Linking computer systems

Linking computer systems

ROMA – WHEN it comes to the use of computer systems, large organisations struggle to keep pace.
“That is why I am creating a system that assists large organisations to link their computer systems and to share data storage efficiently,” says Tankiso Kolobe, a Computer Systems and Networks Engineering student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Suppose you are NUL and you have a computer system called Integrated Tertiary Software (ITS) and you created another one called Thuto Yourself.
The first system manages the administration and the second manages the teaching and learning.
How do you link the two systems so that they share information?

Even more interesting, how do you ensure that schools such as NUL, Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education, Centre for Accounting Studies, Botho University and Limkokwing University (or a chain of high schools) share the same ITS-Thuto-like systems with you instead of each of the schools buying its own?
And how do you ensure that it comes with a near-zero chance of one school interfering with the operations of the other?
Those surely sound like three “one million-dollar” questions.

And these are the questions that Tankiso Kolobe is not only asking — which is good — but is also answering by creating solutions on the ground — which is better.
Big organisations such as NUL, high schools or even a government, struggle to manage big data they continually generate from students or staff records.
To make matters worse, some organisations are still using papers and paper files in 2018!

Despite the fact that some of these organisations are already notorious for complex bureaucracy — which is anti-innovation and anti-speed — the same organisations are comfortable wasting more time and money on the 19th and 20th century technology in the 21st century.
NUL, for one, is trying to shift gears. It has two computer systems that help to store and process data faster.
One is called ITS and another is called Thuto (education).

The former focuses on the administration side of things, students and teacher’s records.
The latter focuses on the teaching and learning side of things, course, marks etc.
More importantly, Thuto was created by NUL computer science lecturers (www.thuto.nul.ls). And it is maintained and updated by them.
Since Kolobe couldn’t have access to both ITS and Thuto, he experimented with an ITS-like Fedena and a Thuto-like Moodle to demonstrate his solutions.
But, “there is a problem,” Kolobe says.

Consider, for instance, that the two systems (ITS and Thuto) are not programmed to work together such that one can automatically pull information out of the other.
“This creates a situation where you find the same person being born in 1999, in ITS and in 2009 in Thuto (human error of course),” Kolobe says.
To make matters worse, some information that is first captured in ITS may, in the end, be required by Thuto and vice-versa.
Let’s make an example.

When first year students register at the university, their identity details are captured in ITS.
But, according to Kolobe, “it is not uncommon for the same students to have their names surfacing on Thuto, two to three weeks later because they were being transferred by hand from ITS to Thuto!”
A tedious endeavour.
Or let’s look at it this way.
In some cases, it is the other way round.

Teachers enter students’ marks on Thuto, but ITS, which is the ultimate end user of the same information, doesn’t know anything about it.
“My system solves the problem this way,” Kolobe says.
“Say you enter your information into “ITS,” I put triggers that alert “web surface functions” I created in “Thuto” that there is such information in ITS. In turn, the functions send a request to the ITS, ‘please send us this and that specific information, don’t send us everything.’”
The order is obeyed.

So when you update some information on ITS, you update it on Thuto and vice-versa.
Even more importantly, you can use the same system for a number of organisations.
“That means you don’t have to buy ITS and Thuto for NUL, Fokothi, Limkwokwing, CAS, Botho and LCE separately,” he says.
Rather you buy one — to save costs — and then use the same system for all the schools.
He enables this idea by creating the so-called cloud storage.

Well, let’s demystify this jargon but increasingly popular word a little bit.
When you are a big organisation, you normally need a physical server where you can store and retrieve your electronic data.
“With a cloud you store data, not in your expensive physical server, but on a cloud on the internet,” he says.
Storage is cheaper — no infrastructure and associated personnel costs.

No lost data — data stored in cloud normally has its mirror images in a number of locations.
Big data sits in a small space — clouding can squeeze more in less.
More interesting, when he stores data for these schools, he just creates different spaces in the cloud storage which do not influence each other.
That is, no one from NUL can see Fokothi’s data, despite both being in the same cloud.

Even more important, “the fact that Fokothi’s system is weighed down by its own traffic does not, in any way, weigh down the traffic flow of the NUL.”

Own Correspondent

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