Information Technology Services

Drop Shadow

June 27, 2006

Meeting of the Information Resources Council
June 27, 2006

In attendance: Jerry Ammer, Doug Burke, Nancy Carol Carter, Todd Harrison, Carole Huston, Mary Kowit, Jeremy Kua, Jim Perry, Rich Pickett, Karen Reed, Bill Roecker, Ed Starkey, Rosy Vacchi, Ani Velo, Chris Wessells

Guests: Indra Bishop, Shahra Meshkaty, Dan Nichols

Chris Wessells opened the meeting with an apology for Monday’s network outage. The USD network was down from approximately 9:30 am to 3:30 pm on Monday, June 26. Cause of the outage was determined to be several hubs which had been incorrectly configured and connected to the USD network by participants in one of the Summer Conference programs, causing an endless data loop. It took quite a while to diagnose the problem, and Chris stated that  IT is looking at quick diagnosis methods for network problems in the future.

Minutes of the last meeting were approved unanimously, pending two amendations by  Jim Perry.

IT Hiring
Chris announced that USD is terminating the search for an IT security manager. The first round of advertising resulted in applicants asking too high a salary; when we advertised again, the search yielded only poorly qualified applicants. No viable candidate has emerged. IT plans to distribute the relevant duties among other staff members since a dedicated security manager could not be found.

We will be re-advertising for a network engineer or senior systems manager. With Jerome Cartagena leaving USD, IT needs someone with Linux, Sun server, and cluster management skills, among others. Identity management is critical

The Dean of the School of Business is willing to pay half the cost of a web developer, so we will be seeking an entity to pay for the other half. The School of Law was suggested.

We will also be hiring 5 individuals to support the SCT Banner implementation.

Nancy Carol Carter inquired about the definition of “web developer.” Chris replied that IT is seeking someone with PHP, XHTML, etc. skills, someone able to design sophisticated webpages. The person will report to IT but will be available to all of USD.

Web Registration System
Dan Nichols (Administrative Information Services) gave a demonstration of the web registration system, an interim solution which will be in place until the Banner student system goes live. Based on USD’s phone registration system, the web registration system provides two log-in screens—one for students and one for the registrar’s office. The student’s email address is the user name and ID number the password. Eventually, the Unet ID will be in use.

The web registration screens show the current term, dates, and other course information on file pertinent to registration. Different tabs make available add/drop status, projected units for future semesters, filters for classes, hours and other data. The list is live so it reflects current status of registrations. There is also a transaction history, showing who made the changes to the database and when they did it.

Both student and registrar log-ins will show system violations but only the registrar can override the “rules” to allow registration for a class shown as already full or to change a course from traditional grading to pass/fail.

Jim Perry wondered whether faculty could enter grades online. Rich Pickett said that for now, functionality is limited to registration. Carole Huston asked how information about the system would be disseminated to faculty. Rich stated that we’ll build manuals as we did for DARS, the Degree Audit Reporting System.

Jerry Ammer spoke of the many programs within the SOLES department and asked whether there would be any reporting functions available. Rich Pickett said this would have to be discussed. He said that as we begin to use the system, because of the complexity of the data, there are bound to be some errors. Users should report any discrepancies and we can probably add some reporting functions. We are currently able to do some exception reports.

Chris said that our intention had been just to mimic the phone registration system for now and all other functionality is icing. The Luminis portal will be one of the first aspects of the new student system rolled out and online registration will be part of that portal.

Ani Velo questioned the use of the student ID and inquired whether there is any warning issued when a course is nearly full.  Dan replied that we will be changing to the Unet name as soon as that part of the program is developed. There are special messages and course footnotes which can be updated to provide some of that type of information. Rich reminded us that there are some limits imposed by the structure of the legacy data.

Some items of benefit to faculty
Doug Burke spoke about establishing an FTP server for faculty. Faculty storage space would grow from 80 to 200 gigs of stroage. New data would remain for 3 days, then be deleted. If a faculty member needs shared drive space, s/he should contact the Network and Systems group.

The math placement server is backed up Monday through Friday, at 3:00 a.m. Jeremy Kua says his cluster generates a lot of heat when it is running but seems to be running well for the most part. Chris stated that IT is hoping to provide better support and Doug is keeping faculty support in mind as he’s interviewing for his new positions.

The HVAC systems in the IPJ server rooms are terrible. Too much heat is generated by the equipment, resulting in shutdowns and loss of network availability.  Roger Manion has suggested renting mobile air conditioning units which would vent into the garage as an interim solution. A new air conditioning system would cost from $90,000 to $200,000.

IT has just installed a  Google search appliance, as well as 4 new Sun boxes and 2 big new AIX machines, among others. A lot of very costly equipment is at risk due to the inadequate cooling. Temperatures have repeatedly exceeded 100 degrees in the past several months.

Jim Perry suggested that the IRC draft a resolution to be presented to the president, stressing the importance of replacing the unreliable cooling systems in the computer rooms. All members concur.

Messaging Solutions
Chris distributed a handout about the Mirapoint appliance implementation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Mirapoint presents a comprehensive messaging system USD is considering buying (about 90% likely). It would provide an excellent environment, better webmail (replacing Horde), calendaring capability, and a guaranteed gigabyte of storage for faculty. Unknown about the Mirapoint system is how well it supports PDAs. We’re requesting a demonstration from the vendor.

Six months should be adequate to implement, depending on the scope of the project. Chris said that the implementation would be confined to faculty and staff, since Luminis should provide similar capabilities for students. He also referred to a pending deal with Google, which was not elaborated. The Mirapoint appliance would also allow us to remove the Meridius spam-filter box and several servers.

Banner Project
Indra Bishop gave a presentation on the Banner/Luminis project plan. She and Jerry Singleton are joint project managers. We’re hoping for an in-budget, on-time delivery of the product, which should be implemented by June of 2008

Indra said that the SunGard delivers a good product, providing readily available consultants and good methodology. The project definition stage here at USD has been completed. We are now in the planning stages, to be followed by the implementation stage.

The SunGard project is building a website and will have a shared network drive. There will be a formal kickoff in mid-September. Contests will be held to name the project and the Luminis portal. There may also be a contest for students to design an appropriate logo.

The first stage of the portal is expected to be available in November at a very basic level, providing access to email, Web CT, Campus Card, and several other functions. Two committees currently exist: the data standards committee and a kickoff committee.

Chris reminded us of the one-stop purpose of a portal, consolidating student services into one location. Luminis is such a virtual one-stop. As the project is rolled out, Chris will be going before the University Senate, the student senate, and other campus organizations. Communication is crucial during such a process.

Web CT
Shahra Meshkaty spoke about the launch of WebCT 6 at USD. We’re moving from WebCT 4, which was a relatively minor upgrade from the previous version, to WebCT 6, a major upgrade. The new migration process is going live in July, but WebCT 4 (Homer) will remain in place, free to USD, for one more semester, mainly to accommodate a cohort in the School of Business which is graduating in the fall. There will be lots of training, refreshers, etc. available in August and September. All new courses will be in WebCT 6.

Chris asked what the major differences are. Shahra stated that the major differences are on the back end. Web CT now runs on two servers, using Linux on a Sun box. There is a database machine running parallel with the server. It will be a lot of work at the outset, but when the process is completed, using and maintaining WebCT will be a lot easier, with better front-end functionality.

Because the server is directly linked to the registrar’s databases, there will be no more roster uploads, no more unviewable quizzes, and a instant messaging function will be available.

Jim Perry raised the issue of not being able to have access to inactive courses, such as courses being developed. Shahra agreed that this is a major concern. We’re migrating courses that should be “alive.” If a course is dormant for a semester, it will not be discarded. There is not enough space to maintain empty slots for development of several courses simultaneously since there are currently 1400 WebCT courses. The new system will also make it easier to get  statistics, which were difficult to harvest in the old version.

Ani Velo asked whether new users need an account. Shahra said the accounts exist but need to be activated. Faculty members will need a 1-hour orientation to get started and she’s willing to meet with them at any time. She thinks about 30% of faculty currently use WebCT.

Nancy Carter asked about the computer replacement program, since the student labs in the LRC have a number of outdated computers and there are limited periods during which the labs can be unavailable for new installs. Rosy Vacchi is placing the first order July 5. We are attempting to retire a leasing program, beginning rather to purchase computers, and are trying to find more funding for computer replacement. USD keeps growing; new staff and new faculty also require computers in addition to all the replacement units. We need to return our leased computers first.

Chris stated that we have a $450,000 deficit this year for this replacement program. The budget should be about $1.5 million per year. Ed Starkey asked whether the public workstations in Copley Library are considered labs, and Rosy replied yes. Chris mentioned that another problem is that USD keeps expanding. New programs come online with funding in place for computer acquisition, but then after 3 years, replacement devolves to the IT department and budgets are not increased accordingly.

Rosy said that having changed all leases and all PC purchases to a single vendor (Dell) has given us an appreciable price break. Chris said that the administration has raised the issue of making a laptop a requirement for students. Cost would be built into tuition charges and students would arrive with a standard “Torero” configuration. But he’s not convinced this is a great way to go.

Meeting adjourned at 1:40 pm.

Minutes provided by Mary Kowit