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Mapping the JISC IE Service Landscape

Andy Powell provides a graphical representation of how some well-known services, projects and software applications fit within the JISC Information Environment technical architecture.

This largely graphical article attempts to explain the JISC Information Environment (JISC IE) [1] by layering a set of fairly well-known services, projects and software applications over the network architecture diagram [2].

The JISC Information Environment (JISC IE) technical architecture specifies a set of standards and protocols that support the development and delivery of an integrated set of networked services that allow the end-user to discover, access, use and publish digital and physical resources as part of their learning and research activities. The key standards and protocols specified in the technical architecture are listed in the JISC IE Architecture Standards Framework [3].

Before looking at the diagrams below, (for which a larger original is available), it is probably worth noting a couple of points:

The terminology used in the architecture diagram used below is defined in the JISC IE glossary [4].

Presentation layer services

fig 1 diagram (16KB): Browsers - IE, Netscape, mobile phones, PDAs, etc.

Presentation layer services provide the end-user with a “personalised, single point of access to a range of heterogeneous network services, local and remote, structured and unstructured”.

Almost all access to JISC IE services is currently through the end-user’s Web browser, though there are some exceptions to this (see below). In the future, one can anticipate increased access to services through mobile technology such as phones and PDAs.

Institutional portal activities, such as that being undertaken by the PORTAL project at the University of Hull, will provide members of the institution with a single, personalised interface to many of the resources they need to undertake their research, learning and teaching activities.

Figure 2 diagram (16KB): Institutional portals - PORTAL@Hull
Figure 3 diagram (16KB): Subject portals - SPP@RDN Hub

Subject portals, such as those being developed by the Resource Discovery Network Subject Portal Project (SPP) and the LTSN Learning and Teaching Portal, provide the end-user with a discipline or topic specific view of available resources.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), a.k.a. Learning Management Systems (LMSs), provide the student with a single environment within which he or she can discover and access learning resources and carry out learning-related tasks.

Figure 4 diagram (16KB) VLEs - Blackboard, WebCT, etc.
Figure 5 diagram (16KB): Library portals - ZPORTAL, MetaLib, etc.

Library portals extend the functionality offered by the library catalogue, typically including cross-searching of local and remote collections.

As mentioned above, most access to JISC IE services is through the end-user’s Web browser. There are some exceptions however. Desktop reference managers, like EndNote and ReferenceManager, and other desktop tools such as FeedReader and the Google toolbar, provide the end-user’s desktop with much of the functionality one might expect to get from portals and other services.

Figure 6 diagram (16KB): Desktop reference managers - EndNote, Reference Manager - and Google Toolbar

Fusion services

Services in the fusion layer bring together metadata records, by searching (using Z39.50 or SRW), gathering (using the OAI-PMH, RSS/HTTP and/or HTTP) or manual cataloguing. Commercial abstracting and indexing services like ISI Web of Science are hard to place within the JISC IE architecture. They are shown here as an ‘index’ (based in part on the generic name of the type of service that they offer).

Figure 7 diagram (16KB): Commercial A&I services - ISI Web of Science

Given that they don’t make content available directly (only metadata about content), abstracting and indexing services do not belong in the provision layer. However, the increased portalisation of these kinds of services (for example in the form of ISI Web of Knowledge) means that aspects of their services could easily be positioned in the presentation layer.

The two services that feature heavily in end-user surveys of approaches to resource discovery are Google and the library catalogue. Services like Google build full-text indexes from fairly unstructured content (‘Web pages’ made available from ‘Web sites’) in the provision layer. With the development of machine interfaces to such indexes (in the form of the ‘Google APIs’) these services can be said to fit firmly into the fusion layer.

Figure 8 diagram (16KB): Web search engines - Google
Figure 9 diagram (16KB): Resource Discovery Network, Amazon

In addition to its human-oriented Web sites, the RDN also offers machine interfaces to its catalogues of high-quality Internet resources. The interfaces take the form of Z39.50 and SRW targets, as well as more ad hoc approaches to embedding the RDN service within institutional services in the form of RDN-Include.

Similarly, Amazon also offers machine interfaces to its catalogues.

Library catalogues are another resource discovery service that feature highly in the experience of students and researchers. Most library automation applications support machine interfaces to the catalogue in the form of a Z39.50 target, though the software isn’t always configured to have this feature enabled.

Figure 10 diagram (16KB): Library catalogues - Sirsi Unicorn, Talis, etc.
Figure 11 diagram (16KB): RSS aggregators - syndic8.com

There are a number of Rich/RDF Site Summary (RSS) news-feed aggregation services available on the Web. Probably the best known is that offered by Syndic8.com. In addition to a human-oriented Web interface, such services also typically offer machine interfaces in the form of aggregated RSS channels.

Another form of aggregation is that offered by OAI service providers such as the ePrints UK Project. Such services aggregate metadata records from multiple repositories; in the case of ePrints UK these are enhanced through the use of a number of Web services, before making them available for searching or harvesting using Z39.50, SRW or OAI-PMH.

Celestial is a service that harvests metadata from repositories that support the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), and caches that data for other services to harvest.

Figure 12 diagram (16KB): OAI service providers - ePrints UK, Celestial
Figure 13 diagram (16KB): Xgrain

Brokers, like that offered by the Xgrain project, take a query from a presentation layer service and pass it on to one or more content providers in the provision layer. Results from multiple content providers are merged and ranked before being passed back to the presentation layer service.

OpenURL resolvers

OpenURL resolvers accept metadata about an item, encoded in the form of an OpenURL, and provide the end-user with a set of links to delivery services where the item can be obtained and to value-added services associated with the item.

Most OpenURL resolver services are expected to be offered within the institution, typically by the library, using software such as SFX from ExLibris.

Figure 14 diagram (16KB): Institutional resolvers - SFX, Sirsi Resolver, etc.
Figure 15 diagram (16KB): Hosted/national resolver - ITAM/SFX, ZBLSA, 1Cate

Where the institution does not offer an OpenURL resolver itself, a national default OpenURL may be offered for use by anyone in the UK higher and further education community. Experiments in this area are being undertaken by the ITAM and ZBLSA projects.

In some cases, institutional resolvers may be hosted off-site, for example using the 1Cate service from Openly Informatics. However, it is arguable whether this should be considered as a true ‘shared service’.

Shared infrastructure

Shared infrastructural services support the activities of all the other services within the JISC IE.

Identifier resolver services, such as those offered at purl.org, dx.doi.org and hdl.handle.net, take an identifier encoded as a URI and return an HTTP redirect to the current location of the resource being identified.

Figure 16 diagram (16KB): Identified resolvers - purl.org, DOI, handle.net
Figure 17 diagram (16KB): Service registries - IE Service Registry, UDDI.org

Service registries provide machine-readable information about available services. The JISC IE Service Registry will make available information about the collections and services that are available as part of the JISC IE.

UDDI.org (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) provides a global registry of Web services.

The Athens Access Management System provides a single, shared authentication and authorisation service for the UK higher and further education community.

Figure 18 diagram (16KB): Athens
Figure 19 diagram (16KB): Other Web services - OCLC DEwey auto-classification, babelfish language translation, citation analysis, metadata registries, etc.

A variety of other Web services are, and will become, available - including those covering terminology, institutional and user preferences and metadata schema registries. Examples of Web services currently available or being developed include OCLC’s Dewey auto-classification service and Southampton’s citation analysis services (both being trialled as part of the ePrints UK Project).

Content providers

Content providers make content available. Content is the stuff that end-users want to get at - scholarly journals, monographs, textbooks, learning objects, abstracts, manuscripts, maps, music scores, still images, geospatial images and other kinds of vector and numeric data, as well as moving picture and sound collections.

Content made available by institutions will increasingly be managed in the form of eprint archives and/or learning object repositories.

Figure 20 diagram (16KB): Institutional repositories - ePrints@Glasgow, DSpace@Cambridge, etc.
Figure 21 diagram (16KB): National repositories - AHDS, JORUM+, etc.

Content will also continue to be made available through nationally managed repositories such as those currently offered by the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) and the learning object repository being developed by the JORUM project.

Content is also made available directly by the publishers, for example the Institute of Physics Publishing and Blackwell Publishing, and through intermediaries such as ingenta.

Figure 22 diagram (16KB): Commercial publishers - IOPP, Blackwell, etc.
Figure 23 diagram (16KB): Discipline repositories - arXiv, Cogprints, etc

Finally, some disciplines will continue to develop subject-specific repositories such as those currently available at arXiv and Cogprints.


The purpose of this article has been to illustrate the JISC IE by showing where various services, projects and software applications fit into the architectural diagram. The fact that the positioning of some services is a little arbitrary is not a serious problem. The network service diagram is not intended to be a straightjacket into which all services must neatly fit. In any case, as indicated in the final slide of a recent presentation about the JISC IE technical architecture [5], end-users are unlikely to perceive a neatly regimented hierarchy of services anyway. Furthermore, as can be seen from the list of services, projects and software applications above, the architecture is not intended to say that the only route to content is through a presentation layer ‘portal’, i.e. moving from front to back through the diagram. Services will interoperate with each other in a variety of ways, sideways across the diagram as well as front to back. The diagram helps services to see where they fit within the bigger picture and informs the selection of standards and protocols needed to allow different services to interoperate with each other.


  1. Investing in the Future: Developing an Online Information Environment
  2. JISC Information Environment Architecture
  3. JISC Information Environment Architecture Standards Framework
  4. JISC Information Environment Architecture Glossary
  5. JISC IE Architecture - external trends and their potential impact

Author Details

Andy Powell
Assistant Director, Distributed Systems and Services

Email: a.powell@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk

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Article Title: “Mapping the JISC IE service landscape”
Author: Andy Powell
Publication Date: 30-July-2003
Publication: Ariadne Issue 36
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/powell/