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Small Colleges Benefit from Federated Services

Federation Not Small Stuff for Small Colleges

October, 2008

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Solution Summary

The benefits of federation are not limited to research universities with large IT staffs. Using InCommon and federating software, small colleges can also extend their reach and the services they provide. Lafayette College has several federated applications, allowing for both on- and off-campus access to protected resources, including library applications JSTOR and RefWorks, the open-source course management system Moodle, an internally developed DHCP application, and University Tickets. Carleton College has federated a career services application from Symplicity and is looking at federating with a library database vendor and an emergency services provider.

Lafayette College, Carleton College and InCommon Federation logos Collaborators

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The Problem

Lafayette continues to add online services at the behest of stakeholders, including the library, as well as faculty wishing to collaborate with their colleagues from other institutions. Providing additional services, however, could lead to a proliferation of user IDs and passwords. John O’Keefe, Lafayette’s director of academic technology and network services, also wanted an uncomplicated way to provide off-campus access to services, using single sign-on technology. 

Carleton College faced a similar situation when considering NACELink, a career services resource from Symplicity, as well as other online resources. Joel Cooper, director of information technology services, says, “We have other systems where students have silo passwords and there are multiple resources that require new credentials.” Cooper wanted to continue to provide access to multiple protected resources without growing the number of IDs and passwords that users need to maintain.

The Solution

Lafayette used its InCommon membership and Shibboleth® Single Sign-on and Federating Software to provide access to protected resources. With this solution, the college was able to offer single sign-on convenience for its users and provide off-campus access to third-party applications. In the case of Moodle, this solution also allows access for appropriate outside users.

InCommon membership allowed Carleton to federate career services resource NACELink. “Our IT staff member was looking for a career services resource compatible with our architecture and he had installed Shibboleth,” Cooper said. “NACELink had all of the tools the career center wanted.”

The Result

Lafayette’s O’Keefe said, “[Shibboleth] has become our de-facto application to solve authentication issues with third-party apps, as well as internally hosted apps. Everyone is pleased that campus network IDs can be used to access more resources.” 

"InCommon provides a way for us to expand our services through third-party providers, rather than use valuable and scarce staff resources to add or maintain services.”

Joel Cooper, Carleton College

At Carleton, federating NACELink has simplified things for users—college IDs provide access to the resource. This success has caused Carleton to consider federating other protected resources. “We’re actively looking at others, particularly library resources,” Cooper said. “We are looking to use Shib for internal web authorization, as well.”

Cooper also said that federating can help a college or university strategically outsource services without consuming scarce resources.

"InCommon provides a way for us to expand our services through third-party providers, rather than use valuable and scarce staff resources to add or maintain services. Federating enables outsourcing while making it secure and transparent for our users. We can take advantage of services and applications that already exist, without having to worry about managing a different set of user accounts."