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U Penn Nanofab Lab Quickly Erects Admin App on Public Cloud Platform

A fabrication lab at the University of Pennsylvania turned to a cloud platform to build an application for managing the operations of a new lab in "just a few weeks." The university's Quattrone Nanofabrication Lab turned to Mendix, which has a public cloud platform for building, hosting and launching applications, to create a program for managing the lab's scheduling, billing and analytical processes. Previously, these same functions were handled manually, in time-consuming processes.

  The Quattrone Nanofabrication Lab is located in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. Image courtesy of Albert Vecerka/Esto.
The Quattrone Nanofabrication Lab is located in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. Image courtesy of Albert Vecerka/Esto.

The lab engineers had a limited budget, which precluded the use of going to an off-the-shelf solution; and because the schedule was tight, they also couldn't expect the university's IT department to tackle the project in time for the lab's opening.

"It was essential that we delivered this app quickly and cost-effectively to get our outdated systems up to speed," said Noah Clay, director of nanofabrication. "Traditional development and integration times would have been anywhere from six to 12 months. With Mendix, we were able to get our application up and running in just a few weeks."

The engineers handled the development of the application, which performs billing of usage fees to internal and external users, reservation of equipment and reporting functions. The lab expects to save "days of work" each month on the billing tasks and to track lab equipment more closely. The reporting functionality will improve data used in research grant renewal.

The Mendix service is called an "enterprise application platform as a service" or APaaS by Gartner and an enterprise public cloud platform by Forrester. Customers use online software to create their own programs for multiple devices through a visual modeling environment. The service can also host the software.

Although a free "community" edition of the service is available for testing purposes, a "basic" version starts at $1,650 per month for a single enterprise application.

The company said in a statement that a version of the laboratory management app may be made available through the Mendix app store for use by other universities and research facilities.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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