Information Technology Services

Drop Shadow

August 9, 2006

Meeting of the Information Resources Council
August 9 , 2006

Present were James Perry, Karen Reed, Rich Pickett, Jerry Ammer, Bart Thurber, Jeremy Kua, Ed Starkey, Kathleen Kramer, Chris Wessells, Shahra Meshkaty, Bill Roecker, Carole Huston, Jack Pope, Ani Velo, Nancy Carol Carter, Rosy Vacchi, Rick Seaman, and Mary Kowit

Guests: Mike Somerville, Jerry Singleton

The meeting began with the members of the IRC gathering outside the building for a group photograph. The minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

Network outages
Doug Burke began by addressing the recent network outages. The air conditioning in the IPJ computer rooms went out on Saturday, August 5. A computer upgrade by the network management company shut down the water-chilling system. Doug saw the high sensor reading from home and began emailing his staff. Public Safely called its HVAC specialist who came in over the weekend to restore the system. The temperature had cooled sufficiently by Monday at 10 am to restart the servers.

Doug’s staff has been meeting with Roger Manion to design a new HVAC system. Siemens has a good proposal for a DX system, not chilled water. They are proposing 5 air conditioners in the computer rooms, with some built-in redundancy. We would not rely on Facilities Management to maintain the system.

USD is getting one more proposed solution/estimate. We are hoping to have a purchase order in place within a month.

Chris Wessells mentioned that the temperatures were 107 at the ducts when the outage was discovered and much higher in the interiors of the rooms. We’ll also be increasing monitoring by Network Insight to a 24/7 basis, with the switch sending the temperature information. IT staff worked through the weekend.

Rick Seaman queried whether this was a software failure and whether the existing hardware will last the 4 months until the new system is installed.

Doug replied that Siemens was upgrading its computer system. The problem began around midnight and shut down the chilled water cooling system.

Chris mentioned that he had had a visit from Daniel Sheehan from the Physics department, an outgrowth of which is a new listserv -- its-faculty-log. All ITS staff will have the authority to notify faculty regarding system changes. We’re also working on the major web hosting issues, considering hosting the website at Network Insight. A voice mail alert system will be set up in case the USD website is down. A stronger switch is needed to the entire campus.

Doug Burke said we’re identifying contacts in critical areas of service, so that those individuals can notify the rest of their departments. Chris said we’re also working on a high-level administrator notification system.

FTP capabilities
Doug said that the Network staff have been performing maintenance on many systems. The old PWA/Teetot server needed to be decommissioned. We’re working on hardware updates. Moving PWA created some problems. As of now, the FTP issue has been resolved. A dedicated FTP server is still planned when we get past the current crises.

Jim Perry wondered whether it would provide anonymous FTP or would be a security risk. Doug offered to speak with him outside of meeting time about the specifics. Jeremy Kua said he uses SCP to move all the files he needs to move. Chris said that FTP is stable for now … we hope.

Personnel issues
Chris moved on to personnel issues. ITS hired one network person who was eventually unable to move into place because of health problems. We hired a consultant who was with us for less than one day due to lack of appropriate skills. We have hired Tom Smith, who is familiar with Red Hat and Solaris. He is beginning September 1.

Mike Somerville has been promoted to a manager’s position. We will hire a systems architect to fill Mike’s previous position but the department remains short-handed. USD’s IT salaries are low and our postings produce remarkably few applicants. Even county positions are paying 20 to 30% higher salaries.

Rich Pickett mentioned that Administrative Information Services is currently advertising two positions — a portal support person and a student systems support person. Qualified candidates are hard to find. Chris reported that we have ads all over -- at other university career centers in Southern California, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, etc.

Rosy Vacchi said that Desktop Support had advertised for a Tech Support Analyst and received three applications. Desktop is still advertising for a Linux support position for computer sciences, physics and chemistry, as well as to provide Mac support. Bart Thurber asked whether Chris had spoken to administration regarding the low salary scale. Chris said definitely yes.

Web CT issues
Shahra Meshkaty said that our IT personnel loss means that we will not be able to implement WebCT 6.0 for Fall 2006. We have sent out an email informing faculty of that fact. We have lost the focus of having a dedicated WebCT person. Also, regarding WebCT 6.0, there is a lot more work involved on the back end to get it up and running. We are going to continue to keep new cohorts on the pilot WebCT project.

IT needs to appropriate time to a WebCT database administrator. We’re hoping to fill a system administrator position, which could be more dedicated to WebCT. Shahra is suggesting a call to WebCT to discuss what would be our best alternatives -- having them do the integration or coming up with an in-house solution. She prefers the in-house solution.

We also need audio/video incorporated. The timeline projects having WebCT 6 running by Spring 2007 and we anticipate that version 4 will still be running as well.

Chris stated that he’s uncomfortable with hosting by WebCT. They haven’t done it much and the amount of work still to be done by USD staff would also be high. Brown University has already made the migration and Chris mentioned possibly flying someone out from Brown to discuss it with us. Shahra agreed, stating that her discussions with other universities regarding the migration made it clear that outside hosting is not that easy.

Jack Pope said that initially he was ambivalent but it has become clear that the volume of back-end tasks USD would still have to do is pretty daunting.

Chris mentioned that the issue of e-portfolios is becoming more pressing (as mentioned by Michael Strait). We have begun investigating e-portfolio systems that function well with Banner. Chris believes that WebCT has a good, tightly integrated solution. We should stay with software that fits with and works with our other systems. He mentioned difficulties his department had encountered at the University of Rhode Island with a product called True Outcomes, which turned out to be a 2-person company. Faculty loved the product but clearly the company would not have been able to provide support with any growth at all.

Academic technology
Mike Somerville talked about shopping for a video server, which will be basically a big storage facility to house video in any format. The existing “Flicks” server is old and full. We’re planning on a server that would provide 2 terabytes of storage and 350 kb/second of video, a central storage resource for the whole campus.

Real provides one of the nicest video servers. Helix streaming servers provide all formats except Flash and can also project to handhelds and all cell phones except Verizon. We’ve tested Anystream, which can provide PowerPoint presentations with the lecturer also appearing on the screen.

Chris stressed what a great resource a video server would be for university events, commencement, guest speakers, etc. Mike catalogued a price breakdown, as follows. For an $80,000 outlay of funds, approximately $45,000 is for storage, $10-12,000 is for hardware, $14,000 is for the Helix license, and $4500 is for the Flash license.

Chris also commented on how the prices have come down. The University of Rhode Island spent half a million dollars for a similar server.

Improved services for students
Chris reported that the residence halls are totally wireless now. He may ask Liza Peterson, IT Budget and Operations Manager, to attend the next IRC meeting and provide a breakdown of how IT funds are being spent.

Nancy Carter asked whether as we acquire more media (such as would be housed on a video server), access tools will also be available to link directly to the material. Mike replied that there are lots of tools (such as MP3) already available and that we also need to address the problems of digital rights. Chris wants to have a discussion with the librarians; would USD preserve and archive commencement, for example?

Bart Thurber stated that he is also a member of a committee headed by Bill O’Neill in Sponsored Programs, which is preparing a policy paper regarding intellectual property issues. Chris pointed out that the agreement with iTunes states that faculty material posted there becomes the property of Apple.

Ed Starkey said that Copley Library is currently writing a position description for a person who will be video and audio capable.

Chris asked whether we’re ready for Web Reg. Rich Pickett replied yes, we are currently doing the migration process. Chris said we’re testing Mirapoint with PDAs. The new student portal is going to be a super space when it’s completed. We’re hoping to have Mirapoint implemented by late September/early October. It will provide 1 gigabyte of space for each faculty and staff member.

SunGard Banner Luminis
Jerry Singleton updated us on the Banner/Luminis projects. Jerry said that Banner has a terrific implementation plan, which focuses on people who know methodologies and the technical support to back them. Basically, their program consists of a 3-day training, followed by “homework” required of the USD staff, in a repeating cycle. The Banner process steps through the career of a student, from prospective enrollee through alum.

There are basically two tracks: Student and Financial Aid. Some USD staffers fall into both categories and it will require some juggling to allow them to participate in all necessary training. The implementation timeline is 2 years.

The Luminis process is simpler, based on the user’s log-in. The initial focus will be on current undergraduates, later expanding to include faculty, staff, graduate students, alumni, etc. Technical training consists of two 7-day sessions. No turn-on date has yet been determined.

Chris reminded us that we will start with a basic portal, then expand it. One of the end-products of President Lyons’ One-Stop Committee was charging the CIO with finding a one-stop solution for USD.

Shahra asked whether Luminis has an incorporated CMS system. Rich Pickett said that it does. There is a single sign-on through the central server. Shahra wondered whether users will be able to take e-portfolio information with them. Chris said that that is a bigger discussion, involving intellectual property issues. But the university will be purchasing lots of storage.

Jerry Singleton spoke next about Xtender, an imaging add-on that can scan student transcripts, health records, etc. Ani Velo inquired whether we could get student names with AP calculus scores, for example, for recruiting math students. Rich replied that the college boards never released the scores until last year. We’re currently loading the information on to the VAX. Chris vowed that the information will be available.

Ani Velo, who lives in university housing, reported problems connecting to the wireless network and webmail. She pointed out the discrepancy between high tuition and rotten email service.

Chris again mentioned the student email solution that is in the works. No details can be made public yet but will soon be. Students will be provided for. He also said and confirmed with the other directors that this is the first report we’ve had of problems with the wireless network in the residence halls. Rosy Vacchi will set up an appointment with Ani for a technician to visit her residence and determine what the difficulty is. Rosy stressed the necessity for users to call the Help Desk (x7900) and report all such issues, so that we can find solutions for them.

Chris made one final announcement: Jack Pope will be leaving his position as Director of Academic Computing Services and returning to the Math Department. He has been one of the “sages” for Chris, introducing him to the culture of USD. Shahra Meshkaty will serve as interim director. A position description for the director’s spot will be available soon.

Jerry Ammer agreed that USD salaries are deplorable. He also mentioned the fact that grad students in the School of Education and Leadership cannot get user accounts, sometimes experiencing a 2-week wait. He reiterated that SOLES must get more and better IT support. Rosy Vacchi said that IT will be posting instructions for students to be able to create their own email accounts.

Doug Burke said that part of the problem was that administrators had informed students to go sign up before IT was ready, resulting in the huge bottleneck that occurred.

Jim Perry is distressed by the fact that there is no “after hours” tech support in IT and suggested the use of a “Yes, we know the network is down” telephone message, just so that users know the problem is being addressed. Chris said we have no after-hours support because we have no personnel. We need more funding to provide additional positions.

Rosy pointed out that during the school year, the Tech Support Center is available from 7 am to 7 pm.

Bill Roecker inquired whether there is a timeline for the student email system. Doug Burke said perhaps intersession. The existing students will remain on the existing system and new students will start on the new system.

Chris asked whether Bill thought students would mind ads on their webmail pages. Bill replied that he doesn’t think so.

The meeting adjourned at 1:40 pm.

Minutes provided by Mary Kowit