[Haifux] FOSS alternatives to an Access-based organizational software solution

Eyal Rozenberg eyalroz at technion.ac.il
Sat Dec 4 13:57:49 MSK 2010

Hello all,

I would like some advice regarding a possible upgrade of an 
organizational software application we use at the Graduate Student 

In fact, while initially what I need is advice and directions, we may 
soon be interested in contracting a single developer or a (small?) 
development company to entirely replace our existing system with 
something nice and FOSSy.

To describe things briefly, our system:

- Keeps grad student personal data.
- Records payments and debts.
- Communicates directly or via imported/exported data files with some 
Technion and non-Technion systems: The listserv, ANAM, the student 
tuition people etc.
- Records non-financial operations such as collecting a gift, 
joining/leaving the organization etc.
- Is used simultaneously by more than one person on a network (although 
it is extremely rare for two people to try to add or modify db records 
at the same time)

The number of people handled by the system at any given time can range 
upto 5,000 (let's make it 10,000 to be on the safe side), and if we keep 
info about people active in the past and don't only maintain a snapshot 
of the present, then we need to be able to handle, say, 10,000 as a real 
estimate for the next several years and 30,000 to be on the safe side. 
There isn't any heavy calculation going on, it's all pretty routine and 

Before talking about our currently operating solution, here are some 

Q1: What software platforms/toolkits/etc. would you recommend for this 
kind of a system? Be specific, not "make it LAMP-based".
Q2: Do you know of specific software apps, already written, which cover 
this functionality and may be easily adapted to our needs (or would not 
need any adapting)?
Q3: Do you know people/organizations who run such systems with FOSS 
solutions, and would be willing to share their experiences?

Our system as you may probably have guessed is based on MS Access, with 
a Frontend-Backend split to ease multi-user use. While it is working 
well enough today, it is an endless patch-work, not well documented, 
without proper specs for anything, and showing signs of aging with every 
operation becoming slower as features are added and the number of people 
grows. There are also some foundational architectural assumptions which 
we want to change (e.g. the present snapshot vs. full history I 
mentioned above).

Q4: Not a list-relevant question, but are more recent versions of 
Access, or Access + a full-blown SQL server, options which allow better 
scaling? Perhaps with careful coding?
Q5: Does any of you know people we could consult regarding migrating 
away from MS-Access to a more capable platform which is both FOSS and is 
easy to extend in the way Access-based apps are?
Q6: Is it or is it not worth thinking in the direction of web-based 
frontends to databases, rather than plain vanilla apps?

Any other thoughts/comments are welcome.


PS - We're an organization of mostly non-Technically-oriented people, 
bear that in mind.

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