First, the fundamental network technologies and protocols at the three institutions are different. The University information network has 31 routed sub-nets and uses Ethernet topology with a distributed star physical layout. The transmission protocol is Internet TCP/IP. Note that Ethernet and TCP/IP protocol are standards for most institutions of higher education. At URI, 25 buildings are connected with fiber optic cable (primarily 62.5 micron Multimode Fiber; longer runs are made with 8.3 micron Single Mode Fiber). However, seven of those buildings are connected with fiber optic cable (50 and 100 micron) that does not conform to ATM and FDDI specifications. In contrast, RIC and CCRI are using ASCII based asynchronous (AT&T ISN) network technology -- a technology that is roughly ten years old and typically has very slow transmission speeds. All the installed AT&T fiber at RIC and CCRI is 62.5 micron Multimode Fiber, which is capable of supporting Ethernet and several new networking and telecommunications technologies. CCRI has no routed sub-nets and TCP/IP is not used as the standard network transmission protocol (roughly 98 percent of the traffic on CCRI's network in asynchronous). Similarly, RIC has one Internet node, the VAX mainframe computer (note, however, RIC is planning to migrate to an Ethernet with TCP/IP protocol and routed sub-nets in various locations). The three networks would be compatible if Ethernet and TCP/IP protocol were deployed throughout RIC and CCRI. This would require purchasing an Ethernet hub and other Ethernet networking equipment and associated software. Note that, generally, the network cabling and the physical layout of the networks are compatible across institutions.
Second, aside from these technical factors regarding network incompatibility, the possibility of making administrative information available systemwide was examined. Administrators at the institutions have, for several years, expressed interest in developing an interinstitutional student record system that would be able to handle transfers between the institutions. When the administrative computer directors were consulted about the possibility of developing on-line systemwide administrative databases/systems (such as student records, transfers, purchasing, accounting, budgeting and human resources), several general constraints were identified. Administrative computing platforms and operating systems differ: URI does most administrative computing on an IBM 9121 ES9000-190 running an MVS/ESA operating system; RIC administrative computing is done on an IBM 9121 9221-200 running an IBM - VM/VSE operating system; and CCRI does administrative computing on a VAX 4000-100 that is running a DEC VMS operating system. Because the administrative computing platforms and operating systems are different, there are likely to be considerable difficulties in developing systemwide information systems.
Third, in addition to differences in hardware and operating systems, administrative applications software are not compatible at the three institutions. URI has most of the key administrative systems written in Natural, and database management functions are done with Adabas. URI has 80 administrative systems, which appear to be a superset of the administrative systems at RIC and CCRI. RIC is gradually converting CICS/COBOL administrative systems to Adabas/Natural applications. RIC has 9 main administrative applications. In contrast to URI and RIC, CCRI has purchased most of their administrative applications from a private software vendor (SCT Corporation).
In sum, to make information available systemwide it will be necessary not only to address differences in institutions networks, protocols, computing platforms and operating systems, but also, to develop or purchase applications that can use existing databases. As indicated by the computer directors, the task of establishing the telecommunications links is a rather simple matter -- the problems of overcoming incompatibility of hardware and software differences will not be simple nor inexpensive. Years of work will be required to develop systemwide databases that have common user interfaces at URI, RIC and CCRI.
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