B.C. college automates student identity management

British Columbia’s oldest and largest college is preparing for the next school year by creating the same kind of Internet services offered by rival post-secondary institutions.

Students registering at Vancouver Community College

this fall will be able to access personal e-mail accounts through an automated process that will create unique identifiers for a number of other future applications. A five-week project completed recently will serve approximately 25,000 students.

Vancouver Community College mostly consists of part-time students, but the total number equals that of major universities like the University of British Columbia, said Stephen Forrest, the school’s manager of network services. “”Even to spend as little as two minutes to set up a e-mail for someone, if you multiplied that by 23,000, you’ve got a problem,”” he said. “”We don’t have anybody allocated to doing that, especially it wasn’t seen as a revenue-producing service.””

Forrest said the school will offer browser-based e-mail based on Novell’s NetMail product, and provisioning is provided by Novell’s eDirectory and Nsure Identity Manager, based on SUSE Linux. Novell acquired SUSE last year.

Ross Chevalier, Novell Canada’s chief technology officer, said the costs around identity management can add up quickly, particularly in environments like education which see massive fluctuations of users entering and leaving the system.

“”There’s the training element — every product you use probably has some kind of identifier control,”” he said. “”If the average North American user has 11 applications, let’s say half of them have an identity-based component.””

Every time someone joins, leaves, or moves, Chevalier adds, those changes may have to be made a number of times.

Vancouver Community College is no stranger to open source — the school runs its Oracle database on Red Hat — but this was its first introduction to SUSE, Forrest said. “”Linux is Linux is Linux,”” he said. “”When you get under the covers, it’s really how you package it.””

Although e-mail is a first step, Forrest said the school will deliver online access to its library, research materials, class calendars and schedules through the same eDirectory tree. As a part of the registration process, Forrest said the e-mail provisioning should take about five seconds.

Forrest estimated that Vancouver Community College saved $1 million and freed up 15 per cent of the IT staff’s time by automating e-mail services through Novell’s tools. The cost savings were important, given that the benefits from the project are slightly intangible, he said.

“”It’s really a placeholder, holding your competitive position relative to the other colleges,”” he said. “”We’re not going to advertise it widely, but with students being students, the grapevine is really powerful.””

Chevalier agreed. “”When we look at the assessment of how education is judged by potential students, the student population, as well as the employers who hire students coming out of these organizations — they’re looking to see how competitive and how aggressive those systems can be,”” he said.

The school will be hosting its Web site on the Apache Web server, which is included in Novell’s Nterprise Linux Services.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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