Posting Legacy Data to the Web

Eye On: Ithaca College

When it came time to give students access to legacy data, Ithaca College (Ithaca, N.Y., posted it to the Web.

There were two major factors leading to implementing the Web-based access to institutional data for students. The first was an ever-increasing expectation that important student information should be made more easily accessible, and the Web is the best method for providing that access. The second reason was budget constraints that led to general downsizing. "We now have to work more efficiently with fewer resources to provide better service," says Peter Zabawsky, project leader of the Web development team at Ithaca.

The existing system consisted of a Digital Equipment Corp. OpenVMS Cluster, which uses an ACMS transaction processing (TP) monitor executing COBOL applications. The COBOL applications include embedded SQL statements that retrieve data from an Oracle relational database, which is then presented to users through a DECForms application. The application, which is used to present data to students through existing terminals and workstations, has been in place at the school for more than seven years.

When the project began, Ithaca College chose Windows NT along with Internet Information Server (IIS) as its presentation engine. In conjunction with these servers, Compaq’s TP Web Connector product was also implemented. "We experimented with four or five other Web application development solutions, but did not find a solution with which we were really comfortable. We actually developed quite a lot of our initial student Web access with another system, but switched to the TP Web Connector," Zabawsky recounts.

TP Web Connector provides an access path to the ACMS TP system and integrates directly with Windows NT and IIS using Active Server Pages (ASP). The product integrates the middle tier to the legacy system, using real-time production data. Zabawsky notes, "The ACMS transaction software and the Web Connector allow us to perform transaction processing on the Web. We were able to reuse many online applications, saving months or years of effort."

With the systems in place, much of the application development was moved from the back end to the middle tier. On the front end, client-side scripting is used to collect the pertinent data for retrieval, manipulation and submission. This architecture provides a virtual single point of entry for Web users and multiple exit points, depending on the number of servers supporting the application.

The initial applications Zabawsky developed include student account statements, academic transcripts, grades, class schedules, several financial aid applications, and a messaging facility for providing personal information to students. Development took about two months.

Zabawsky plans further development for the system. "We are currently working on an application so that prospective students can inquire, request materials and apply for admission to the college via the Web. We are also developing a requisitioning and purchasing system as well as planning a host of other projects for the future."