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Sakai OAE Deployment and Management by Max Whitney

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A Note on Names

The original Sakai software descended from work by Indiana University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Michigan, uPortal, and the Open Knowledge Initiative. Lots of the original code came from University of Michigan’s framework, known as CHEF, the CompreHensive collaborativE Framework. (Programmers do love to stretch their acronyms.) As the new shared infrastructure matured, a joke ran through the community that this was Iron Chef, a reference to the Japanese competitive cooking show. It seemed right on the surface: this collaboratively built framework was stronger, smarter, faster, and more international than any of the preceding single-institution systems. It also felt right as an observation of the community in development: programmers and academics coming together across varied institutional cultures interacting in some highly formalized ways to duke it out over which implementation choice was best. Who would win the challenge? An established programmer from a long-committed university or a smart upstart designer from a tiny consulting firm? The software was ultimately named for the “King of Iron Chefs,” Hiroyuki Sakai, with hope that it would be the winningest of all education and collaboration frameworks.

After a couple of years, an effort to rewrite the backend services was undertaken. This started out as the kernel rewrite effort, morphed into the kernel rearchitecture effort, then got clear enough that it became two separate but aligned efforts called kernel 1 and kernel 2. A major user interface redesign was undertaken at the same time, addressing both the user interaction and user experience layers. Because the production version was numbered in the 2s, work on the next generation of the frontend of Sakai became variously known as Sakai 3 and 3akai (pronounced three-ak-EYE). It got maddeningly confusing to talk about Sakai 2 on K1 as distinguished from 3akai-ux on K2. The kernel team resolved on nakamura as the name for the backend services. This name benefitted from referring both to an Iron Chef, Koumei Nakamura, and to the first Japanese national to scale K2, Shoji Nakamura. Let it never be said that Sakai programmers don’t love the act of naming.

The name of the overarching product, of which nakamura forms one element in the framework, is the Sakai Open Academic Environment (OAE). This name primarily serves to distinguish it from the other Sakai product, the Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE). While OAE started out conceptually as the next version of CLE it is now clear that both OAE and CLE will continue on as distinct products in development and maintenance for as long as schools and organizations find them valuable. The numeric distinction between them had become misleading.

In practice, both systems get rebranded as soon as they’re deployed. Sakai instances around the world are known variously as Vula, Tusk, bSpace, and many other names, each of which is meaningful to the local community. Often it is only the technical staff that speak of CLE or OAE on a given campus. It is the branded, art-directed, living community of interaction that the students and teachers talk about.

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Content Updates

August 21, 2012

  • Updated Figure 4-1 with “REST/JSON” label.

  • Fixed a typo in Figure 7-6: pre.ecample.edu became pre.example.edu.

  • Clarified wording on page 55, and fixed spacing.

  • Fixed a confusing line break on page 96, keeping -O together on one line.


I received a tremendous amount of assistance in writing this book. It is a far better book because of it.

Without the dedication of the entire Sakai OAE Managed Project staff, there would be no software about which I could write. I would particularly like to thank Ian Boston, Nicolaas Matthijs, Zach Thomas, and Carl Hall for taking the time over the last few years to work through the fundamentals of OAE with me, long before we even knew it was OAE; Daniel Parry for his freely available guides to the Cambridge deployments on the 1.0 and 1.1 series of OAE; Bert Pareyn for help with the CSS field guide; Scot Hacker for the WalkTime widget and pointers on widget development; Mark Walsh for pulling a functioning Oracle 11 pom.xml out of his hat. Valuable examples and advice were provided by Lucy Appert, Sam Peck, Chris Tweney, Chris Roby, D. Stuart Freeman, Oszkar Nagy, Christian Vuerings, Ray Davis, Jonathan Cook, Erik Froese, Lance Speelmon, Eli Cochran, The Githens, John King, and Michelle Hall from the Sakai communtiy and by Andy Sears, Mark Reilly, James Bullen, Jeff Pasch, Madan Dorairaj, Mark Triggs, Payten Giles, and Zach Elliott at my home department. I am grateful to Mark Dukes and Dan Burner of All Saints Company for permission to use the image of Paul Erdos from the Dancing Saints icon at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and to Ludovic Poitou at Forge Rock for encouragement in using the OpenDJ Directory for the authentication samples.

I would like to thank David Ackerman for his foresight in championing this project from early days at NYU, and our CITO Marilyn McMillan for leading us succesfully through many a tumultuous year.

My editors Brian Jepson and Shawn Wallace performed an amazing feat in turning this book out mere weeks after the OAE 1.2 release date. I am particularly grateful to Brian for seeing the value in Sakai OAE and taking on this project before we knew we’d have code. Much credit must go to Ian Dolphin, who was my original sounding board for the usefulness of this book. The manuscript was made more readable by the input of my reviewers: Zach Thomas, Noah Botimer, and Denise Hand. All errors are uniquely my own, as are all unintentional descents into my native tongue, Unix.

OAE is about enabling communities of learning. This book would not have come into existence without the constant conversation within my communities: I am grateful to Holly Hudson, Dustyn Roberts, Alexis Goldstein, Herb Hoover, Adam Mayer, Far McKon, Bill Ward, Raphael Abrams, Shelby Arnold, Matt Mets, Ranjit Bhatnagar, Guy Dickinson, and all the members and visitors to NYC Resistor who challenged my assumptions as I talked this book through on many a long day at our hackerspace; Stefan Lisowski, Hilary Mason, Rob Faludi, and Michael Dory provided valuable counterweights to my occasional single-mindedness; my teachers: Dennis Shasha, David Weber, Jim Valhouli, Lalith Munasinghe, Sunil Gulati, Jim Shapiro, Edmund Phelps, and particularly Mr. Charlie Deardorff and Mr. Rick Parris, who will always have the honorific with me. I am grateful to Jim Bruce, who was a key mover at MIT when I got my hands on my first mainframe account, and has honored me with his coaching these past few years. Tremendous thanks to my dearest friends Tom Igoe, Joseph Hobaica, Clive Thompson, Denise Hand, Morgan Noel, my mother Ginger Whitney, and my sisters Beth and Alicia Whitney.

This work is dedicated to our Greg Sewell, the friends of whom continue to change the world.

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