Update from the CIO January 2017

I hope everyone enjoyed the winter break and returned with renewed vigor.  The start of classes already seems like so long ago!

There are many things to cover in this update as a lot is going on in the information technology world at HMC and at the Claremont Colleges.

Looking back….

We closed 2016 at CIS with a review of some of the year’s highlights.  The truly great staff at CIS brought up some new services,  with benefits for applicants to HMC, as well as for faculty, staff and students .   Brittany Oliver, one of our newest hires, wrote a lovely article  2016 Year in Review .

Looking forward, there is much to address, but I will frame it all up by looking at two things, IT@TCC and the HMC Computing Committee…

IT@TCC
You might recall that the Presidents’ Council set a number of initiatives in motion in the Fall of 2015, all leading in the direction of what I like to call “appropriate centralization” of IT. None of the Colleges are really in a position to go it alone in IT, which is an area in which there are many natural pressures toward consolidation and centralization.  The trick, of course, is to get the right balance between local and more centralized support; there are many minds from the colleges focused on this task at the moment.  CUC has made some excellent new hires and they are leading a fast paced change effort.  You can read about this in my article on the changing IT landscape at the Claremont Colleges.

Computing Committee
Under Prof David Money Harris’ leadership this year, the computing committee has been having vigorous and interesting discussions.

The committee, and the Department Chairs, have given us some very helpful feedback about the design and features of email, Google Groups and calendar systems.  We have created a document (requires HMC credentials) that summarizes what we have heard and the changes we can make with the intention of improvement.  Please feel free to comment in the document itself or give us feedback in any other way that suits you.

The committee has also been discussing what we can do about providing better Linux support, student printing,  and the new web accessibility policy.  It will soon take up a review of the impact of college growth indicators for Information Technology.

Staff, we are currently looking for a successor to Tim Hussey for the staff position on the Computing Committee,  so  if you’re interested, please use our sign up form.

More to learn about

Here are some other things you might want to read about…

Students (well, anyone really), if you are inclined toward building applications, want to learn a new operating system or delve into databases you should read about the free services you can use from Amazon Educate and about our APIs for college data.

The College adopted a policy on safeguarding confidential and sensitive information in March of 2016.  You can read about this and other policies on the IT Policy website.  We will soon be sharing some practical recommendations about how to comply with the policy, but the core of it is as follows.  We live in a high autonomy and very open information technology environment.  That means we must place an emphasis on each and every user being responsible for how they protect and make use of confidential and sensitive data collected by the College.  That means you!

If you are interested in mailing lists and want to follow what is going on with the transition from majordomo to Google Groups, I recommend three articles:

And, with that, we wish you a successful Spring 2017 Semester.

The changing landscape of IT at the Claremont Colleges

You have probably noticed some signs of it: the landscape of Information Technology at the Claremont Colleges has begun to change significantly. In this article, I will remind you of some of the initiatives that have started or will start in the near future and try to give an idea of their potential impact.

The Council of the Claremont Colleges (“Presidents’ Council”) commissioned a report on Information Technology from consulting firm BerryDunn in 2013. The report made a number of recommendations about consolidation and cost reduction/avoidance.  This led to extensive discussion between the ITC (committee of CIOs of the Colleges) and Council, resulting in the creation of six initiatives, collected under an IT@TCC umbrella.  The initiatives were to do with Networking, Security, Disaster Recovery, Telephony, Identity and Access Management and Data Centers.

At a very high level, the initiatives all call for appropriate centralization and improved management under the aegis of CUC.  In 2016, many of the original six, as well as a few others, launched.   CUC has begun to build a strong IT unit that will manage shared services.  They have made a number of great hires for the roles of CIO, deputy CIO and network management.

A new cross functional committee, the IT Steering Committee, has been formed.  It is comprised of the Vice Presidents from each College with responsibility for IT, the Dean of the Library, and representatives from each of the committees that report to Council (Academic Deans, Treasurers, Student Deans, Communications).  This committee has responsibility for governance of IT and for making decisions about which services should be provided at a Claremont wide level, rather than at individual colleges.  You can read about the ITSC and view its membership on the new it.claremont.edu site.  That site also has information on a number of sub-committees (called “ITOCs”) that are digging into initiatives on networking, telephony, identity and access management among others.

Other initiatives that started before the ITSC was formed are connecting up with the new governance structure and process.   They include:

  • Claremont participation in the Workday Student Strategic Influencer program, led by Andrew Dorantes
  • Assessment of Student Information Systems (SIS), led by Jeff Groves
  • Deployment of Workday’s Human resources system, led by Stig Lanesskog of CUC

So what might this all mean for  HMC faculty, students or staff?

By the summer, Council should have a recommendation from the SIS assessment group regarding the student information system.  It will take at least a couple of years, once a decision on a vendor has been made, to deploy a new system, but we will be saying goodbye to the current versions of the Jenzabar portal and underlying software.  I know that this will be welcome news to many.

The deployment of Workday HCM (“Human Capital Management”) has begun. This is the second Workday system that is being deployed for the Claremont Colleges, following the Financial Management System – the two are tightly integrated.  The new system is scheduled to go live in January 2018 (to coincide with the tax year).  We will be saying goodbye to UltiPro, to PeopleAdmin (for job applicants) and to current performance evaluation system (word docs).   Cynthia Beckwith, Kimberly Taylor and I are your HMC representatives on the workgroups responsible for deploying Workday HCM.  So please get in touch if you think there’s some aspect of this that you would like to influence. We’d love to know what is currently working well, what works but could be improved and what is not working for you at all.

The landscape really is changing, and there is much more to report, but I will stop for now.  Do get in touch if you have questions or comments.

 

 

Who sees your posts in Google Groups?

When yousurprisedface write an email to a list that runs on Google Groups, do you know who gets to see that message?  “The people on the list, in their email” would be a natural response.  That’s correct, but did you know that Google Groups also keeps a web archive of list postings as well? And that the default is to allow “all organization members” to browse the web archive?   In our case “all organization members” means all faculty, students and staff as well as most alumni.   This may not be what you desire, so please make sure to check your configuration options when you create a new group.  It is the very first option in basic permissions on the group creation page. Unfortunately, Google staff tell us that it is not possible to change the default to something more restrictive than “all organization members”. So please be careful when you are creating a new list.

We recently audited the permissions on Google Groups and contacted the owners of lists that were set to be viewable by all organization members. We will do this from time to time in the future too.

You may also want to consider turning off web archiving completely. This is especially the case if sensitive information is distributed and perhaps should not be seen by future list members. To do so, you can delete all the current messages and then, on the configuration page, go to “Information->Advanced”.

There are several advantages to web archives: easy access to all messages together in one place, ability to link to a particular message (rather than forwarding it) and an easily searchable archive of all postings.

 

 

 

Need access to College data to build an app?

If you are interested in getting access to some of the data in our student information system, such as course scheduling data or catalog data, then we are interested in hearing from you.  We’re running a beta program that allows for access to some of the data via a standardized and (near) real time REST API.   If that seems interesting then read on…

For this beta program we are making Harvey Mudd course catalog data available via REST APIs.  Using the HMC course roster APIs (which we have built using a product from Lingk.io), you can build web and mobile applications that could help your fellow students.   With HMC course roster data, you could build course planning tools, course alerting, mobile scheduling and more.

This is a beta program.  The Registrar’s Office and CIS are interested in exploring how best to make data securely and appropriately available outside of the HMC Portal.  We are also interested in hearing from you about other data to which you might like secure and authorized access in order to develop apps.

Want to take your project beyond HMC? The REST APIs that we can build using Lingk.io are standardized using the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS), enabling your project to easily consume data from other higher education institutions.

Have some ideas and want to get started?  Just contact the Help Desk (helpdesk@hmc.edu) and reference this article.

Goodbye Majordomo

We are rounding the final bend in our journey to decommission the old Majordomo mailing list system and move lists to Google Apps for Education (g.hmc.edu), now known as “G Suite for Education” (see https://cloud.googleblog.com/2016/09/all-together-now-introducing-G-Suite.html)

Lists related to departments (such as cis-staff@g.hmc.edu or bio-faculty@g.hmc.edu) have  been moved over to Google groups.  We are now sifting through the remaining lists and have begun asking list managers to identify which lists need to be recreated in Google Groups. Many of the majordomo lists are very old, appear to have been abandoned, and will probably not need to be moved.  Thanks in advance to the list managers for your help with this.

New Faces at CIS

As you may have noticed, our department has seen changes in the past few months. After four years of great work at HMC, Travis Gomez left us to pursue a new opportunity in which he could use his Engineering degree. Duke Vu, Senior Network Engineer, also left for a job with a utility company nearer his home. Given the fact that networking will transfer over to TCC IT, we will not be conducting a search to fill the position that Duke vacated.

In the past couple months, we’ve welcomed three new people to the team, some of whom you may have met already if you’ve stopped by Help Desk or submitted a ticket recently.

Brittany Oliver joined the team in August; Daniel Flores started in September, and Tim Ku started on October 3. This is the second time Tim’s followed Travis into a job, so we’re hoping Travis keeps his new job for a long time! All three are members of the User Services Team and you can find them at Help Desk or out-and-about supporting you in the field. If you’ve not had the chance to meet them yet, please feel free to visit them on the first floor of Sprague. We’d be happy to see you!

new-faces

You can find a complete list of CIS staff here: https://www.hmc.edu/cis/about-cis/cis-staff/

Update from the CIO February 2016

This is the first update from the CIO for 2016.

New faces and new groups at CIS
The key ingredient to CIS is the people.  We made a number of changes during summer 2016, and I wrote an article about this last Ocober: New faces and new groups at CIS. Our regrets about two  retirements were tempered by our excitement about three new hires.  We also reorganized to reduce the number of units in CIS, and now have four people dedicated exclusively to Educational Technology.  Since some people’s jobs have changed, your best bet is to contact the Help Desk when you have a service request.

IT@TCC
A number of  Consortium wide IT initiatives are under way and they will bring some major changes to IT at the Colleges.  The impact should be positive from HMC’s perspective.   The areas being addressed this academic year include networking, identity and access management (IAM), telephony and security. I have more detail in the post on IT@TCC.  These initiatives have been set up to allow for lots of input from “functional users”, so please make sure to get involved if you have questions or ideas about how to proceed.

Goodbye Majordomo
It is going to be a long farewell, but by now you should all be aware that we are transitioning from Majordomo to Google Groups for the HMC  Mailing Lists.  We have lots of reasons for doing this, and we are gaining some new and much needed automation.  See the Goodbye Majordomo article for more information about what’s done and what’s left to do.

Awesome Videos
During the Fall, a nice coincidence happened.  This year’s Computing Committee with the intrepid Paul Steinberg at the helm, suggested that we should create short training videos as an alternative way of getting information out to people. “Sometimes a workshop is overkill”, they said.  Independently and separately, at one of our staff meetings, Elly Schofield said “we should make some short videos…”.

With that happy coincidence, we have started making what I think are awesome videos (a new meaning for “AV”).  The first two are about Google Groups features, and were put together by Elly Schofield and Brian Reid:

Canvas pilots
Last summer, the Presidents Council urged the ITC (Information Technology Committee) to work with the ADC (Academic Deans Committee) on “transitioning to a new learning management system”.  This could involve moving to a new version of Sakai or to something else. Work on this initiative has proceed during the Fall, with examination of market options and planning to gather student and faculty opinions.

Colleen Lewis had already decided to use Canvas in the Fall, which was a nice piece of serendipity, given that CGU moved to Canvas two years ago and it is a strong candidate.  Elizabeth Hodas and the Educational Technology team have worked with several more faculty to set up pilots for the Spring Semester.   We will be collecting feedback throughout the Spring… don’t be shy about giving us your opinions!

Amazon Educate
Have you ever wanted to try your hand at running your own server? Or maybe you are developing a mobile app and want to test it on multiple types of phones, none of which you own? Or you want to explore some “big data” tools? If so, you might be interested in Amazon Web Services, Amazon Device Farm, or Amazon Big Data Services. The College recently signed up for Amazon Educate, a program which will get you free access to any of these Amazon services, and many others (though not Amazon Prime!) For details, see the news article about Amazon Educate.

I’ve promised myself that I will try to do more frequent, but shorter updates this year.  So that’s enough for now.  I hope you’re having a great semester!

 

 

Goodbye Majordomo

It is going to be a long farewell, but by now you should all be aware that we are transitioning from Majordomo to Google Groups for the HMC  Mailing Lists.  This is a transition from a very old technology to a more modern (and more complex) one, and there will inevitably be growing pains.   Some of the key lists (course, major, faculty-l, staff-l, students-l) have been moved and we have introduced more automation, which means that the list membership will be kept complete, a task that was difficult before.  For example, faculty-l on majordomo was forwarded to other lists google-groupsthat were manually maintained, and it was sometimes uncertain whether someone was on the (underlying) departmental lists.   One saw evidence of these difficulties in the fact that a random set of individual email addresses was included in faculty-l, itself manually maintained.  Thanks to the Google API for groups, we now automatically add faculty to the faculty@g.hmc.edu list based on their status in the CX database.

There are thousands of lists left on majordomo and we don’t yet have a timeline for the final retirement of that system, but I will keep you updated.

We acknowledge that many people were used to Majordomo and had its commands and addresses in muscle memory. It would be worth your while to take ten minutes to get acquainted with Google Groups on the HMC google apps site at http://groups.g.hmc.edu.  Our Service Catalog page at https://www.hmc.edu/cis/services/google-groups-mailing-lists/ is a good jumping off point to learn more.

Some people have asked if we could simply have “@hmc.edu” addresses instead of “g.hmc.edu”.  For complicated reasons that is not possible at the moment, but that is our target and removing majordomo from our “mail central” system is a key step in that direction.

Moving Cores

Over the last few years, we have been improving the network Redundant-network-topologyinfrastructure on the HMC campus, at the CINE core (the network switches for all the Claremont Colleges) and beyond at our ISP, Los Nettos (a consortium of Southern California institutions based at USC).

The key concepts in network infrastructure are redundancy and diversity.  To increase network reliability, it is important to have at least two switches at the core, and that they not be in the same place.  Similarly, it is important to have redundant and diverse connections from the campus to the CINE core and from there to the ISP. In recent years, we have built conduit, pulled fiber and installed switches with the goal of ever greater redundancy and diversity.  In March and April we will take two more big steps in this direction.  First we will diversify the HMC cores by placing one of them in Drinkward dorm, and with new conduit and fiber we will have diversity and redundancy for the first time for many of the buildings on campus.  In April, we will follow up by separating the CINE core switches, placing one of them in the “phone office” on eighth street and one at the Administrative Campus Center (ACC) on first street, where a new fiber line from USC Health Sciences terminates in Claremont. At that point, the Claremont Colleges will have redundant and diverse core switches for the first time ever.

Annually, the Claremont Colleges budget just under $700,000 for networking, and HMC budgets an additional $200-$300k. These costs, and network operations, are often invisible, especially when they are working well.  So much so that I often run into people who think that our internet connectivity is free.

Cindy Abercrombie, Mitch Shacklett, Roger Wiechman and Duke Vu have all worked tirelessly on these projects.  Thank them when you see them!

Amazon Educate

Amazon recently announced a new Amazon Web Services (AWS) Educate program.  It is designed to let you learn to use AWS services by giving you free credits to get started as well as access to a large variety of courses and tutorials about cloud computing “shared by top educators from around the world and by AWS”.  If an institution joins the program, then students and faculty get almost three times the credits they would otherwise be granted.   HMC has joined!

If you ever wanted to get your feet wet setting up a Windows or Linux server,  delve into things like Hadoop or build web applications, this is a great opportunity to get started.

To sign up:

  1. sign up for AWS Educate at https://www.awseducate.com using your @hmc.edu address.
  2. While filling out the AWS Educate application,  input your own AWS account ID. If you do not have an AWS account, navigate to
    http://aws.amazon.com, click Create an AWS Account and follow the on-screen instructions.
  3. You will receive an AWS credit code in a Welcome Email after your AWS Educate application has been accepted. The code should be entered into your AWS account.
  4. You manage your own account, and can take it all with you if you leave HMC.