With 45,000 students, 700 professors and 2,700 other academic staff across 18 faculties, LMU München is one of the largest universities in Germany. University Hospital Grosshadern, the home of LMU's medical faculty, is the largest teaching hospital in southern Germany, employing 7,600 people. The University maintains an extensive international network and collaborates academically with renowned partners from all over the world.
Like most modern academic institutions, LMU München is keen to explore new ways of sharing knowledge and supporting learning through the effective deployment of IT systems.
"You can think of a university as a loosely coupled network of people who share similar interests and goals," said Dr. Werner Degenhardt, Head of IT at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences. "Basically, a university is just a very large community of practice that wants to manage ideas and knowledge efficiently and to foster new learning."
Different departments within the University had already been experimenting with a number of online collaboration platforms, but there was no overall strategy. The IT team in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences decided to take the lead in introducing a standardised solution that would be flexible and extensible enough to meet the needs of all users in the Faculty, and potentially across the whole University.
The first step was to decide on the right technology platform for the new solution. There are many different products on the market, from e-learning systems through to social networking sites and project management solutions. However, most of these solutions addressed only one aspect of what the Faculty IT team wanted to achieve.
"To find a more comprehensive solution, we consulted the Forrester Wave report on collaboration platforms, and looked at the three leading candidates: IBM Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint, and Novell Vibe® (formerly Novell Teaming)," said Dr. Degenhardt. "We like to stay independent of individual vendors as far as possible. Vibe is based on an open source project, and although many of its advanced functionalities are proprietary Novell technologies, the rest of the source code is openly available. Vibe is extremely open and extensible, it integrates very well with everything that is already in place. For this reason, it was the most viable option for us."
The openness of Vibe makes it easy for the Faculty IT team to customise and develop new tools, workflows and services to enhance interaction and collaboration.
"Vibe offers a lot of functionality out of the box, and since much of its source code is open, more ambitious development projects are also possible," said Dr. Degenhardt. "With our implementation of Vibe, everything you might do in terms of teaching, research and administration—for example, sharing documents, showing pictures and videos, having discussions, assigning coursework and so on—you can now do online, and you can interact with staff and students anywhere in the world."
The Faculty opted to deploy Vibe in a virtualised SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server environment. The virtualisation is managed by VMware HA, which provides high availability and automatic failover, starting up a new virtual machine if the current production system experiences a problem.
"The combination of Vibe with VMware HA gives us a highly scalable and resilient platform," said Dr. Degenhardt. "We have approximately 9,000 active and regular users at the moment, and numbers are growing all the time. We opened our installation and have an account self registration for more than 30,000 eligible users who have regular contact with the Faculty's staff and services. If the solution is adopted across the whole university, the total potential user-base is about 60,000 people, so it's important to have an infrastructure that is capable of supporting them."
With Vibe, the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at LMU München has gained a highly flexible and extendable collaboration platform for staff, students and partners enabling them to access information and tools like blogs, wikis and document repositories online, securely, from any Web browser.
"The University has a global and inter-organisational outlook, so it's critical to make information available to people all over the world," said Dr. Degenhardt. "Vibe makes it easier for us to harness their knowledge, skills and resources. Increasingly, we are also establishing workflows that help to structure this collaboration and drive our projects forward more efficiently."
Novell's commitment to work closely with user groups and with the open source community is helping the Faculty to create a solution that precisely fits its needs, without incurring heavy development costs.
"Novell's approach to the development of Vibe is refreshing: they listen to us and take good ideas on board," said Dr. Degenhardt. "Vibe is growing into a really mature and powerful platform, so it's great to have direct input and influence on the direction that the product will take."
The solution is already popular with users, and looks set to become one of LMU's most important tools.