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Developing Rich Media Learning Environments as Part of the iCommunication Initiative

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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REVIEWER: Philip Repp, associate vice president for IT for Ball State University.

BACKGROUND: Ball State University is a public supported institution of higher learning and has an enrollment of approximately 18,700 students and 3,500 full-time faculty, administrative staff, support staff, graduate assistants and doctoral fellows. As part of Ball State University's iCommunication initiative, funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., the university has a strategic goal to test and expand the real-world applications of digital media content. To achieve this goal, in part, we are creating collaborative learning environments that facilitate cross-platform sharing and simultaneous use of multiple applications.

PLATFORMS: NFS and CIFS network file sharing protocols on Apple OSX and integrating with multiprotocol file sharing environments that include Windows, UNIX and other systems.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Ball State University established a goal to facilitate greater access and sharing of digital media (graphic, video and audio) among several programs and initiatives on campus in order to foster collaborative and interdisciplinary work with digital media. Central to the solution was the design of a storage configuration that must work well with Apple-created media as well as Windows-created media. In addition, it must provide the capacity for faculty and students to share, acquire and distribute large graphic, video and audio media among several working labs and studios as well as allow the media to be integrated into faculty and student projects regardless of operating system, platform or file type within a reasonable time frame of the request. The infrastructure must also have the capacity to handle large (500MB to 10GB), multiple and simultaneous requests.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: As a result of the partnership and testing, Network Appliance and Ball State University developed implementation guidelines for OS X systems and NetApp storage systems when sharing large graphic, video and audio media among several working labs and studios across a campus. The guidelines allow for easy integration of faculty and student digital media regardless of operating system, platform and file type. The implementation process and solution is a model for other universities seeking a resolution to the integration of OS X generated media in multiprotocol environments.

STRENGTHS: The solution resulted in a seamless integration with Windows and MAC OS X operating systems with file transfer performance that rivaled that of a local disk. In addition, the solution provided the ability for the university to support multiple MACs from one system for storing and sharing of rich-media files.

WEAKNESSES: The solution requires a third-party software (DAVE) to get 25% performance gain for access over native CIFS MAC OS X and non-native MAC OS X file systems.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The solution addressed concurrent access to share media files from OS X, OS9, and from Windows 2000 via CIFS shares, pricing options, configuration options for 30TB of usable storage, performance capacity for 1GB to 10GB files within workable time frame, full support for Active Directory, work with Tivoli (TSM), and options for further R&D and marketing plans. Most major storage vendors addressed the RFP.

DELIVERABLES: The benefits garnered from this effort are multiple. The establishment of a precedent for collaborative (corporate/ university) R&D that leverages the best of both worlds opens numerous educational opportunities. Students at Ball State are now enabled to collaborate freely and quickly across platforms and between campus-wide labs; staff and faculty are able to participate side by side with the industry in problem-solving efforts. Students now have the means to take ideas and stories and produce movies or music videos using this lab. This environment helps create student content, content distribution and collaboration - and a better university.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Network Appliance and Ball State University combined technical and material resources to create a real-world testing environment that addressed the business case. Both partners spent many resources and hours ascertaining the best configuration for Ball State University's digital media needs. The collaboration resulted in campus and industry experts working side by side and learning from each other to discover a solution to sharing large media files in a multiprotocol file-sharing environment.

DOCUMENTATION: Training and documentation was provided with the installation to facilitate proper administration and management of the filers and R150.

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