NGSIS Platform Modernization

The ROSI system no longer serves the needs of UofT for a student information service. The NGSIS (Next Generation Student Information Systems) platform modernization is a vital project that renews the student information service.

The existing ROSI code will be converted to Java, and the new code will reside on a suite of servers rather than a mainframe computer. Simultaneously, the project will increase the University’s technological capacity to expand services promoting student success.

Future: JAVA Programming Language

ROSI was purchased from the University of Ottawa in 1996 and is written in Natural (Software AG). Natural provided ROSI with flexibility and performance. By today’s standards, however, ROSI’s capacity is very limited, its critical maintenance cycles are frequent, and its ability to integrate with the programming of newer systems is increasingly challenging.

In 2015, the Next Generation Student Information Systems (NGSIS) decided to convert the over two million lines of SAG Natural code to the much more modern and ubiquitous object-oriented programming language called Java.

Future: JAVA Computing Platform

The ROSI code runs on a DB2 IBM database management system residing on an IBM mainframe.

When NGSIS decided to convert from Natural to Java, Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI) began planning to replace the aging mainframe with a server-based system that could enable secure Web APIs to provide ROSI Services to other applications and facilitate real-time integration capabilities.

The Java platform sits atop the Linux operating system hosted by Cisco High-Performance Server Clusters. The benefits include lower operating costs and availability of system administrator skills.

Student Use of ROSI

Between 1996 and 2015, students used ROSI Student Web Services, a website, to interact with ROSI. In June 2015, NGSIS introduced a new user experience for students called ACORN. The ACORN web interface is already running on the Java platform.

Administrative Use of ROSI

Administrative users continue to interact with ROSI principally using an IBM 3270 user interface, or “green screens,” to create, maintain and report student record functions. Advanced administrative users with a strong grasp of the underlying DB2 database structure of ROSI and of Structured Query Language (SQL) construct queries and reports for academic and administrative divisions using an application development tool called Rocket Shuttle.

Extensions To ROSI

Over the past several years, NGSIS has added extensions to ROSI without touching the core DB2 tables or programs. One of these extension, ROSI Express, provides administrative users an easy way to run some basic web reports themselves.

Degree Explorer and eMarks are two other popular services that were built at UofT, run in the ROSI environment and now operate on the Java platform.

StarRez (from StarRez), the Co-Curricular Record (from Orbis), Student Accounts (from SAP), and Curriculum Management (from Kuali) are examples of vendor products added onto ROSI.

Structural Problems with ROSI

Nonetheless, the outdated ROSI technology has been stretched to its limit, and it is nearly impossible to make technological improvements to satisfy student need and the requirements mandated by external partners to the UofT.

The Goal of NGSIS

As initially articulated in the NGSIS Strategic Plan 2016-2020, the goal of NGSIS is to create and deploy technological solutions that help students fully engage in rewarding learning experiences and achieve academic and personal success, and that help faculty and staff in providing a rich and supportive educational environment.

Benefits of NGSIS Platform Modernization

Student engagement will be improved by introducing technology that is relevant to the innovative work that is to come. Moving those applications and interfaces currently extending from ROSI to the Java platform will facilitate their enhancement. Removing the constraints of the current platform will open up opportunities for real-time integration with new divisional and enterprise-wide systems such as the forthcoming Learning Management Environment (LME).

  • The Linux infrastructure will be secure and reliable. Users will use single sign-on (SSO) with two-step authentication – UTORid and eToken – for security.
  • The Java platform on Linux will significantly improve system performance for registration. With capacity to support 15,000 concurrent users (up from 700-800), it will also improve the overall performance of the system.
  • The renewed ROSI will be browser-based and compatible with Mac computers.
  • A new ROSI reporting engine will allow for web-based reports. The vast amounts of critical correspondence will be generated with new tools that use MS Word templates.

Testing and Implementation

Quality assurance testing will begin in early Fall 2017. This will be followed by three months of user acceptance testing performed by divisions from early 2018. Additionally, there will be multiple practice-runs to mitigate the risks involved in cutting over from the mainframe to Linux in Spring 2018.

The staff engagement in testing will ease transition, but it is noteworthy that most of the 3000+ administrative users of ROSI will notice little difference, as functionality and business processes for divisions will follow current patterns.

ROSI data experts in the divisions who currently use Rocket Shuttle to create and run advanced queries in ROSI will use a modernized version of Rocket that will be familiar to them, though it will require some training.

NGSIS is assembling instructional and training documents. Furthermore, a communication plan is in place to inform the UofT of progress between now and April 2018. The plan will tailor communications to the general UofT audience, general users of ROSI, advanced users of ROSI, users who print and gather reports from ROSI, users who operate systems that connect to ROSI, and IT professionals around the UofT.

Conclusion

Most significantly, the two systems will not co-exist. The cutover to the renewed ROSI will be definitive.