S.C. Panel: Information, Please

Portal to tap Novell's eDirectory for easy and secure data access.

Integrating directory services with a Web-based portal is helping the state of South Carolinas Department of Health and Human Services deliver a variety of information in a timely, convenient and secure manner.

Work is under way at the department to build portal and other Web service applications that leverage Java, LDAP, XML and other open standards.

The goal is to bring a high level of integration and "anywhere access" capabilities to the departments employees, visitors and affiliated health workers. They also need a system with the flexibility to accommodate upcoming mandates such as compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

All this is being developed using Novell Inc.s Extend integrated service development environment (formerly SilverStream Extend) and eDirectory LDAP directory server.

Customization Needed

John Loy, senior network engineer, in Columbia, said the department initially started with Novells Portal Services to solve its online business challenge but needed more in the way of custom development capabilities. "We added Extend because the portal services were good for out-of-the-box applications but not for developing your own," Loy said.

The department was already a Novell and NetWare shop, and its directories were based on Novell Directory Services before the move was made a year ago to eDirectory. The portal infrastructure itself is based mainly on NetWare servers. However, Loy said, "our previous environment was not one that was based much on open standards."

According to the departments Webmaster, Paul Gowder, key criteria for choosing a portal development environment included open standards and the ability to tightly integrate with existing department systems. "The last two years, weve been looking at ways to move our applications to the Web," said Gowder. "When we evaluated the various systems, we had a list of requirements; only Extend supported all of them."

Added Loy, "Our developers were initially looking at using [Microsoft Corp.s] .Net, but we found that it didnt leverage our directories well."

Among the projects leveraging Extend and eDirectory is an initiative to improve integration with the departments help desk system. "We are working on integrating our portal systems with [Control-F1 Corp.s] Control-F1 system," said Gowder. "We are able to pass LDAP credentials directly to the help desk in order to save users from entering data repetitively."

The department will also use the new portal to make it easier for outside workers who regularly deal with the department to access necessary information.

"We are working with Extend to provide nonemployees, such as doctors and health professionals, with access to information through the portal," said Gowder. "When they register into the system, their information is automatically created within the LDAP directory."

In addition to Extend and eDirectory, the department is using Novells iChain to handle authentication and identification management.

Although all new applications are being built with Extend, most of the departments previous client applications were written in SoftVelocity Inc.s Clarion and Microsoft Visual Basic. Theres even one vital DOS application based on Computer Associates International Inc.s Clipper. The department is using Novells OnDemand Services and Microsoft Terminal Server to provide thin-client access to these applications.

Ramping Up

The departments portal project is expected to be open for employee access by the end of the month, according to Gowder. So far, testing has been done with small groups of employees.

Loy said the department, which has had little previous experience with server-based Java, has worked with consulting company BravePoint in the initial development of the portal. Department developers are undergoing training on the portal, but this is being done incrementally so that other projects dont suffer.

The result, Loy hopes, is a dynamic portal that will be easily extended and integrated, while accessible to anyone who needs and is entitled to information. "Because of the open standards," he said, "we hope to have seamless integration—not just [technical] integration but knowledge integration."

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.