CIM3.NET Infrastructure

Collaborative Work Environment ("CWE")
 - Cloud Computing System and Service Description

Optimized to Support Highly Effective Communities of Practice and Distributed Project Teams

Description: We shall describe below, the CIM3 CWE (Collaborative Work Environment) system in terms of its application software (offered as a cloud computing service), system software, virtualized platform, system hardware, network topology, hosting facility, system security and last but not least the people behind it, and their mission.

Software as a Service (SaaS)a typical CIM3-CWE is essentially made up of four major functional components:  (a) an Internet portal; (b) an archived email forum, (c) a wiki (which is a read-and-write website) and (d) a file sharing workspace. Working in tandem, they provide the users with unprecedented flexibility and versatility in terms of communicating and sharing their work with other members of their community or project team. Teams and communities (especially, communities of practice (CoP) or communities of interest (CoI)) can capture the entire life cycle of their endeavor - communications, process and work products -  into this highly flexible digital environment. The collaborative work environment (CWE) acts as a dynamic knowledge repository so that past work, experience and knowledge, will be available for future reference and re-use. All archived communications and work captured into the CWE are indexed for full-text search and for fine-grain (at the paragraph level, not document level) addressability through the use of hyperlinks (and "purple numbers".) The CWE can be effectively used even by someone who would barely know how to use e-mail and the web browser, all the way to power users (who, of course, can make the system do a lot more for him or her.) By doing away with a lot of unnecessary graphic user interface and bloatware elements, we managed to provide a high-performance, no-frills system that is extremely friendly in terms of "accessibility by people with disabilities" (see our Voluntary Product Accessibility on Section 508 compliance) and system efficiency, availability, reliability, and simply getting real work done effectively.

Highlight on its benefits:

o        the CWE is being offered as a cloud computing service, and thus allow users to focus on their work, and not on maintening and supporting the system that is needed for their work.

o        A lot of the power and sophistication is hidden until the user feels comfortable to take advantage of them (e.g. a novice user can communicate effectively with the rest of the community by just sending e-mail to the email forum, without even having to realize that his/her messages are being captured into a knowledge repository (where it is archived,  threaded, indexed by date or thread, indexed for full-text search, and automatically anchored for fine grain hyperlinking.)

o        Offered as a augmented system (and not a transaction system), the CWE is extremely flexible, thus allowing users to be creative in how things can get done more effectively, rather than being locked into pre-defined processes or work modes.

o        Allows even the everyday user to construct web pages in seconds. (With an hour's training, almost anyone can get a new web page up within one minute.)

o        Sharing files and resources with the rest of the community or team can be achieved with "drag-and-drop" ease.

o        The application is platform neutral, which means users can be running on different machines and operating systems, Wintel PC's, Macintoshes, Unix or Linux machines, even mobile devices, and still be able to effectively work with one another over this CWE.

o        Like the days when computing power got decentralized when personal computers became available, the CWE empowers community and team members to collaborate freely over the Internet, without having to rely on their webmasters or system administrators.

o        Because content (and hence the full life-cycle of a project) can be readily captured, shared and retrievable, the chances of subsequent re-use is highly increased and would then positively reinforce further collaboration, developing a "bootstrap" effect and a virtuous circle for its users and their communities.

o        The near-real-time shared "display" of community- or team-work will greatly enhance communications between distributed members, thus improving quality, and reducing the need to travel. This would result in cost reduction (saving money which would have been spent in travel) and improving effectiveness (because everyone has more time to work.)

System Software & Virtualized Platform
: The CWE infrastructure is developed by integrating about 20 packages of the best-of-breed open source software (see: ) to provide a highly effective collaborative work environment that is optimized for virtual Communities of Practice (CoP's) and distributed Project Teams. The system integration effort and value-add by CIM3 in that process is aimed at making the system robust (both in terms of security and reliability), scalable, and capable of high performance. Some highlights:

o        All components of the main CWE system runs on the Linux operating system (which provides a more stable and reliable system platform, and is less prone of malicious attacks.)

o        All users (including even the CWE-Administrator) can run and operate within the cwe system without the need for a unix level password. The (unix level) system passwords are available only to a handful of people; thus making the system much less vulnerable to being hacked into.

o        Good, reputable open source software are inherently more reliable because of their transparency, and because communities that work on them are usually passionate about what they are doing.

o        Both acquisition cost and maintenance/upgrade cost of the open-source software are minimal, making the overall cost relatively low. Coupling that with shared hosting (when the service and support cost is spread over multiple user communities), we end up having an extremely cost effective solution.

o        our CWE's is in the process of migrating over to an opensource virtualized platform based on the XenSource (ref. Virtual machines and virtual storage are being deployed for new servers, and existing services are progressively being migrated over.

System Hardware
: the system runs on highly redundant hardware made by reputable manufacturers. The current US government cwe's, COLAB and COHERE hosted by us, for example, are run on a Symmetric Multi-Processing) SMP - dual processor, IBM xSeries server, with a pair of RAID Level-1 mirrored hard disk drives for storage. This pair of redundant drives are backed-up, on a daily basis, to two other backup servers (both running RAID Level-1 mirrored storage), one locally and one remotely, using a reverse differential backup technology (employing the 'rdiff-backup' technology developed at Stanford). This six-way redundancy, and the scheme employed will be most appreciated by the very experienced data center manager; especially those who have gone through real disaster recovery of mission-critical production data.

Network Topology: Each server in the hardware cluster are connected to one another through a LAN (to support local operations, like file transfer between servers or backups), and to the Internet through a layer-2 managed switch. They are connected to the Internet backbone via a port which supports a 100Mbps full burstable bandwidth (in fact, this is being upgraded to a 1Gbps burstable bandwidth in short order.) The Internet backbone is made up of multiple OC192, OC48 & Gige's that are configured as a self-healing fiber ring. Network activities and performance are constantly being monitored, both by software agents and human system administrators, to make sure extraneous activities are detected early, and appropriately handled.

Hosting facility & Infrastructure: the hardware is colocated in a Tier-1 hosting facility in Fremont, California, which, besides supplying the high bandwidth, also provides physical access security, highly conditioned and redundant power (multiple levels of UPS and then diesel generators) as well as climate control. This facility has been named "One of Top 10 Networks in the World" and #1 Network for IPv6 (by Fixed Orbit <> - November 2008).

System Security: Our CWE system (as contracted by GSA) has undergone and passed the security audit in accordance with the NIST SP800-26 Security Self-Assessment for Information Technology Systems. The system's management control, operations control and technical control were assessed during this exercise and were found to be satisfactory. The report has been filed with GSA in Jul-2006.

The people: the CWE system has been developed and supported by a team of highly skilled and totally passionate developers and system professionals. The team is dedicated to the mission of enabling "more effective distributed collaboration and virtual enterprise through bootstrapping collective intelligence" over the Internet. They have been inspired by the "bootstrap" vision of Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (the living legend who invented the mouse, and pioneered, back in the 1960's, technologies like hypertext, the concept of multiple computing windows, groupware, video conferencing, just to name a few) that we will only be able to cope with the urgent and complex challenges we are faced with, if we could continuously improve on the way we improve our capabilities. The CWE is one step in that direction. It will provide the tools that enable or improve upon some of the distributed processes. However, the true power of the system will only be realized when the users collaborate with one another on their shared goals and missions as trusted communities.

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"Leveraging a Collaborative Work Environment to Bootstrap Communities"
     - by Peter Yim of CIM3  (presented to the colleagues of the National Science Foundation and Bootstrap Alliance, June 2006)
"Leveraging Effective Collaboration in Communities & Open Distributed Teams"
    - by Peter Yim of CIM3  (at FOSE-2004, March 2004)
"CWE System Walk-through"
    - CIM3 Training Material, (cc) 2002~2007 CIM Engineering, Inc., some rights reserved.

Peter P. Yim
President & CEO
CIM Engineering, Inc. (dba. "CIM3")

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