Reinventing ROSI: Q&A with U of T’s Enterprise Architect

It’s a project that will convert 2 million lines of code, replace a 1,014 kg mainframe server and will modernize U of T’s registrarial system, ROSI, for years to come. Set to launch in spring 2018, the Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) has been updating the system’s code and hardware to enhance services for staff and students.

Led by U of T’s Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration department (EASI), the NGSIS Platform Modernization project is focused on improving system performance and capacity, and real-time integration with other applications.

Frank Boshoff, Enterprise Architect at U of T and one of the project leaders, explains how the conversion will evolve, how it will affect users and what’s planned for the future.

Why is EASI replacing ROSI’s platform and how will this happen?
The university implemented ROSI in 1996 as a solution to the Y2K bug – the pre-existing system used two-digit dates and needed to be replaced before 2000. ROSI uses Natural code and runs off of a mainframe, which is a large server. While this technology served us for 21 years, it’s now time to update it.

In 2015, we started working with an IBM business partner to convert over 2 million lines of Natural code into Java – a more flexible and common code that could run off of smaller, web application servers. U of T’s Information Technology Services has created a private cloud with 48 servers. Six of these servers, also known as blades, are equivalent to the current mainframe and are much more cost effective. If one blade fails, then the servers will transfer the load to another one.

What are the overall benefits of the new system?
If you look at general systems theory, the more flexible a system is the more resilient it will be. The new platform will provide a foundation for future interoperability and “boundaryless information flow.” In the past the university has had many silos, and now we’ll be able to get the right information to the right people at the right time.

What are the direct benefits to users?
The system will be able to handle much more volume. In the past, it could handle 700 concurrent users during enrolment. Soon it will be able to handle up to 15,000 concurrent users, which is equivalent to all first-year enrolments and enrolments at UTM and UTSC.

IT professionals around the university will be able to securely integrate the system into their divisions because Java is a common computer language. As a result, it will have more longevity, and longevity is key for the university’s administrative systems that need to run for decades.

The new system will be entirely web based, with single sign-on using UTORid, and for the first time the system is compatible with Mac computers.

How has IT architecture evolved at U of T over the years?
I was an architect at IBM for 14 years in global services and in business consulting services. One of my colleagues summed my role up beautifully – architects compellingly trivialize the complex. Being an architect is a multi-layered function and, depending on the organization’s needs, they can work at the project or strategy level, or both at the same time. Since I started working at U of T 10 years ago, this role has become more important – linking the university’s mission and strategy to the IT strategy.

What is the future of ROSI?
We will be rolling out the new system to users in spring 2018, and they will notice that it is very similar to what they’ve used before. Now that we have a more flexible platform, we can build on this in the future and will continue to improve the system, and integrate more easily with other systems – in the divisions and in the cloud.