Getting creative with Blackboard

I had me an idea yesterday. One of those ideas that I'm not sure is a good one, but wow does it make a certain kind of sense.

We, like all too many schools run Blackboard as the groupware product supporting our classrooms. There is an opensource product out there that also can do this, but we're not running it. That's not what this post is about.

First a wee bit of architecture. Roughly speaking, Blackboard is separated into three bits. The web server, the content server, and the database. The web-server is the classic Application Server that is what students and teachers interface with. The web server then talks with both the content server and database server. The content server is the ultimate home of all things like passed in homework. The database server glues this all together.

Due to policies, we have to keep courses in Blackboard for a certain number of quarters just in case a student challenges a grade. They may not be available to everyone, but those courses are still in the system. And so is all of the homework and assorted files associated with that class. Because of this, it is not unusual for us to have 2 years (6-7 quarters) of classes living on the content server, of which all but one quarter is essentially dead storage.

One of the problems we've had is that when it comes time to actually delete a course, it doesn't always clean up the Content associated with that course. Quite annoying.

This is a case where Dynamic Storage Technology would be great. Right now our Blackboard Content servers are a pair of Windows servers in a Windows Cluster. It struck me yesterday that this function could be fulfilled by a pair of OES2 servers in a Novell Clustering Services setup (or Heartbeat, but I don't know how to set THAT up), using Samba and DST to manage the storage. That way stuff that is accessed in the past, oh, 3 months would be on the fast EVA storage, and stuff older than 3 months would be exiled to the slow MSA storage. As the file-serving is done by way of web-servers rather than direct access, the performance hit by using Samba won't be noticable as the concurrency is well below the limit where that becomes a problem. Additionally, since all the files are owned by the same user I could use a non-NSS filesystem for even faster performance.


The problem here is that OES2 isn't out yet. Such a fantastical idea may be doable in the 2008 intersession window, but we may have other upgrades to handle there. But still, it IS an interesting idea.