servers accessible by all applications, thus saving labor and equipment costs. It also meant that the system could be readily expanded, legacy mainframes linked to data access, and password-protected and authenticated.
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