Even though I got to a business school and am a management major, my real passion is working on websites.
We just build a new library here, for millions and millions of dollars. We use a tool called RoomWizard for booking rooms. We get a web-based interface to book library rooms. This is a great idea. Unfortunately, it’s so fraught with bugs that it borders on unusable.
I did a bit of viewing headers. The main page is running on ASP.net, but each individual room controller (probably like a 300 MHz embedded chip?) is running Apache Tomcat. Someone did a quick port scan and found that the devices have a lot of open ports–ftp, ssh, telnet (!), HTTP, and port 6000, which nmap guessed was X11. So I have a pretty good feeling these things are running embedded Linux.
Another problem is that there’s always one or two of the devices that, for whatever reason, are unreachable. So you get errors on those ones.
Booking conference rooms is like a Web Programming 101 interface. You get a basic introduction to SQL databases, and write a little interface. You could run this on an old 1 GHz PC with 128 MB of RAM and have pages load in fractions of a second, especially if you really knew how to configure a webserver. (Turn on APC and MySQL query caching, in this case, and you’re golden.) I cannot fathom why they thought it was a good idea to have a page make connections to 25 different little wall-mounted touchscreens. This places a big load on what have got to be underpowered little units, and is just a nightmare any way you look at it. I really see no benefit to what they’re doing.
Furthermore, this breaks off-campus connections, since you can’t connect to these units remotely.
You convert the wall-mounted RoomWizards from embedded webservers into a little web browser client, and they just pull down the data from the main server.
With a traditional, single database, it would also be easy to write a little search tool–“I need a room on Friday from 3:00 to 5:00.” This is a fairly simple SQL query. This is not a fairly simple question to ask 25 wall-mounted touchscreen things.
I’m tempted to write a little PHP script to go out, retrieve the data, and cache it. Essentially a hacked-together proxy…