SIF Association

This blog is run by the staff of the SIF (Schools/Systems Interoperability Framework) Association for the use of it's members and the general educational community.

It is specifically designed for those who are interested in understanding what SIF is about, where the standard is going and how Schools, Districts and State Educational Authorities will benefit.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SIF 3.0 Infrastructure (Very) High Level Overview

The following is taken from the Read This First (RTF) document, which forms the introduction to the SIF 3.0 Infrastructure release collateral.  For those interested in exploring the new SIF release in further detail, the RTF is probably the best place to begin.  It is located at:

     https://www.sifassociation.org/Specification/Pages/Infrastructure_3_0.aspx

 

Q. What exactly IS the SIF 3.0 Infrastructure?

SIF 3.0 is the latest release of an open standard infrastructure which began 15 years ago as the product neutral interface of an existing commercial message broker. This release brings SIF into the modern era by leveraging a REST based approach to data exchange. The key contribution the SIF 3.0 release makes is to define, coordinate and standardize the ways in which a RESTful educational service can be accessed securely, robustly, and in real time by multiple RESTful clients.

SIF 3.0 infrastructure is the first infrastructure release to be completely separate from the data model defining the payloads it carries, which means it can be used to support many different data models in many different locales. For example while the SIF US data model is based on CEDS, this is not explicitly reflected in the SIF 3.0 Infrastructure documentation.

Q. Why was a major release of the infrastructure needed at this time?

The SIF 2.x infrastructure was initially architected more than a decade ago, and the SIF 3.0 infrastructure introduces a wide range of needed new functionality. Of particular note are three ground-breaking design advances which satisfy long standing requests from SIF 2.x developers and implementers. They are summarized below. 

1. Make the SIF Infrastructure independent of the SIF Data Model

All current data model dependencies of the earlier release have been removed.  As a result, the SIF 3.0 infrastructure can carry SIF object data from any locale (US, UK, AU), or for that matter data in conformance with other major data standards, without change.

 

2. Offer alternatives and extensions to the required monolithic middleware component (ZIS)

This issue has been addressed on two fronts. 

First, the ZIS-provided message broker functionality has been broken up into a set of multiple, separately implementable Infrastructure Services.  These were designed to individually map to common industry technologies such as “Enterprise Service Bus (ESB)”, “Queue Manager” and “Service Registry”.  The SIF 3.0 Brokered Environment middleware can still be implemented by a single, monolithic component, but it no longer has to be. 

Second, the new SIF 3.0 architecture makes it possible to construct and deploy SIF-compliant solutions in a Direct Environment without utilizing any middleware at all!  This new SIF infrastructure alternative offers clients a standardized subset of the functionality available from the Brokered Environment, which means that these clients can be deployed into middleware-centric solutions with no recoding or reintegration efforts required.

 

3. Support industry standard transport technologies

The SIF 3.0 infrastructure documentation describes the service framework and associated core services and utilities in a platform neutral manner.  As a result, it can be mapped to any modern transport running over HTTP/S.

The defined platform mapping of the SIF 3.0 infrastructure is REST.  The SIF 3.0 infrastructure includes paged reads, synchronous IO and support for the primary REST resource design patterns.  XQuery scripts and dynamic Query URL parameters are both supported in SIF 3.0 replacing the earlier SIF-specific (and less powerful) Query and Extended Query functionality.

These and other changes allow SIF 3.0 solutions to be deployed in the Data Center of an educational organization using the identical technologies that are already present and known to IT personnel.  It also makes it easier for vendors to staff SIF-related projects as both the REST infrastructure technology and to a lesser extent.

SIF 3.0.  Everything you want in a SIF Infrastructure.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's here...!

The SIF Association is proud to announce the release of the SIF Implementation Specification 3.0 to the educational marketplace.  This latest release, developed openly by the dedicated community volunteers, is a data standards ‘game changer’ - offering ground-breaking transport design advances leveraging REST technology, and providing a ground up redesigned data model which can support multiple data initiatives!

This latest release - SIF Implementation Specification (North America) 3.0 - is made up of a globally utilized reference infrastructure and North America data model focusing on supporting the Common Education Data Standards initiative (CEDS). The new 3.0 infrastructure allows the transport of various data models including those from the other global SIF communities as well as data from the numerous “alphabet soup” data initiatives that are populating the education landscape.  In essence – education now can utilize “one wire with one plug” – not the never-ending proprietary API’s and “one off” connections!

To read the full press release, click here.

To find out more information, including 'What's New at SIF?', RFP language, and much more, click here.
To review the SIF Implementation Specification (North America) 3.0, click here.
To review the SIF Infrastructure Specification (Global) 3.0, click here.

 
 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

There's "common" and then there's "common"...

You may or may not have been keeping up to speed on pushback in regards to the developing Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These high level academic content standards are designed to provide a framework of “…what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them”. I have intimate knowledge of all of the political pitfalls of developing learning standards during my tenure in Ohio – it can be frustrating and alienating stuff!
 
So why does a technical standards organizational lead need to write on a topic that does not directly impact the development of interoperable blueprints for information transport?  The rumblings against the “Common Core” have now bled over to generate misperceptions around the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS). Like the CCSS, the CEDS project has engaged a large number of early childhood, K12 and higher education, software companies and government agencies. Unlike the CCSS, CEDS is developing a dictionary of common data definitions already used by schools/states and not common learning outcomes. CEDS is a common vocabulary blueprint that people can use in building their local and state data systems – it collects nothing and reports nothing. It works better to have one agreed to and collaboratively developed dictionary – not 50!
 
So why this topic in a SIF blog?  CEDS does not standardize how the various data sources located within districts or states transfer their data. The SIF Implementation Specification (US) 3.0 defines a dynamic application-to-application data transfer framework, which is secure, robust, and fully CEDS-compatible – plus more! The SIF data model continues to address the needs not outlined in CEDS but needed locally like transportation, food service, library, HR, etc. It has been doing that successfully for 15 years! While enabling various needs in the states, the SIF community must also allow for local data model needs for our UK and AU communities where CEDS is not a driving force. 
 
Version 3.0 contains “buckets” to carry academic learning standards (i.e. CCSS, individual LEA or SEA standards, etc.) allowing for local control of what students know and should be able to do and yet leverages common definitions of what the data is in use at all levels. Sometimes “common” is not that common...
 

Larry Fruth
Executive Director/CEO
SIF Association
 
 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SIF 3.0 first look: Embracing new standards and getting it right!

The excitement is palpable, the will is good, and the details are finally coming into the light. SIF 3.0 is no longer just vapor; large chunks are now publicly accessible in release candidate form.

How large? You be the judge of that.

  • Base Architecture (updated, some open issues)
  • Infrastructure Services
  • Initial Global Data Model
  • Core U.S. CEDS Aligned Data Model
  • SIF-RS (on the wire SIF 3.0 REST Mapping)

As you consider the above, please keep a careful eye on the following:
  • Internationalization
    • One infrastructure multiple data models
    • XML Namespaces pervasive and complete
    • Conducive to JSON environments
  • For the US Community - 100% CEDS
    • Fully aligned
    • Efficient on the wire
    • Eventually complete (early childhood through workforce)
  • Simple
    • Works with various libraries and frameworks
    • Favors the Data Consumer, Data Provider, Direct Zone Provider then Middleware
    • Modern (token based) client authentication system
  • Scalable
    • Reduces chattiness
    • Overcomes latency
    • Prioritizes traffic
    • Empowers flow control

So if you are an early adopter, working on a proof of concept, or just want to help refine by trying, start here: https://www.sifassociation.org/Resources/Developer-Resources/SIF-3-0/Pages/default.aspx

Improvements are welcome!