SURFnet ensures that higher education and research institutions can work easily and powerfully with innovative ICT facilities. These are always facilities that the market itself does not offer, that have a familiar identity, and that transcend the possibilities offered by individual institutions. They also pursue open standards, open access, and open source. SURFnet is part of the SURF organisation, which also includes SURF services and SURFfoundation. Together, they provide a wide range of services that are used intensively by hundreds of thousands of students and staff.

“Because Ibuildings is well versed in PHP, we can develop faster.” That’s what Frank Pinxt, project manager at SURFnet, says. Together with Michiel Schok, technical product manager, he explains why Ibuildings has been a PHP supplier to SURFnet for so many years. Ibuildings is involved in projects, but since June 2008 Ibuildings has also had a permanent developer available for maintenance and further development at SURFnet. In other words, a continuous working relationship.

SURFMedia, YouTube for higher education

At SURFnet, Ibuildings started SURFmedia, popularly known as YouTube for higher education. SURFmedia is a comprehensive, on-demand and live streaming media service in which some 160 universities, universities of applied sciences, university hospitals, and research institutes share videos. For this service, SURFnet wanted to develop an independent, generic interface so that all the files, often with high image quality, could be accessed quickly by thousands of users. Michiel Schok: “We were looking for a strong PHP specialist who could develop the middleware: the translation between the file database and the web-based GUI. That turned out to be Ibuildings.”

Customer is on top

Michiel continues: “Ibuildings’ PHP knowledge and customer involvement has made a significant contribution to the success of SURFmedia. We regularly adjusted our specifications during the project because our insights changed. But Ibuildings remained flexible and adapted its solutions without delay. She put us as the customer first, not herself or the assignment. Ibuildings has been involved from the choice of technology, via infrastructure and architecture, to the management of SURFmedia. Everything has now been running smoothly for two years.

Search, research into open-source search technology

The next project, SEARCH, came into being from SURFmedia. An investigation into the best search technology so that users can find files more quickly. Requirements: open source, proven technology, and sufficient technical support. Ibuildings researched five different search technologies and developed two proofs of concept, of which Apache Solr emerged as the best. It turned out to be the most powerful technology, fast, user-friendly and flexible, due to different search methods. For example, facet-based search, in which users can always find information from different angles. Very valuable in a large database such as SURFmedia. Frank Pinxt: “Ibuildings has produced a clear report with which we in our organisation can make a well-founded decision as to whether to develop this for our target groups.

Pragmatic and realistic in consultancy

The SEARCH project was not a development process, but rather a consultancy assignment, a Technology Outlook, as it is called at SURFnet. In an exploratory study, they always first examine the feasibility of a new service before actually developing it. When asked how SURFnet experiences Ibuildings’ consultancy, Michiel answers: “Ibuildings is very practical, pragmatic, and always considers whether and how an advice is feasible. Not a consultant, in other words, who writes expensive, pompous reports that no one then looks at. Because they also develop themselves, their advice is realistic and often directly applicable. A relief!

Easier login to single account applications

As a result of SURFnet’s good experiences, Ibuildings is now also working on a third project: COIN, abbreviation for Collaboration Infrastructure. This service is an innovative project in which higher education and research institutes can work together nationally and individually. It involves applications from educational and research institutions themselves, from market parties that join in, and from SURFnet. Frank explains: “Based on their knowledge of PHP and architecture, Ibuildings is making an important contribution to the development of middleware. One of their tasks is to build a platform that allows users of institutions that are connected to SURFfederatie to log on to all other connected applications using their own institutional account. That sounds simple, but it is quite complicated because each application and institution has its own procedures for authentication and authorisation. Ibuildings handled that very well straight away.
I haven’t often experienced anyone appropriating this technique, which is complicated and very specific, so quickly. We’ve delivered the first phase of this project at the end of December 2010”.

Flexible, critical and good work

According to Michiel and Frank, for extensive PHP knowledge you soon end up at Ibuildings as one of the largest parties. But there is more. Frank: “Ibuildings is very proactive. They don’t act as a development party that waits for the assignment and then gets to work. On the contrary, they think critically and pragmatically and certainly don’t just do what you ask. I think that’s an added value. Michiel sums it up as follows: “The people at Ibuildings are customer-focused, flexible, deliver good work and are very accessible at every level.
Because they listen well, you’re quickly on one wavelength and that makes me happy as a customer. Of course they have to keep proving themselves, but I don’t see any problems in that”.