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Newcastle Selects Grouper to Support Collaborative Research

Newcastle University and Grouper logos April, 2010

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Solution Summary

Newcastle University, located in northeast England, decided Grouper was the right choice to provide access to the wide range of tools and resources its research-intensive community requires. Grouper’s flexibility, support for multiple interfaces and strong community of developers and users were all cited as factors in the decision.


Products & Services

Community Resources

Funding Sources

  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant No. OCI-0330626, OCI-0721896, and OCI-1032468
  • Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) (UK)
  • University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, University of Washington, University of Memphis, University of Bristol (UK)

Located in the northeastern part of England, Newcastle University is a forward-looking, research-intensive community of more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff.

Members of the community need convenient access to a range of tools and scholarly resources to advance their projects. But with Newcastle’s research programs spanning a wide spectrum and crossing subject boundaries and faculty divides, group and resource access management present a significant challenge. The fact that Newcastle includes a medical school adds to the complexity, since medical students are affiliated with both the university and with various teaching hospitals, as are most of their instructors.

After looking at several alternative tools and strategies, Newcastle selected Internet2’s Grouper and Shibboleth® Single Sign-on and Federating Software for group and resource access management.

The Problem

Until recently, the identity and group management services within the Newcastle community were managed in an ad hoc way. Despite the numerous departments, research institutes and research centers on campus, there was no central directory for the majority of the identity information. Most groups had their own group management process, ranging from informal knowledge to papers on bulletin boards to data in Excel spreadsheets.

Newcastle recognized the need for a flexible, centralized group management system that would provide a better user experience, greater consistency in service, and lower application development times. A federated approach was considered crucial to handle the prevalence of collaborations outside the institute, with regional partners and other regional universities, hospitals and health services.

The Solution

According to Caleb Racey, leader of Newcastle’s middleware team, the university chose Grouper “because it was flexible, was able to understand our fragmented identity stores, and supported multiple user interfaces, enfranchising different user types. We also liked the fact that Grouper is a mature product, developed by people active in group management for years, with a strong community of developers and users.” One more important advantage was that Grouper would integrate with Shibboleth, the open-source software package for federated web single sign-on.

The Result

Grouper was flexible...and supported multiple user interfaces, enfranchising different user types.

The first deployment of Grouper involved provisioning access to wikis throughout the university. Based on the success of that implementation, Newcastle then deployed Grouper to provide role-based access control to manage campus room bookings. This implementation involves using Grouper’s web services and Talend (an open source data integration tool) to export Grouper user roles and load them into the Scientia Syllabus Plus Room Booking service.

Making the system more efficient, Newcastle uses the Grouper Loader to bring their organization structure into Grouper, and that “org chart” data is automatically updated at intervals to reflect any changes. This allows room booking access to be assigned to a department or team, without having to individually assign access to each member.

The library also uses Grouper, combined with Shibboleth, for controlling access to online archived resources and other key resources. Next, Newcastle plans to leverage Grouper’s new audit functions, in combination with Shibboleth, to begin tackling issues of user access control and delegated authority.