University of Wisconsin-Madison's My WebSpace

Increasingly, colleges and universities are finding that students, faculty, and staff need to easily share documents such as homework, notes, papers, theses, dissertations, and graphics. While file servers can and do provide storage space, wide usage of such storage has often been limited to individuals comfortable with technologies such as FTP. Similarly, sharing and collaboration can be difficult if technical expertise is required for sharing and collaboration.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) envisioned a Web-accessible solution to address the campus's file sharing needs. The result is My WebSpace, which has been deployed across the campus this year.

Background

Two and one-half years ago, DoIT identified a need for a campus-wide Web hosting service. At the time, UW-Madison had an existing document sharing system. This system acted as a secure document repository, a content management system, a community-maintained portal, and a collaborative project management system. The application enabled individuals to exchange information and to collaborate in work groups. However, as one DoIT staff member commented, the old system "was a system for geeks."

DoIT wanted to provide the campus community with an easy-to-use, Web-based system to support the ability to store, share, and manage documents and files effectively that would allow individuals to easily and intuitively collaborate with one another. Additionally, the campus wanted to provide students who wish to develop personal Web sites with the ability to do so.

What Was Done

DoIT assembled a task force to initially select the hardware, to be followed by a task force that would then focus on software. The hardware selection process evaluated three potential platforms before ending with the selection of Sun Microsystems as the hardware platform.

In the next phase, the task force identified and short-listed two content management applications that could support the needs of the new student Web Hosting service. It evaluated their in-house system and the Xythos WebFile Server. A three-month evaluation process ensued, with the DoIT team considering the feature sets of the two candidate systems including compliance with prevailing and emerging standards and the 'fit' of the software with respect to present, planned, and possible future uses.

The successful candidate system would need to:

  1. Provide the functionality identified.
  2. Be easy to integrate and adapt.
  3. Be scalable.
  4. Eliminate wasteful duplication resulting from ad hoc purchase of applications.

At the end of the evaluation, the Xythos WebFile Server was selected.

About My WebSpace

The result of this effort is now deployed across the UW-Madison campus as My WebSpace. The features of My WebSpace include:

  • File Storage - My WebSpace allows users to save files on a server that can easily accessed online from anywhere.
  • Web Publishing - My WebSpace supports basic Web publishing using a Web content folder.
  • File Sharing - Each user of My WebSpace can share a file or folder with an individual or group of individuals.

My WebSpace can be used with a Web interface that allows easy uploads and downloads of files from any computer on the Internet that has a supported browser, such as Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Safari. Users can also use My WebSpace as a Drag & Drop Folder via WebDAV (Web-based file transfer). Supported operating systems for WebDAV are Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows NT, and Macintosh OS X.

Users are provided with 100MB of storage, with a private folder for storing files and another to act as a Web folder. My WebSpace allows a student to easily share documents and files with the campus CMS, Desire to Learn, as well as other business process on the campus.

According to Cathy Riley, the technical consultant in DoIT responsible for the project, "In the university environment, we need to be able to put portfolios, resumes, and all sorts of information in a central location where it can be accessed and shared. Having Web access for everything from classroom assignments to research projects, as well as personal Web sites, is important." The campus was very pleased with the initial pilot implementation involving 400 faculty, staff, students, and teaching assistants. A license for up to 20,000 users was obtained, and the project was rolled out to the campus this fall.

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