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MIT iLab Shared Architecture

Page history last edited by ron.evans@nic.bc.ca 8 years, 1 month ago

MIT iLab Shared Architecture


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MIT iLab Shared Architecture

(member of the Global Online Laboratory Consortium (GOLC))

Location: Originated in Massachusetts, but has evolved into a global effort.



The iLab Project
Center for Educational Computing Initiatives
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, E34-300
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

Participating institutions:

Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center (MATEC), USA (michael.lesiecki@domail.maricopa.edu)
Northwestern University, USA (ilabnetwork@sesp.northwestern.edu, kjona@northwestern.edu)
University of Queensland, Australia (m.schulz@uq.edu.au, longpd@uq.edu.au)
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia
Carinthia University of Applied Science, Austria (m.auer@cti.ac.at)
Makerere University, Uganda (pim@tech.mak.ac.ug)
Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria (ladiposasona@yahoo.co.uk, kayodele@oauife.edu.ng)
University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (nkomo98@udsm.ac.tz)
Dalian University of Technology, China
Birla Institute of Technology & Science, India (rahul@bits-pilani.ac.in)

Funding Source(s):

Multiple funding sources – initially funded by Microsoft, had 1 NSF grant for startup and another NSF grant for a project with Northwestern, Carnegie Corporation of New York funded work in Africa, and subcontracted to MATEC (MATEC is an advanced technology education centre in Arizona) to work with community colleges in Arizona and California to develop instructor resource tools as part of a separate NSF grant.


The iLab Project is dedicated to the proposition that online laboratories - real laboratories accessed through the Internet - can enrich science and engineering education by greatly expanding the range of experiments that the students are exposed to in the course of their education. Unlike conventional laboratories, iLabs can be shared across a university or across the world. The iLabs vision is to share lab experiments as broadly as possible within higher education and beyond. The ultimate goal of the iLabs project is to create a rich set of experiment resources that make it easier for faculty members around the world to share their labs over the Internet.


iLab Shared Architecture does not govern the policies of the various iLab service providers.  In general it is a freely downloadable open architecture.  Access to MIT EE labs is free.  Other institutions are encouraged to run the iLab Shared Architecture Service Broker themselves so they can make policies, accounts, and schedule their own students.  This distributes the administrative load to participants and MIT has very little to do with it.  As a result access depends on who is hosting, but there is no revenue stream for MIT or the iLab Shared Architecture.

GOLC is seen as the organization that should work toward creating policies.


There is no one way to access iLabs as this is governed by multiple iLab service providers.

iLab Shared Architecture encourages partners to run their own version of the Shared Architecture service broker.  The service broker lets you manage accounts, store data, and manage collaboration.  There is a secure handshake between the partners service broker and MIT’s service broker.  Once secure handshake has happened then partner is in charge of the whole thing.  Only concern is the student load and what instruments they want to access.

There are tiers of relationships

1.    download and play
2.    access to MIT EE labs is free because they execute quickly and have major capacity
3.    use the architecture and access labs from other universities. No fee, informal arrangement. Instructors see it or get interested. Typically instructor gets a hold of iLab and asks for access.
4.    With international nature of the iLab Shared Architecture project they are involved in technology transfer

The iLab Shared Architecture project does not currently have a successful in revenue model.  This makes it difficult to maintain equipment that was originally purchased through research funds when it needs replacement or maintenance.  The iLab Shared Architecture project is not designed to provide ongoing iLab services. It is not concerned about the underlying economic model, but is mostly interested in technology transfer and in encouraging entrepreneurial use of architecture by other institutions.  University of Technology, Sydney’s (Australia) Labshare/Sahara project is the most successful example of this.

Hardware: See Lab names for indicators

LabVIEW, MS SQLServer, .NET Framework, OSS, variant Open BSD license

The structure of the lab server is modular – iLab serving institutions can pick and choose.
They have developed a lab server toolkit that takes care of hooking into a LabView VI making it compatible with their service architecture.

The iLab Shared Architecture has 3 components:

(1) lab server: which runs lab equipment and instrumentation, and transmits result back to user,

(2) client: a software mechanism for the user interface (Labview is good for lab prototyping.  There are also clients using Java and server based client such as Active Server Pages.  It will soon be available in HTML 5.), and

(3) Service broker: This mediates between the client and the server and also performs admin functions. (Service Broker is written in C# based on Microsoft.  The download builds run with SQL and will soon work with MySQL, Linux, and Apache.)

Scheduling Solutions:

For batch labs iLab Shared Architecture uses dedicated queuing systems so students only need to join a queue, wait for their lab to run, and then check back later to retrieve his/her data.

For interactive labs they built their own scheduling software.

Academic level: graduate, undergraduate, K-12 (This depends on the iLab service provider.)
Academic area:

At MIT, engineering (primarily EE, but also some mechanical, nuclear, and architectural building labs exist) and applied physics

Lab names:

There are 3 types of labs, batched experiments, interactive experiments, and sensor experiments

  • Microelectronics Device Characterization iLab (ex. batched experiments)
  • Force on a Dipole iLab (ex. interactive experiments)
  • Photovoltaic station (ex. sensor experiments providing a real-time data streams.  Very little has been done with this to date and there are some good alternative technologies for this application.)

iLabs Hosted at MIT or at other Partner Institutions include a Dynamic Signal Analyzer, NI-ELVIS (general electronics), Microelectronics Device Characterization, Force on a Dipole, Neutron Spectroscopy, Digital Logic, AC/DC motor labs, Inverted Pendulum, Power Flow Control, Radioactivity measurement, Various telecommunications labs (Nyquist sample, PCM, AM, FM)


This field doesn’t quite apply as MIT is not entirely an iLab service provider, but more of an iLab enabler.  They design the tools by which iLabs can be offered by any institution.  Since there are multiple iLab service providers the iLab Shared Service Architecture capacity is potentially vast.


  • MIT is focused on making the tools that allow others to put labs on line
  • The principle investigators approach this more as a research project and less as a service, thus allowing others to primarily offer the service.
  • There is a small community developing the shared architecture, but there is a large community developing new labs.
  • There is a shared architecture with Northwestern University
  • Northwestern is serving public schools


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