Can Technology Really Reduce Costs and Improve Education?

Can Technology Really Reduce Costs and Improve Education?

Thursday, October 06, 2011 | Staff Writer

Faced with challenging economic times and the growing expectations of students, faculty, and staff many educational organisations are turning to technology for a solution. One recent example of this is King's College UDENTE (Universal Dental E-Learning) program. Faced with decreasing faculty and increasing enrollment they searched for a solution that could provide a unique and comprehensive virtual learning environment (VLE). They turned to Tier 2 Consulting, a Red-Hat premier business partner, to help them create their vision. They created their VLE using Red Hat’s middleware product line JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) and Developer Studio. The end result enhances the student experience, frees faculty to focus on students and research, and is growing by affiliating with other dental institutions.
Another example is the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA).  The largest of the three English exam boards administers to over 3.5 million students annually. AQA needed a solution for developing an extranet for its dispersed workforce in less than six weeks. Security was of utmost importance, along with the requirement for 24/7 access to the network. They also needed to support their 35,000 current users, while allowing for user growth into the millions.The JBoss EAP middleware offered them both the technical ability to scale their solution appropriately, but also provided the cost savings to help fund further development.

So what is middleware?
One of the best analogies describing the essence of what people mean by middleware is found in Red Hat Magazine. In the article, middleware is compared to the plumbing of a house. When someone wants a glass of water they go to the sink, turn the tap, and the water comes out. The plumbing connects the taps to the supply of water, but you don’t need to know anything about plumbing in order to get a drink. Similarly, middleware encompasses much of the information exchanges and software applications behind the user interface, the tap equivalent in the analogy.

JBoss: A prime example of middleware
JBoss is a suite of technologies combined to create a platform for Java applications. The JBoss EAP is the primary component, but there are additional modules available. EAP supports J2EE 1.4 services, Web 2.0 and is Java EE 5 compliant. Components of the latest release are Java EE 6 compliant.

One of the many advantages of JBoss is the ability to run on almost any operating system that runs a Java virtual machine (JVM). Another important factor for any middleware solution is interaction with databases. JBoss works with all the major databases including Microsoft SQL server, MySQL, Sybase, Oracle, and IBM DB2. JBoss EAP gives any organisation the ability to run standards based web and rich enterprise Java applications. Custom solutions are possible with JBoss Developer Studio.

Why is open source middleware important?
In the past, companies and institutions had to develop their IT solutions by piecing together applications from various vendors, or locking themselves into a commitment with a single vendor. These approaches required significant investments in terms of both money and time. Expensive licensing agreements, high maintenance, and integration costs generally only increase over time. Options for growth or change are limited because of dependencies on existing hardware and software.

Educational organisations are finding opensource, standards based middleware like JBoss and similar solutions from Oracle and IBM, now allow reduced costs of operation and a platform for continued growth. It helps organisations meet their goals, while keeping the improving the end experience.
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