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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A baker’s dozen reasons for adopting the SIF 3.0 infrastructure

The new SIF 3.0 Infrastructure is the powerful "on the wire" part of "CEDS on the wire" that leverages that Logical Data Model to generate conformant educational solutions delivering real functionality to students and staff.

Specifically it:

1.  Is independent of the payloads it conveys and the Data Model which defines them
a.    Identical Infrastructure carries payloads from all 3 locales and any future SIF Data Profiles
2.    Fully leverages industry standard technologies
a.    REST, XQuery, HMAC SHA256
b.    Standardizes both data query and data updates

3.     Can seamlessly support organizations implementing hybrid educational solutions containing both:
a.    Cloud based REST Web Services (via the Direct Environment)
b.    Enterprise Backbone Services (via the Brokered Environment)

4. Standardizes  enforcement of site-specific data security policies
a.    HTTPS and Transport Layer Security (TLS) for data encryption
b.    HMAC SHA256 for Client Authentication (shared secrets are never placed on the wire)
c.    Directly leverages Client Certificates where used

5. Standardizes  enforcement of site-specific data privacy policies
a.    Clear ACL-based Authorization restrictions defined by site administrators
b.    Data Privacy Profiles define restricted subset of existing objects (ex: Anonymous Student, with no identifying info like name, addresses, phone #s)
c.    Administrator-defined Zones enforce Data Privacy Profiles (ex: Zone X students are all Anonymous Students, which limits only those applications specifically assigned to that Zone)
d.    Additional Zones supporting other standardized privacy restrictions (ex: no Student health or disciplinary elements) may be simultaneously defined and used.

6. Standardizes support for massively scalable solutions
a.    Multiple objects can be contained in single message payload (ex: Attendance objects at the end of a reporting period)
b.    Event Pub/Sub support allows data synchronization without continuous polling overhead and message latency delays
c.    Message Queue enhancements cut asynchronous message traffic in half

7. Is modular
a.    The SIF “Environment” is constructed from a core set of mandatory service interfaces and a broader set of optional ones
b.    Many of the optional services can leverage existing middleware where available (ESBs, Service Registries, Queue Managers)

8.   Is robust
a.    XML payloads ensure message validation can be transparently enabled
b.    Standardized error handling and asynchronous error reporting
c.    Administrative level service interfaces allow automated detection of network connectivity problems and service failures

9.   Addresses real world use cases
a.    Service Paths allow common queries to be specified with single request (ex: return all students in school XYZ)
b.    XQuery scripts can be predefined to return customized objects reflecting the reporting requirements of the organization
c.    “Contexts (such as current or archived) for student objects directly support longitudinal data accessibility

10.  Standardizes application-to-application interoperability at multiple levels within the organization
a.    Tablet-based Dashboard to a school SIS (locally maintained or in the cloud) via a minimal Direct Environment
b.    Multiple applications within a small district communicating with a single SIS or Data Warehouse (locally maintained or in the cloud) via a full featured single Zone Direct Environment
c.    Multiple applications deployed in both multiple districts and at the state level interacting with multiple data sources (a hybrid solution with some services locally connected through supporting middleware and others deployed in the cloud) via a multi-zone Brokered Environment

11.   Is supported by a formal certification program to ensure application compliance and interoperability
a.    Separate levels of certification for infrastructure and educational application products
b.    Test Harness available to check that a software component under development is SIF compliant
c.    Certification Suite based upon that test harness validates whether claimed vendor functionality is actually present
d.    Certification Report for each certified product allows end users to select products with only the functionality they need

12.  Is developer friendly
a.    The “Read this First” document provides a documentation roadmap to the 3 volume SIF 3.0 Infrastructure specification
b.    The SIF REST Developers Sandbox offers immediate hands on experience with SIF-conformant message creation and analysis
c.    An on-going series of hosted Developer connect-a-thons brings implementers together to ensure their products interoperate.

13.  Is free of any IP encumbrances
a.    The SIF 3.0 infrastructure was created through the efforts of SIF Community vendors, integrators and  end users, utilizing an open standards development process
b.    There is no IP license to sign and no terms and conditions limit access to the technology
c.    Public feedback on the specification is continually solicited

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