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Improving Collaboration and Information Protection with Web Standards

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

A leading international authority on public health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) carries out its mission in research facilities and educational centers located in 40 countries. More than 1,500 students and 1,000 faculty work together every day in this global effort, managing 25 research initiatives including bio-terrorism detection, disease prevention, and healthcare management. Each initiative generates tremendous amounts of information including research data, analysis, and course materials created by its researchers, students, and faculty. In total, this output represents one of the school’s greatest assets.

Many of the files generated are too large to e-mail as attachments, so the standard practice was to load files onto a floppy disk and mail them. IS management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health needed a way to address this security risk.

“With a large amount of field work done in developing countries and remote locations, e-mailing attachments was simply not an option. A single large attachment could unacceptably delay communications for hours or even days,” explains Michelle Campbell, assistant director for IS at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. From a user standpoint, there was a growing need to access and share information quickly among participants in a way that was simple to perform and possible from remote locations.

The file system for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is centrally located and each area of research accesses the same file system. The IS team wanted to promote accessing the file system from any PC in the world by encouraging traveling researchers to access their files from any Internet-connected PC, such as in a cyber café. This would reduce the risk of losing files carried on disk or on the hard drive of a laptop.

The JHSPH Portal
The IS team’s first decision was to build a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health portal to provide a single Web-based point of entry for all users. Using Citrix technology for the branded portal,, users were encouraged to visit the portal for the latest news and information about the school. “This was a great way for everyone in the field to get familiar with using the Internet to access information,” explains Campbell, “but the portal was only the first step.” The portal solution had a document storage component that allowed users to store files privately, but it was difficult to use. Many users would go to the portal to access published information, but would not use it to manage or share their own information. They needed a simple way to post their files to the Web portal without having to learn how to become Web publishers.

Once the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health portal was introduced, the team moved on to the next step, finding a safe and easy way for users to post their own information to the portal and begin to share it with their colleagues. “We had discussed FTP (File Transfer Protocol),” Campbell says, “but it requires a client, which meant additional costs—including client licenses for every user and the time to teach everyone to use it. We wanted to try and find a technology that didn’t require a client so users could get to their files from any PC.” Users at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had already become familiar with using the Web-based interface of the portal. Campbell hoped to find a solution that could function within the portal that also wouldn’t require extensive training for its users.

The team identified a technology that was designed around the new Internet standard WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning). Xythos WebFile Server (WFS) provides users with safe file access from any Internet location via a Web browser. Support for SSL (secure socket layer) encryption for all file requests ensures that users can safely access their files from remote locations (such as a research site). At the same time, IS can protect these files by backing them up and maintaining them within a more securely managed environment. The WFS makes working together easier for users with collaborative features including file versioning, check in/out, logging, and automatic subscriptions.

Xythos WFS: Deployment and Integration
The WebFile Server’s J2EE architecture, built-in XML support and fully documented APIs make integration with other campus systems, such as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health portal, a relatively simple process. The WFS supports all leading servers, including UNIX, Solaris, Linux and NT/2000 as well as popular client systems such as Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. The WFS can also utilize campus NAS and SAN standards for flexible file storage solutions. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health chose Dell 2650 PowerEdge Dual processor servers, Microsoft SQL and an external SAN. The network is 100MB switch. “The WFS took about two weeks to install,” says Campbell. It also integrates directly with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health directory services, Active Directory, minimizing security maintenance.

Xythos WFS was introduced to users at the same time the portal was updated and re-launched. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health users were already familiar with the portal and, from there, were able to log into their WFS to access their files. Following the successful implementation at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins is currently reviewing WFS to offer its students “lockers”—personal Web spaces for accessing and storing their files.

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