Summer 2014 update from the CIO

beanoWhen I was a kid growing up in Ireland, I loved reading the Beano and the Dandy.  Every summer, they would announce a “bumper edition”, which was packed with extra stuff for those long summer days out of school.  This is the bumper edition of updates from the CIO!

Infrastructure
The summer was a very busy one in the realm of IT infrastructure. We oversaw a major rewiring of the Parsons structure; which set the building up to host a modern wired and wireless network that should serve us well for the foreseeable future.  The major points of emphasis in the architecture of the new network are:

  • Assume an increase in the use of wireless devices (to support this we increased the number of wireless access points from nine to sixty seven).
  • Build a high capacity wired network that requires fewer physical cables (cat 6A throughout the building, fewer physical ports, but higher capacity)
  • Improve switching closets and reduce their number (from six to two).

I am very grateful to our partners in Facilities and Maintenance who worked with us to make the wiring project a success, and were supportive of our idea of carrying out our project in parallel with the vacated space project.  The new Clinic space in the basement is just beautiful!

We planned the new dorm wired and wireless network and, taking advantage of the construction work, have laid the groundwork for a “north campus loop” that will enhance the resilience of The Claremont Colleges network by providing alternate (redundant and diverse) networking routes to the second CINE core switch.

We bought new switches for east and south dorms, as well as the Linde Activity Center. We placed a new UPS in Kingston and new wireless access points in the LAC.

A new fiber run from Claremont to downtown Los Angeles is about to be completed, connecting with the Claremont network at the CUC building on First Street. This will increase the resilience of our connections to the internet.  As you can imagine, this is ever more important with the increased use of software services that are hosted elsewhere.

IAM@HMC (Identity and Access management)
We worked closely and intensely with our project partners from Fischer Identity during the summer, meeting every day for many weeks.  This let us push through to get several big wins:

  • We eliminated the distinction between LDAP passwords and Active Directory passwords — it’s all HMC Credentials from now on.
  • Automatic Account Creation (“provisioning”) went live. This meant that we could bring all the new students on board in record time, without manual account creation.
  • We brought the portal (portal.hmc.edu) into the Single Sign On environment. It uses HMC credentials now and you won’t be challenged to log in if you have already logged in and established a session in another application that is part of Single Sign On.
  • We added payors to the HMC portal so that they can view and pay bills on line.
  • We worked with other consortium members to bring up CAS, which will provide single sign on for other systems and, in our case, increases the usefulness of your HMC Credentials. In a new phase of the IAM@HMC project we hope to integrate CAS with Fischer Identity and get even more single sign on in place.

IT Assessment by BerryDunn
During the summer, representatives from consulting firm BerryDunn were in Claremont working on a Claremont-wide IT Assessment at the request of the Presidents Council. Some of you took the opportunity to meet or talk with them and give your views on the quality of IT overall at the Colleges.  I understand that the BerryDunn folk will be coming back again in the Fall, so there will be additional opportunities to meet with them.  I will try to send a bit more advanced notice, so please keep an eye out.  If you are particularly keen on talking with them, please just get in touch with me and we can set up a telephone call. They are very eager to provide the Colleges with a high quality actionable report and would greatly appreciate your input.

IT Policy
During the summer, I completed updates to the HMC Password Policy and finalized the policy on incidental personal use of IT, both of which are now linked on our IT policies page on the HMC website.  Both are the result of extensive discussion with various instances of the Computing Committee, the Presidents Cabinet and other stakeholders.  I believe that policies should be realistic and should interfere as little as possible with your day to day experience, while at the same time achieving institutional goals.  I have found that a good way to achieve that is to have extensive discussion with stakeholders, including college counsel and to be willing to wait until the policy is well cooked before releasing it.

Next up is a policy on safeguarding confidential and sensitive information.

Speaking of passwords, on October 27th we plan to turn on the password expiration function in the Fischer system.  If your password is over 365 days old, you will need to reset it. The prompt at login will just say “invalid credentials”, as we don’t want to give hackers any clues.  But you will receive a notice via email when your password is seven days away from expiring. When we first released the HMC Password Policy, the advice of the Computing Committee at the time was that August would be a good time to remind people to reset passwords, since everyone is coming back and doing housekeeping tasks for the new year.  The timing of your annual reset is up to you though, since you can change your password at any time by visiting the Password and Account Management Kiosk.  If your password is getting old, now might be a good time to change it.

Websites
When we moved to the new HMC website last January, we vowed that we would work hard to ensure that only accurate and relevant information would appear on our pages. We continue to work on that goal and have been enhancing our Service Catalog page and keeping on top of updates to the IT Projects page.  Our goal is to make it valuable and effective to turn to the CIS web page whenever you are looking for a solution or are curious to know what we’re up to.

We have also set up pages.hmc.edu for people who wish to host static html pages outside of any of our content or learning management systems.  I wrote about this in the April update, but it is worth mentioning again as we work towards decommissioning older systems such as thuban (www2), odin (www3) and www5.  www4 has already been decommissioned and replaced by pages.hmc.edu

Educational Technology
Thanks to our restructuring that placed AV operations under the wing of User Support,  Educational Technology Services had become even more focused and productive under Elizabeth Hodas’  leadership. Elizabeth is paying special attention to the question of how to relate technology tools to the goals of faculty and students.  I hope you will notice this emphasis in the roster of workshops available during our Week of Workshops, which started on Monday.

Over the summer, there was a surprising amount of interest in trying out Google Glass. Jeho Park described our experiments in his article OK Glass,shoot a laser beam!.  I found the star mapping app really compelling, even though the night on which I had Glass was a cloudy one!  It was the first time I really felt for myself the potential of augmented reality applications and I will never forget my daughter’s exclamation “oh wow” when she donned the Glass and went outside to conquer her fear of the dark.

Also over the summer, Deb Mashek set up a Google Apps Learning Community that several of us participated in.  It was a quiet success and I heard from a number of the participants about how they liked the hands on and interactive approach of these sessions, so we’re thinking of other possibilities.   We are also exploring the possibility of subscribing to lynda.com campus edition through a Claremont wide agreement. This would give faculty, students and staff a large number of online professional development and learning opportunities.

People
Unfortunately, Corey LeBlanc left us for Pomona College, where he is now the Computer Science Dept System Administrator. We wish him the best of luck, and were very sorry to see him leave us.

Taylor Calderone will be helping to fill in as we search for a new DTA. Taylor has been with us for a while in a temporary capacity, particularly with AV support for events, so he knows the ropes.

In other hiring news, we are having more success in the search for a Sr. Network Engineer and have interviewed a couple of really promising candidates in recent weeks.  Stay tuned for news on that front.

As I completed writing this update, I had a feeling of exhilaration.  It is just so pleasing to see so much progress in so many areas!  And, once again, my hat is off to the hardworking staff at CIS who just keep on working at a very high level.

Welcome back every one (and welcome, first years).  At CIS, we missed you and are looking forward to supporting you for yet another great year at Mudd.

 

 

 

May 2014 update from the CIO

We made it!  Commencement was great, congratulations to all new graduates.caps

Summer is a time for projects for CIS and we went full steam ahead starting on Monday May 19th.

Electronic Billing
We plan to roll out paperless billing starting July 1.  Bills will be presented via the Portal, where the College already accepts payments. This Portal improvement has many beneficial side effects, and not just for those paying bills.  It removes a lot of tedious printing and scanning of paper bills (which were the hybrid by product of a pre-printed form and an electronic source) and eliminates the cost of mailing out the bills.  I’d like to thank Patricia Wang and Scott Martin for their patient help with reaching this goal.

IAM@HMC
Last week, we took a step in the IAM@HMC project that had the effect of synchronizing people’s passwords over a number of systems. This passed unnoticed for most people, but is a prerequisite for steps we are taking over the next few weeks.  In preparation for paperless billing which starts on July 1, we are adding people to the JICS portal this week and bringing portal single sign on live.  Next week, we’ll be creating accounts for incoming students.  There is a lot of complexity to single sign on, but hopefully most of it is hidden from your view.  One thing to note is that the interaction between systems and the identity provider will often have the result that the only way to fully log out of a particular application is to close your browser.  We look forward to hearing and reading your reaction to this stage of the IAM@HMC project.  For more information, see the new IT Mattters section of our website.

Parsons Rewiring
The work began on time May 19th. As I mentioned last time, in tandem with the vacated space project we are rewiring all of Parsons (east and west). The contractors will be pulling 1,900 cables out of the conduit, and we’ll rewire with less than half that number. We’re setting things up for a high traffic  “converged network” that can carry video, VOIP phone traffic and all the traditional network traffic. We are placing more than 70 wireless access points in the building (before there were 9) and are consolidating the distribution switches. The cabling infrastructure will be capable of supporting 10Gb to the desktop, should the College want to do that in the future.

Engineering Department VDI Project
We’ve begun a fascinating exploration of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) with an Engineering Department Project that contemplates replacing the Engineering Computing Facility (ECF) with a central service that can be reached from anywhere but provides the same tools, such as SolidWorks and ModelSim. Two of our summer employees, Graham Gordon and Minh Triet Nguyen, are helping Prof David Money Harris to examine solutions like Citrix XenDesktop, VMWare, Apache VCL and Microsoft DV. We hope to have an extended pilot available for testing by students in the Fall. 

Reorganization in CIS
We have made a small reorganization within CIS, which allows us to achieve two goals: first, broaden the base of audiovisual support for classes and events; second, focus more on Educational Technology.  We’ve moved support for AV back into the User Support Group, led by Cindy Abercrombie, and sharpened the focus in the newly named Educational Technology Services, led by Elizabeth Hodas. Elizabeth has written a more detailed article about these changes to Audiovisual and Educational Technology Support.

CMC Course Schedule Discontinued
Many faculty and students were used to using the CMC “Classic” Course Schedule, which was linked from our Portal.  It used some older Jenzabar technology, but many liked how it laid out the course areas. In mid-May, a security problem came to light.  It had to do with scripts that were potentially subject to SQL injection.  Among other things, this meant that CMC had to remove the old course schedule from their site.  It won’t be coming back, as it was built on a version of the portal technology for which Jenzabar discontinued support some time ago.  The newer course search has the same course areas, but they are listed in a drop down box. CMC and Pomona conveyed their apologies for these sudden changes, but the security issues overrode other concerns.

Employee Anniversaries
At the annual staff lunch on May 19th, three CIS staff received service awards:

  • Jeho Park, Scientific Computing Specialist (5 years)
  •  Pete Sanchez, Technical Analyst (15 years)
  • Roger Wiechman, Network Manager (20 years)

Collectively, that’s 40 years of service to the HMC Community.  Thank you, Jeho, Pete and Roger.

Summer Learning Community: Google Apps for Education.
When Debra Mashek proposed setting up a learning community on the topic of Google Apps in Education, we were delighted at CIS.  We have regularly received feedback and requests for additional information about the many features of Google Apps for Education that are available via g.hmc.edu.  We do not see ourselves as the experts on this complex topic, but as “accomplished novices” who want to learn alongside you. “Learning Community” seems like exactly the right way to go. Fourteen people have signed up and the groups start meeting this week on Thursday and Friday at 11am.  It’s not too late to join us.

Learn a little more about this, and reach the sign up form, in the article on the Google Apps Learning Community.

That’s it for the May 2014 update. Make sure you’re enjoying the summer, and gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a flyin.

April 2014 Update from the CIO

As we round the corner into the home stretch and everyone’s focus is on those last few weeks of the Spring Semester, I hope you can take a moment to read the news from CIS.

New CIS Web Site
The new College website was launched in January. In line with that effort, Elizabeth Hodas led a team within CIS that developed a new CIS site. It emphasizes simplicity and is designed to help us keep information accurate and up to date.  Since January we have made a couple of important additions.  We now have a “top IT Projects” page, which lists the status of our most important projects and will receive at least quarterly updates. And we also have a rapidly developing “service catalog” page which will list all of the services we provide, with information about how to request them.  Take a look at http://www.hmc.edu/cis

Top IT Projects
Our Top IT Projects page https://www.hmc.edu/cis/it-projects/ is intended to give you an overview of our top projects, even though it is a subset of the 50 or so projects that we have in the pipeline at any time.  The CIS Management Team (CIO + four Directors) chose these projects as the “top” ones by considering such things as importance to the community, impact and cost & effort required.  We review this list on a regular basis, with each project owner giving an update on status at least once per quarter.  Early feedback has been positive; it included suggestions that we avoid acronyms and be more specific in places. We’d love to hear  your feedback too.

Educational Technology
We have reorganized a little in CIS in order to focus even more on Educational Technology, shifting the responsibility for everyday AV operations to the User Support Team.  This is a natural progression from the creation of an Educational Technology Group in 2009, originally funded by the Fletcher Jones Foundation.  Elizabeth Hodas has been taking the group through some online professional development experiences, which will help shape future work.  In the coming year, we anticipate a collaboration with the Claremont Libraries around digital badges; we are looking at video over IP solutions and there is rumor that we will have access to a Perceptive Pixel.  If there is an area of Educational Technology in which you are particularly interested, please make sure to contact Elizabeth about it (ehodas@hmc.edu).

The Computing Committee
The Computing Committee got off to a slow start this year, with only one or two meetings in the Fall, due to some issues with membership and faculty assignments.  But under the intrepid leadership of Rachel Levy, the committee made important contributions in what remained of the year. This year’s committee was Rachel Levy (Chair), Deb Mashek, Weiqing Gu, Tim Hussey, Jacob Bandes-Storch and myself. In the policy arena, the committee reviewed and made significant changes to a draft policy on safeguarding private information and suggested a new statement on incidental personal use. Both are currently under review by Campus Counsel.  The committee sent out a survey requesting feedback and created a mechanism for ongoing feedback to the committee (https://www.formstack.com/forms/hmc-computingcommittee).  It cautioned against asking faculty to complete a long survey to benchmark IT services and provided strong feedback about ways in which we at CIS could improve communications and the quality of service provided through the Footprints Ticket System.  The committee was also instrumental in the design of our efforts for Data Privacy Month (https://www.hmc.edu/cis/dpm/).  We also engaged in vigorus conversation about the role of the committee in IT Governance, which will benefit future instances of the committee. I would like to publicly thank Rachel and the other committee members for a really great year.

Consolidation of web servers
We have started consolidating older web servers such as www2, www3, www4 and www5.  The number of servers proliferated over time to meet different needs, but they have proved somewhat difficult to maintain.  For example, when www4 crashed as part of the Charlie issues we dealt with in January, we were not able to revive it.  So we worked with the seven or so faculty who had material on that server and moved it all.  One of the new destinations is the new Charlie, but in a new, more secure manner that is easier to maintain.  Tad Beckman was one of the people affected by this and the result was some adventures in self publishing.  Read about them at http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=2779.

Network Infrastructure work during the summer
At the January Board meeting, the Budget and Financial Planning Committee approved additional IT Infrastructure Funds (ITIF) to undertake a complete rewiring of the two structures that make up the Parsons building (Parsons East and Parsons West).  We will be removing a large amount of unused cable, and recabling the whole building.  We will reduce the number of network closets down to two from six, and make serious improvements in the wireless network, increasing the number of access points from nine to seventy three.  This work will come with some disruption and network downtime unfortunately, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.  We are working closely with the building occupants on this project.

The summer will also see work on the network in preparation for the new dorm; we will bring online a new fiber connection from Claremont to downtown Los Angeles; and we are researching solutions for more wireless capacity on campus, particularly in the residential areas.

Other topics
People have been asking for more support for Google Apps for Education (g.hmc.edu). So we were delighted by Debra Mashek’s note.  Read more …

Elizabeth Hodas wrote that Sakai will be upgraded to version 2.9 this summer, with a new look and feel being planned.

Several faculty have told me that they were surprised by some of the things they learned when they took the FERPA quiz. Take a few minutes and see how you do yourself.

The CIS staff and I wish you the very best for a busy, but at last celebratory, end of semester.

Adventures in Self Publishing

This is a story in the “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade… ” category.

After we experienced some hardware issues with the Charlie file server, some of the older websites that were published under www4.hmc.edu went offline.  The new version of Charlie did not provide the file system needed by the www4 server, which had been limping along for some time.  So we quickly began to explore ways to host those pages. The inimitable Mitch Shacklett (Director, Systems and Network) came up with a great way to do this, by making a subset of your folders on Charlie visible on the web.  He promises that we will soon have a way to password protect pages being offered in this way too.

One of the people affected by this was Tad Beckman, Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts Department.  Tad had a collection of pages that included some essays and lecture notes that were referred to by many people around the internet.  Together we looked at a variety of options to publish this material in a more permanent format.  In the end, Tad found a very interesting solution: he published five eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle Store.  I was intrigued by this idea, and asked Tad a few questions by email:

How did you discover that you could publish on Amazon’s kindle store?

I Google searched self-publishing and Kindle Direct Publishing was one of the sites that came up.

Why did the  Claremont library not want to take your material?

The Claremont Digital Library program seems to be only for faculty works that have already been published somewhere. I was dealing with course notes and unpublished materials.

To whom would the material be of interest?

All of these materials have been on my WebSite from the early 1990s onward. Some were developed for courses I was teaching but others were just pursuing interests of mine. Philosophy students around the country have used my course notes and I’ve had extensive contact with some of them. Students of Native Americans (especially California 4th graders) have used my extensive notes for my freshman course “Indigenous People of the Western US”. I used to interact with parents, students, and teachers quite a bit. In addition, I wrote a whole book about California’s indians (The View from Native California) but failed to finish it when I became department chair for the second time. It wound up on the WebSite. In addition, I put up an article on Martin Heidegger which has been read widely over the internet.

How easy/difficult was it, in your opinion to get this done?

If you already have an Amazon account, it is easy to create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing. If you intend to publish, you can go ahead and fill out the tax-related forms as well. Then you get a “bookshelf” from which you can add new titles. It is very easy to do if you have your material in MS Word format. (I was using Word for MAC 2004 but switched to Word for MAC 2011.) When you add a title, you fill out a longish form with all the vital information — title, subtitle, author, categories, search words, etc. You will do two important things toward the bottom of this form — first, create a cover using their cover-maker (import your own image or leave it without an image) and, second, upload your Word file. After that, you go to a second form where you select a price and authenticate that you have authorship rights. After that, it takes the system about 12 hours to put your book into the store. The book appears on your “bookshelf” and offers several operations that you can perform — like creating an updated version, etc.

The one thing that gave me trouble until I finally figured it out was creating a table of contents that worked on a Kindle or iPad. When you know the magic it is easy in Word. In the MAC version at least, you just insert a “bookmark” over the title of a chapter, essay, etc. Then, in your table, you insert a “hyperlink” to that bookmark. When you are all finished, the table works in the Word version and is taken up by the Kindle-format conversion.

What would you say to fellow faculty about your experience with the Amazon system?

Well, I wanted these materials someplace where people could continue to use them and this looks like a good place. It was a very easy process to convert my Web pages into Word format and then coalesce them into a full document. Most of the time went into proofreading, editing, and making additional text so that the final document would be coherent. In about three weeks, I have created five publications. (You can see them by searching “Tad Beckman” on Amazon.com.) I’ve even sold a few!

Any other comments?

Retirement is great!

——————-
I am grateful to Tad for telling me about this. You can take a look at his new  pages, served from Charlie, at http://pages.hmc.edu/beckman and his Amazon publications can be found at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=tad%20Beckman

 

 

Google Apps Learning Community

google appsOne of the priorities that came out of the Spring 2013 survey of faculty priorities, was a request for training in Google Apps for Education.  This feedback has come to us through a number of channels, so we are delighted to participate in and support the initiative announced in Debra Mashek’s recent email to faculty and staff, which is the first step in the creation of a “learning community” around Google Apps for Education.  As she was preparing her call for participation, I got the opportunity to share a favorite quote, from an article that Dan Stoebel sent around last year (thanks Dan!):

“A healthy alternative is one that celebrates being an ‘accomplished novice’ who is proud of his or her accomplishments but realizes that he or she is still a novice with respect to most that is knowable and hence actively seeks new learning opportunities.” John D. Bransford and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Rethinking Transfer: A Simple Proposal with Multiple
Implications,” Review of Research in Education, vol. 24, no. 1 (January 1999), pp. 61-100.

What better way to approach a learning opportunity like Google Apps for Education?  If you’re inspired, please visit the form to express interest and preferences by Monday, May 5th  http://tinyurl.com/googleappslearningcommunity

Update from the CIO

In this post, I will provide updates on our Identity and Access Management initiative, wireless and other IT infrastructure, the Shanahan Center, Data Privacy Month and the new CIS web site.

Identity and Access Management Project (IAM@HMC)
I wrote to many faculty individually before the break to ask them to synchronize their passwords on our Password and Account Management Portal.  Many thanks to those who took the few minutes needed to update their accounts.  I will be in touch again soon with the remaining 20 or so faculty.

The point of doing this is to allow us to move forward with the next phase of the project without interrupting your work unexpectedly. It is a small step in that it synchronizes passwords between Active Directory and the Fischer Identity Engine, but it sets things up for future improvements. As you are all no doubt aware, we live in an environment where we have multiple sets of credentials. The core goal of the IAM@HMC project is to simplify things so that you use your HMC Credentials for as many systems as possible. Right now, only a few systems are integrated, but with each phase of the project we will add more systems.

Rachel Levy, Chair of the Computing Committee has been urging me to produce an infographic that will explain better what connects to what, and when each system will be included in the single sign on ecology. I am working on it!

Unfortunately, we were not able to bring the next phase of the IAM@HMC initiative into production over the break as we’d planned.  Testing took much longer and did not go as well as we’d hoped. So we continue to test and will let you know about the new date for installation.  Once we do go live, you will have Single Sign On to Google Apps, Office365, Ultipro and, with luck, the Portal.

Wireless
As more and more wireless devices arrive on campus (including a new slew thanks to holiday gift giving), we are doing our best to get ahead of the demand.

In the Fall, more Wireless Access Points were installed in five dorms, greatly increasing the density of coverage. The dorms in question were Case, East, West, South and North. If you’re wondering why those dorms, it is not because we love them more than the others but because there was already conduit and wiring in place to accommodate the new access points, so a much smaller investment was needed. We also added additional wireless access points in and around the Beckman auditorium, to accommodate additional demand from the large CS classes. We have not forgotten the other dorms and the rest of campus; we are working on a plan to improve wireless across the campus outside of the Shanahan Center.

Which brings me to the question of so called “rogue wireless access points”. We have settled on a friendlier phrase to describe them: “wireless access points not managed by CIS”.  Sometimes people set up their own wireless access points, plugging them directly into the HMC network.  Our equipment can detect these access points,  but to date we have not been doing anything about them.  They are problematic because they can interfere with the performance of the main wireless network.  We will need to develop a set of practices and a policy around this issue. We’ll be using new test equipment to identify problematic access points and will be able to provide their owners with information about the impact they are having.  We would welcome hearing from you with any ideas you might have.  You could use the new Computing Committee Feedback form or write directly to me at vaughan@hmc.edu.

Other IT infrastructure
Parsons rewiring. I am happy to report that the Board of Trustees approved additional funding for us to rewire the Parsons building in tandem with the vacated space project that will get underway the day after Commencement.  Parsons is really two structures that were built at different times and the goal of our rewiring project will be to reduce the number of wiring closets down from six to no more than two and to ensure that the building network (wired and wireless) is adequate for the intended usage of the space. We will release more details on this project as they become available.

Shanahan Center.  The  AV systems in the Shanahan Center have been reconfigured.  If you are a faculty member, you can read details in any of Elizabeth Hodas’ emails about this topic. The controls have been greatly simplified, we believe.  So far this semester we have not heard much in the way of feedback.  We interpret that to mean that people like the new controls better.  Right?

We are still working with the vendor, Western AV, to iron out the kinks in the AV installation.  Elizabeth will make sure to keep you informed of progress.

Data Privacy Month
Data Privacy Month started on January 28th, with Data Privacy Day.  Held annually on January 28, Data Privacy Day encourages everyone to make protecting privacy and data a greater priority. DPD is an international effort to empower and educate people to protect their privacy and control their digital footprint. It kicks off Data Privacy Month (http://www.educause.edu/focus-areas-and-initiatives/policy-and-security/educause-policy/community-engagement/data-privacy-month).

Last Fall, I promised the Board of Trustees that we would increase our efforts to make people aware of data privacy issues.  The HMC policy on safeguarding of sensitive and confidential information is under development. And during Data Privacy Month we will be offering stories and tips about ways to improve data privacy.  The first instalment covered passwords and the second asked you to check your file permissions on Charlie and Alice.  Watch for a third and fourth instalment this week and next.

New CIS Web Site
We decided to take the launch of the new HMC website on January 21 as an opportunity to revamp the aging CIS web site. Our goal has been to keep things as simple as possible and to focus the pages through the lens of services provided by CIS, what they are and how to access them.  It is a work in progress but please check it out and give us your feedback at http://www.hmc.edu/cis

 

Data Privacy Month (with a painful story about file permissions)

January 28th kicked off Data Privacy Month.  CIS is marking the month by reminding you that data privacy is everyone’s responsibility. Here is a second true story culled from the vaults of HMC server administrator lore. Some details have been changed. Read it, weep… and then check your folder and file permissions.

Agnes and students-l are not involved.

So there once was a professor, let’s call him Dr. Linus Windonmax. He was a professor of linguistics in the Humanities Division of a large state university. (Not all of the HMC server administrator lore is actually about HMC.  Server admins sometimes talk to other server admins around water coolers or campfires).  LWM, as his students called him, was a careful and detail oriented person who always read every word of every email sent to him by his local IT unit.  This in itself marked him as a rare bird, since not even the IT folk read every word of every email, especially not the ones they wrote.  But I digress.

LWM had read and carefully followed instructions about how to store files on the file server.  He wanted to keep his work for posterity and he knew that files on the file server were backed up and stored off site, unlike things he stored on his local hard drive. So he had gotten into the habit of stashing his stuff on “charlie”, as the file server was affectionately called.  Only hoary server admins knew why, and no one wanted to be considered hoary.

One day, as LWM ambled to class, his colleague Wilma waved and smiled.  “LWM, congratulations on selling the house”.  Linus politely smiled back; in fact he bared his newly polished teeth to hide his mortification.  For he hadn’t told anyone on campus about the house. In class, a few of his students made arch mention of pajamas and champagne. More mortification: it seemed they knew about his little soiree to celebrate the house sale. Hmm. not good, not good.

Later that afternoon, as the still agitated professor sat in front of his widescreen monitor, it suddenly struck LWM  that someone must have been looking at his files. He’d stored copies of all of the house sale documents and the “pajamas and champagne” party photos on Charlie, as was his wont. He sprinted over to the IT Help Desk to demand an explanation.

The friendly folk at the Help Desk had to work hard to explain the situation to LWM, especially since the server admins were still deep in the long dark teatime of the soul, dealing with students-l problems. In a nutshell, it went like this. No one could actually see LWM’s files, except LWM himself and two server admins of high integrity (definitely not hoary).  But everyone who had an account on Charlie could see the names of his files and browse through his folders looking at how they were organized. That, said the helpful help desk staffer, was a result of the “file permissions”, which determine who has access to a file or folder and what kind of access they have (see file names, open files, edit files, delete…). Most users can change their own file permissions, and over time, the result of choices by users and server admins had resulted in the mortification of LWM.

Coming back now to HMC, the file permissions on Charlie and Alice are not very consistent, and we have had situations in which file names were visible in ways that people did not intend.  This is the result of myriad choices over the years by both users and server admins. And the only really safe way for us to be sure that permissions are correct is to ask you to check them.  So, during data privacy month, perhaps you can take a few minutes to do so?  You can double check your file permissions easily enough.from a Windows computer.  Here are instructions (requires HMC Credentials).

It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure data privacy. During Data Privacy Month, please make protecting privacy and data a greater priority. Thanks for reading. Now go forth and check your file permissions.

November 2013 update from the CIO

thanksgiving

The first time I encountered Thanksgiving was in 1985 at Hershey Hall, then the graduate dorm at UCLA. Neither I, from Ireland, nor my roommate from Korea, were quite sure what to make of it.  But some things stood out. It wasn’t really commercial, there were no cards or gifts. The food was delicious.  And we could eat under the palm trees in the courtyard!  Ever since then, I’ve loved Thanksgiving in California.  And, in the spirit of the feast, here’s the November update from the CIO, focusing on things I’m thankful for in each of CIS’s four strategic areas.

IT Decision Making/Governance
The Portal Advisory Group (PAG), which we set up last year, is under the guidance of Registrar Mark Ashley.  Although the group has not met yet this semester, Mark, Susan Selhorst and I have been working on creating a list of portal projects that we want the PAG to prioritize.  We’re figuring out brief descriptions for each project and a “rough order of magnitude” to indicate our sense of the amount of effort involved.  I anticipate that the group will be able to meet and finalize the priority list before the semester ends.

Computing Committee Chair, Prof. Rachel Levy got the computing committee off to a start for the year.  This year, for the first time, we have a staff member on the committee (other than the CIO) and Tim Hussey, Assistant Vice President of Communications and Marketing has joined the committee. I anticipate that, among other things, the Committee will help CIS with a new survey on our effectiveness, and with feedback on proposed data privacy and security guidelines.  They have already provided excellent suggestions about how we might make better use of infographics in our documentation.

Infrastructure
I wrote in October about the CINE core switch outages that we suffered in September and October.  We replaced the CINE core switch on November 16th and this seems to have stabilized things. I am grateful to Mitch Shacklett, Cindy Abercrombie and Roger Wiechman for their work on this issue. If nothing else, these failures have emphasized the high risk that the Claremont Colleges face by having a single core switch;  we are actively working on this problem.

We are in the final stages of negotiating a 20 year lease of fiber between the CUC Administrative Computing Center on First Street and downtown Los Angeles.  This is a first requirement for the kind of redundancy and diversity we seek in our connections to the internet.  We have also begun working on a location for a second CINE core switch.

CIS the central IT organization
Rick Fisher has been with the User Support area of CIS for some time, although I have omitted to mention him in earlier updates (sorry Rick!).  He started as an intern and is now in a temporary position funded to help with the transition to the Shanahan Center.  We are finding Rick to be a great colleague and a wonderful addition to the team.

So far this month, the CIS staff have worked on a total of 508 tickets in Footprints, our ticket system.  They have closed 407 of them as of this update.  I am sure that these numbers don’t capture all of the service they have given, and I am grateful for all their hard work.

Innovation
The HSA Advising Portlet went into production in time for Spring registration.  Faculty and students gave strong positive feedback about it.  We are delighted to be reducing the paperwork and data entry for the HSA faculty and their students.

Elizabeth Hodas and her team have identified a front runner solution for software based video conferencing from a company named Vidyo.  The primary goal is to find a good video conferencing solution for Board of Trustee meetings, but the licensing on most of these systems will allow us to use it for other purposes.  So if you want your class to conduct a videoconference with the author of a paper (for example), you’ll be able to do it.  Watch for more information on this.

Other
CIS put together the Shanahan Center Feedback form for the President’s Cabinet.  So far we have received 104 submissions and the Cabinet has begun to review them. I am grateful to the folk who submitted comments and suggestions. If you want to join them head on over to http://www.formstack.com/forms/hmc-shanahan_center_feedback 

Don’t forget that the new control design has been set up in Shanahan B460.  If you are interested in how the screen and projector controls function, please try them out in B460 and send feedback to Elizabeth Hodas.

That’s it for the November update. On behalf of everyone at CIS, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

 

October 2013 Update From the CIO

IMG_20130704_210653What a Fall Semester we are having so far!

Shanahan Center
We love the new Shanahan Center.  As everyone knows, we’ve seen a few issues with the AV systems.  We are developing a list of these issues and their status, which we will share with everyone.   And I thank the people who have given us specific feedback about what’s working or not working for them.

I’d like to provide a little context about some of the issues. The TLB Advisory Committee (8 faculty, 2 students, 5 staff) met with the two AV companies that were bidding for the project in early summer 2012.  Both companies recommended a Crestron system and both anticipated programming the system, receiving feedback from users and then making changes.  That is the phase we are going through at the moment.

Overall, from our perspective, the move into the Shanahan Center has gone rather well. The sheer number of pieces of technology in the building (90 wireless access points, 450+ wired ports, VOIP phone system, networked projectors, lecture capture, document cameras etc) is daunting and, while we acknowledge that some things need fixing, we are glad that so much is working well.

CINE issues
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. (OK, so Claudius, in Hamlet, probably didn’t have the Shanahan Center and CINE in mind).  Most of you know “CINE” as one of the wireless networks on campus.  “CINE” also refers to the backbone network between the Claremont Colleges and connectivity beyond the colleges to the internet.  Harvey Mudd College is responsible for that CINE too.  Recently some work being done by a contractor in the CUC phone office on Eighth Street resulted in damage to parts of the CINE core switch.  As a result, we lost internet connectivity, VOIP phones, VPN and other parts of the network for periods of several hours in late September and October.  These incidents emphasized the fact that we have a single point of failure at the CINE core.  We had received approval from the Colleges late last year to place a second redundant switch at a different location and bring new fiber connections from downtown LA to the CUC building on First Street.  The project was approved and we are moving ahead with obtaining the new fiber, as well as looking at ways to get the second CINE switch earlier than we had planned.  Together, these initiatives will remove the single point of failure problem with the CINE core switch.

Identity and Access Management (IAM@HMC)
Our IAM@HMC initiative continues apace. We have begun testing Fischer’s work for phase III of the project, which will bring us automated creation and deletion of accounts on several of our key systems. The CIS Help Desk will soon be sending an email requesting that users synchronize their passwords and configure their security questions.  I mention this now to ensure that all users know that the message is a legitimate request from the IAM project team.  It will instruct users to enter their username and current password at the HMC Credentials kiosk. The request will include a detailed set of instructions,  which you should follow.

HSA Advising Portlet
The HSA Advising portlet, which will replace the HSA department’s standalone Filemaker Pro application, is in final testing.  Using this application on the JICS portal, HSA advisors will be able to work with their students to identify the classes that meet HSA requirements and record student progress.  Students will be able to use the portal to review their progress toward completion of the HSA requirements and will not have to shuttle paper over to the Registrar’s office.  This portlet will be in production for Spring pre-registration in a couple of weeks. It was developed under contract by Lee Jones.  Paul Steinberg, Bill Alves and Susan Selhorst guided the work, which was funded jointly by CIS, HSA and the Dean of Faculty.

Ongoing Infrastructure Upgrades
Thanks to the Information Technology Infrastructure Fund (ITIF), which was established in early 2013, we have a source of funding for infrastructure upgrades. These will be ongoing, and we are steadily building out a project list for 2013-14 and for 2014-15. Generally speaking, we will follow a process similar to that for building renewal and replacement.  If a project is on the ITIF list, we will prioritize it accordingly (eg. improvement to network, high number of people impacted, construction opportunity etc). Departments then have the choice of waiting or of funding the project directly to bring it forward in time.

Among the projects funded by ITIF so far this year were the Core Switch upgrade in March, wireless improvements in three dorms (which took advantage of already existing wiring) and improvements to the network in Olin.

One can never say thanks often enough: I am very grateful to President Klawe, Andrew Dorantes and the Physical Plan committee for their foresight in establishing this fund. There is much work to be done on our IT infrastructure, but we now have a regular source of funding and coherent decision making process that will help us design and build out a more robust infrastructure.

Smartboard Arrival
We recently acquired a new Smartboard, which will be traveling around to a number of classrooms in the Shanahan Center.  Some of our faculty will be testing it out in their classrooms during the rest of the semester. We are looking forward to getting a better understanding of how HMC faculty and students might make use of this technology. Do talk to your colleagues and fellow students and let us know what works (or not) with this technology.  If the boards prove useful, we will plan to purchase more.

Educause Conference
Several CIS staff recently attended the Educause Annual Conference in Anaheim. Educause is the professional organization for IT in higher education and the conference was attended by nearly 8,000 people from 51 countries.  Even a glance at the agenda will probably stoke your curiosity http://www.educause.edu/annual-conference/agenda-and-program/annual-conference-face-face-agenda.  Many of the sessions were recorded and most will have some materials available, so take a look if you are interested in topics like   For thought-provoking points on gaming and its relationship to learning, I recommend the keynote by Jane McGonigal, which will be available in about 90 days.

 

March 2013 update from the CIO

This is the March 2013 update from the CIO.shamrock

Computing Committee Survey.
In late November, I asked the Computing Committee to discuss how they thought CIS is doing, while I was out of the room. The committee decided to run a quick three question survey and got a large faculty response. The short version: CIS has made many improvements (we got a B- grade at Harvey Mudd College!), but there is still work to be done. For more about the survey and a link to the discussion of the results read Faculty Computing Survey Results.

ITIF
In January the Board of Trustees approved policies creating a new Information Technology Infrastructure Fund (ITIF). This is an important development because it will allow us to plan more consistently for improvements and renovation work on the campus network. We are currently creating an “inventory of need” which we will use to prioritize infrastructure projects over the next five years. We will be designing the network architecture to address security, reliability and speed of the campus network.

SIGMAnet wired network report.
As I reported in the Fall, we contracted with a local company, SIGMAnet to conduct a review of our wired network. The report came in on January 10 and I updated the PPCPC Trustee Committee later that month.

The network assessment highlighted several key hardware and configuration risks. Twelve major concerns were listed that can be broken down as follows:

  • End of life and end of support equipment in use. This equipment presents risks on two fronts, security and potential down time due to equipment failure.
  • Security risks in network switch access methods and quality of switch passwords.
  • Design gaps such as lack of redundancy in connections between network switches.
  • Software configuration inconsistencies.

The report goes into detail and will be invaluable in the development of our comprehensive plan, which will address all of the issues. If you are interested in reading the report or contributing to the planning effort, please get in touch.

Core Switch upgrade.
One of our first ITIF projects! Early in the morning of Saturday, March 16 we will be upgrading the HMC network core. The network core is responsible for aggregating all of our campus network connections and linking us to the wider intercollegiate network and the internet. It has to be fast, powerful and reliable. CIS staff will be working in partnership with engineers from SIGMAnet to replace our aging core. The end result will be aprodcut_bulletin_c25-688075-1 much improved arrangement, with a pair of Cisco Nexus 7000 switches at the core. In the near future, we will move one of the pair out of the A-room in Parsons to either Platt or the TLB. This will give us both redundancy (“more than one”) and diversity (“not in the same place”) at the network core. There will be some network downtime associated with the work on Saturday morning, but the end result will be worth it.

Thuban retirement.
As well as rolling out new things, it is important for CIS to manage the retirement of services, to make sure we are making the most of our limited resources.  Thuban, a VMS system, is a case in point.  Most infrastructure services (such as DNS and DHCP) have been moved off of Thuban. Fewer than 20 people are still using the email system on Thuban and we are actively moving their accounts to either Google Apps for Education or Office365.  A number of faculty still have static html sites on www2, which is hosted on Thuban.  We are exploring options for moving them.  One of my favorites is to host them on Google drive. (did you know you could do that?).

TLB updates.
The TLB is 120 days away! I’m sure, if you’re on campus, you can’t help but notice the speed at which things seem to be happening. Weekly telecommunication meetings began this week  They are starting to pull cable for the network and electrical systems; wireless access points (86 of them, compared to 134 on the rest of campus) and network equipment have arrived and will soon be installed. The Audiovisual plans are in place. Much of the furniture has been chosen. The cafe is taking shape…They will be starting to prime and paint the basement this week.  It’s real!

Canvas pilot.
In the Fall, a group of Computer Science faculty presented a Bite of Learning on their use of Piazza for class discussions. Elizabeth Hodas and I were discussing afterward how we needed to keep up with developments in the learning management system (LMS) world.  Sakai is the LMS currently used by the Claremont Colleges but there are some interesting new ones, like Canvas.Canvas It is not like Sakai is going away anytime soon, but we do want to understand our options. So we decided to ask the same group of faculty if they’d be interested in running a small pilot of Canvas. Ran Liebeskind Hadas took up the idea and is currently teaching CS 140/Math 168 using Canvas.  We’re looking forward to hearing about this at a Bite of Learning session on April 17.

Other articles on the IT News site.
There are a few other articles on the IT News site that you might find interesting. Cindy Abercrombie provided an update on student printing. Elizabeth Hodas wrote about a variety of audiovisual improvements we will make over Spring Break in big Beckman and Hoch-Shanahan, complete with a photo of the instructor station, which is the same as the ones chosen for the TLB.   And we have an update on the Portal Advisory Group.

So, while you faculty and students are away, the CIS mice won’t be at play.  Have a great Spring Break!