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Virtual Learning Platforms Thread, Moodle - SalamanderSoft in Technical; Hi All, Just had a demo from Richard on this Salamander Moodle and I thought I'll share my info. The ...
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    matt40k's Avatar
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    Moodle - SalamanderSoft

    Hi All,

    Just had a demo from Richard on this Salamander Moodle and I thought I'll share my info. The demo was closed (I didn't get sent the files), so I haven't had a chance to fully fiddle with it.

    SalamanderSoft ltd (http://www.salamandersoft.co.uk) has create a program that will extract data from your SIMS system using Capita's business objects (so it doesn't void your warrenty with Capita) or any other MIS and then import it into Moodle. This will allow you to auto fill your Moodle database with your users and courses.

    Salamander Moodle is written in C#, just like SIMS .net, requires SIMS Applications to be installed (as it uses the business objects) and can be installed on a separate server to the SIMS server, (ie your web server). Once it's got the data from SIMS it then inserts it directly into Moodle via SQL. It supports all of Moodle's supported SQL types (Oracle, MySQL, MSSQL). It appears to pull the data into the system memory then pushs it out into SQL so you don't have to worry about temp files holding sensitive data. The application runs as a scheduled task, but can be ran manually.

    The extract program appears to offer good onscreen display logging, which it exports to a text log file. They use log4net (Apache log4net - Apache log4net: Home) to make the logs pretty. It uses the admission number or the internal SIMS id as the unique idenifier (key).

    The program has an excellent configuration files, XML, that pretty much allows every sort of customization you could ever want. Failing that Richard's only too happy to help.

    Now for the bad bits...

    Salamander Moodle is a program created by a small company, so it does appear to have a few rough edges, I can't comment any futher then that, I don't know about updates, QA testing etc. It does appear to be quite stable and it does have the excellent support of a small company (ie you speak to a developer).

    The program ideally should run as a service. I wouldn't expand on that, it's just a simple fact, I support you could use Firedaemon to run it as a service, or no doube Richard would be happy to make it so (nb. hehe star trek)

    Although Moodle can link into Active Directory (AD), which ideally you want to do, SalamanderSoft charge extra for pull data from SIMS into AD as it's a separate program. This basically limits Salamander Moodle to only create classes. This brings me on to my next point.

    The price of Salamander Moodle is quite reasonable if you compare it to other VLE, however, Salamander Moodle isn't a VLE, it's just a tool to fully intergrate it into your infrastruture. If you think Salamander Active Directory is double that of Capita's AD Provision, with a qtr of the annual maintainance, having said that, Capita's offering is alot more messy (in my opinion), requiring you to have (ideally) a separate AD, IIS and SIMS server. Still it is alot more safer, basically having a staging server, it's something I would be tempted by. There are "open source" solutions that could also do the job, however I would say Salamander Moodle is alot more cleaner, you can ofcourse create your own. I can't see it being that difficult, however it could get messy.

    Windows 2008 supports PHP, so getting Moodle running should be a piece of cake, if you've got Capita's AD Provising just you need to create the groups. Which brings us nicely back to Salamander Moodle.

    @Richard: Let me know if i've missed anything or got anything wrong.

  2. 2 Thanks to matt40k:

    dhicks (2nd July 2009), rpwillis (2nd July 2009)

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    rpwillis's Avatar
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    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for this - I wasn't expecting this.

    I would say that it's a fair review.

    A few minor clarifications.

    logs can be saved to anywhere log4net supports, including emailing and to a database.

    We are a (very) small company so support is not 24/7. I try to be as responsive as possible, but if I'm on an installation, a meeting or on holiday I won't not able to get back to you immediately. Definitely something you need to consider.

    I deliberately chose not to implement as a service. I've implemented services for similar applications in the past and you end up recreating a scheduling service, which at the end of the day, isn't as good as Windows Scheduler, is more likely to have bugs in, and no-one knows how to schedule without explanation, plus it's another component to maintain. Everyone one knows how to use Windows Scheduler and it's always present. I'm happy to be convinced otherwise though

    Salamander Active Directory is a different, complementary product, however if you are using LDAP/NTLM authentication with Moodle then Salamander Moodle will identify the users in AD and link them into Moodle i.e. it's read only with AD not write.

    Salamander Moodle can create/maintain users and courses/classes in Moodle.

    As you stated, Salamander Moodle is definitely not a VLE, it's a tool to help enable Moodle. You don't need it to run Moodle, but it is available if you want it's functionality and value that enough to pay for it. There are other solutions which I always point people to when they ask about it (http://blog.salamandersoft.co.uk/ind...facility-cmis/).

    The comparison with Capita's solution is interesting. The last prices I heard for it was that it was more expensive in the first year (taking into account installation costs) and cheaper in subsequent years. It is a lot more complex in it's set up which is due to it's origins as a tool to create accounts in a remote domain. Because of this, if any of the multiple components are down then the process stops working. Salamander Active Directory can also do more as the Capita solution only has access to a small set of data as opposed to the entire data set in Sims. At the end of the day you pays your money and takes your choice. Interestingly I do have customers who have the Capita solution to create the Sims Learning Gateway accounts, but also use Salamander Active Directory to maintain their real accounts (and automatically consolidate the SLG ones with them).

    Thanks Matt,
    Richard

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    I had a couple of sales calls and a 15 minute demo from WebAnywhere the other day regarding their Moodle / SIMS integration product. If I understand correctly this is based on SalamanderSoft's product, but is provided as an actual physical server that exchanges data between your SIMS server and your Moodle server. This seems somewhat like overkill, but WebAnywhere provide hosted or in-school managed Moodle solutions, so I'm guessing they're simply selling their standard ready-to-go Moodle server, I guess it keeps things simpler that way. It's also currently a tad pricy (£4,500 annual cost, I understood), but that price will probably come down after everyone's stopped panicking about linking their MIS and VLE.

    How much does SalamanderSoft's solution cost, just for us to install on our own system?

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    Hi David,

    I hadn't realised that they had started selling it. That's completely a different project that I'm involved in with several other partners. My only involvement in that is to provide the back end which extracts information out from MIS systems. It's about on-line reporting as well as provisioning. I'm not sure what the costs are of it.

    No need to worry about anyone getting sales calls from me. I never call anyone unless they've explicitly asked for information!

    The price of the product Matt talked about in the first instance is £999 + VAT per year with a one off £250 + VAT installation charge. I very much view it as a service as opposed to just a product.

    Regards,
    Richard

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    matt40k's Avatar
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    I think if you could make some standard templates, make a Moodle IIS installer, reduce the price you'll be god. Ok it's a bit more of a product then a service...

    Forgot to say, looking forward to seeing your next SIMS-based program seeming as you have read\write access.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rpwillis View Post
    I hadn't realised that they had started selling it.
    I understand they plan to have auto-creation of users and course membership done by September, with a snazzy plugin providing information to parents about a pupil's timetable and course marks by February.

    I'm not sure what the costs are of it.
    £4,500 for the basic server (includes actual, physical server) to transfer data between SIMS and Moodle.

    The price of the product Matt talked about in the first instance is £999 + VAT per year with a one off £250 + VAT installation charge.
    Sounds reasonable.

    --
    David Hicks

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    Just to make everyone aware there will be a third option for moodle users who require SIMS/Moodle/AD Integration.

    I will be release very soon SIMS2MOODLE - Enrolment and SIMS2MOODLE - Timetable with SIMS2MOODLE - AD Account Creator, SIMS2MOODLE - Parental Access and SIMS2MOODLE - Parental Email System to follow.

    The cost will start from £250 per year for support, the price will increase dependant on the number plug-ins.

    On-Site Installation will be available.

    The code will be GPL but only available for download with a support contract. The reason behind this to have a revenue stream that will sustain the project.

    This plug in uses Capita approved data extraction routines so no direct db link.

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