December 2011 update from the CIO

This is the last update from the CIO for the Fall 2011 Semester.

Identity and Access Management (IAM).
We have begun work with Fischer International on our Identity and Access Management initiative.  Within the next twelve months, you’ll see self-service password management and a single sign on environment begin to emerge.  Read more in the article IAM @ HMC journey begins.

Bite of Learning.
The Fall Bite of Learning series ended December 8, with a packed house for Greg Lyzenga’s chat about paperless note taking using the Livescribe Pen and other technologies.  We recorded all of the sessions this semester, and will be getting them posted on the web over the break.  Elizabeth Hodas has been putting together the schedule for the Spring, so if you have a topic you’d like to discuss or a presenter you’d like to nominate (Skype works for off campus presenters!), then please get in touch with her.

Presentations on Educational Technology and Infrastructure.
At the annual Saddle Rock retreat for Trustees, I gave a presentation on Technology and Education.  Actually, it was more like a mini-presentation, designed to stimulate discussion among the retreat attendees.  You can see a reconstruction of the presentation in the article Saddle Rock Presentation on Technology and Education.  Earlier in the semester, Cindy Abercrombie, Mitch Shacklett and I discussed the College’s network infrastructure with one of the Trustee committees, the Physical Plant and Campus Planning Committee or PPCPC (say that acronym really quickly three times if you can!).  That presentation reviewed the questions we are asking about the infrastructure and revealed some of our early findings.  The overall goal of this work is to come up with a long term plan to improve and maintain the network.  You can see a reconstruction at PPCPC Presentation on Infrastructure.

Email and Calendar.
The email and calendar team turned off mailbox-02, the system that was formerly dedicated to in-house student email.  All the students and some faculty are now on Google Apps for Education.  After much to and fro about licensing, we recently received information from Microsoft about how to set up Office365 accounts.  Watch for updates on this during the Spring Semester — our goal is to be able to turn off mailbox-01 before the end of the fiscal year.

Joint work with BAO.
The CIS management team (Cindy Abercrombie, Elizabeth Hodas, Susan Selhorst, Mitch Shacklett, Calvin Tong, Joseph Vaughan) conducted a very fruitful day long retreat with the management team of the Business Affairs Office (Andrew Dorantes, David Dower, Cynthia Beckwith, Theresa Lauer, Miguel Ruvalcaba, Justin Low, Scott Martin).  We discovered many characteristics that our units have in common and worked on some of the challenges we face together as well as those we face at the intersection of our services.  You can read more in the article BAO and CIS Service Initiative.

CIS Highlights of the year.
In our last staff meeting of the year, CIS took time to reflect on the achievements of the past twelve months. We had fun doing this, and it is always good to review your accomplishments. You can read about them in the article Highlights of 2011

On behalf of all at CIS, I wish you all the best for the holidays and a restful break. Come back energized and ready for 2012!

HPC @ HMC: Survey Results

In November 2011, CIS conducted a short survey on the use of High Performance Computing (HPC) resources at Harvey Mudd College. We received 16 responses: 14 HPC users and 2 non-HPC users. We truly appreciate their time to fill out the survey. In this article, we share some of the interesting results considering the answers from those 14 HPC users.

1. Departments using HPC in research and/or teaching


First, we wished to know which departments were using HPC systems for their academic activities. Although we only had 14 responses, the result was clear. All seven departments have been involved in using HPC resources! Go Mudders! :)

2. The nature of the HPC use


In this question, the majority of the responders answered that they have used HPC facilities for simulation, data acquisition and analysis, and modeling. The “Other” selection includes computer animation, mathematical computation, teaching HPC and HPC research.

3. The location of the HPC facility


This result may be a bit misleading because multiple selection was allowed. One of the responders have used off-campus HPC facility and the rest have their HPC facilities in department labs or computer rooms. Four of them also have additional high-end workstations under/on their desks. The “Other” selection indicated the use of a CIS server.

4. What have you used HPC for?  All of the 14 respondents answered that they’ve used HPC resources for research and four of them have also used the resources for teaching as well (one of the four respondents teaches about HPC in class). Notice that multiple selection was also allowed for this question.

5. How do the HPC facilities you use meet your needs? Current and Future


CIS is always interested in knowing whether computing resources meet your needs now and in the future. About half of the responders thought that they have acceptable HPC systems for current and future needs. Most of the responders who chose “acceptable” for both current and future have relatively new HPC systems (< 1 year). On the other hand, those who have HPC systems older than 3 years said that the resource might not meet their needs in the future. CIS may help find required HPC resources for those who responded this question with “unacceptable” (and “neutral”). For example, FutureGrid resources may fit to your needs as it was introduced in this news article. Please contact our Scientific Computing Specialist (or leave your comments) for any assistance in finding the right HPC resources for you.

Through this survey, we believe that we’ve gathered very useful information for our HMC community. The HPC survey is still open at http://www.formstack.com/forms/hmc-hpc_survey_f2011. When you have time, please fill out this short survey so that we know more about your needs in High Performance Computing and help you accordingly.

BAO and CIS service initiative

As a result of a joint retreat that the management teams of BAO (Business Affairs Office) and CIS held in late September, we launched a joint project to study our service provision.  The idea came from a discussion of how we access one another’s services.  For example, F&M reminded us that they would like us to use the F&M work order system to submit requests and they would use the system to track work on requests.  The CIS management team took some time to think through the question of how to access CIS services, and decided to spend 90 days on a joint project with BAO that would look at how well the current system is working for BAO requests.

What we told BAO was this:

There are two primary routes to accessing the IT support services at CIS:

  • Contact your DTA in person, via email or by phone.
  • Contact the Help Desk by visiting it, sending email or calling.

We are aware that there are secondary routes to accessing CIS service.  For example, people who have been at HMC a while will often call someone in CIS directly. There is nothing wrong with using secondary routes, though they can sometimes be less reliable (eg. the request recipient at CIS is on vacation, or sick or is preoccupied with other work).  We decided that we wanted to put as much reliability as possible into the systems that support the primary routes to service.

The 90 day service initiative is going well (we passed the 60 day mark earlier this month), and we are learning a lot on both sides. We anticipate making some changes to the ticket system and the way we work with it that will be designed to increase reliability and reduce the amount of back and forth between end users and us, as well as within CIS, when we are dealing with service requests.

 

Visit to Reed College

In mid November, I visited Reed College in Portland, Oregon, to learn about their user support program, their procedures and processes, and to meet the IT staff there.  If you haven’t heard of Reed College, it is a private, liberal arts college in Southeast Portland with about 1400 undergraduate students.

Learn more about Reed College at www.reed.edu or
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_college

This is a picture of their Help Desk, which is open until midnight.  A team of students helps staff their Help Desk.  I learned about their great student help program, where they have about 15-16 students working for them.  The students who have worked there longer are the ones who train the newer students.  When it gets busy, all hands are on deck, and the support staff are there to help out:
Reed College uses PaperCut software to handle print queuing and load balancing.  Coincidentally, PaperCut is also the print queuing software that I was investigating for student print queuing and card-swipe printing.
This is their print station directly across from their Help Desk.  The four identical printers are load balanced for print jobs.  The iMac you see to the left of the printers is a print release station:

This is one of their computer labs as viewed from the outside.  Reed faculy, staff, students, and computer labs mainly use Macs:

This is one of their computer labs:

I also learned a lot about their internal procedures and processes, and met a lot of great people in the IT department there.

The weather in Portland during that time was cold and wet, which reminded me of why California is referred to as “sunny California” all the time.

Here’s one more picture of an interesting wall I saw in Portland:

I’d be happy to talk to anyone about my experiences and things I learned at Reed!

SuperComputing (SC11) Conference for College Educators

SuperComputing (SC) conference is the leading international conference on High Performance Computing (HPC), Networking, Storage and Analysis. This year the 24th annual SC conference (SC11) was held in Seattle, WA, in November, 2011. More than 5000 participants were gathered in one place to learn, discuss, and show off cutting-edge technologies in HPC and related areas.

Although the conference is huge in all respects, the beauty of the SC conference is in its specialized sub-community conferences. One of the sub-community conferences called Education Program is very well organized to suit to college educators who teach HPC and Scientific Computing. The main focus of the Education Program is to learn and share better ways of teaching HPC and Scientific Computing (or Computational Sciences) tools to undergraduate faculty and students.

Jeho Park (Scientific Computing Specialist) at CIS attended the SC11 conference, and learned many good practices on HPC education and made relevant connections on behalf of our HMC community. A few of the takeaways worth mentioning are Bootable Cluster CD (BCCD), LittleFe Project, and FutureGrid Project.

BCCD is a turn key solution to build a Beowulf style cluster on the fly. The BCCD boot image comes with a complete parallel computing environment such as network setup, libraries, compilers, benchmarks and applications needed to teach HPC to undergraduate faculty and students. So to teach distributed and parallel computing, you just need BCCD and a couple of networked workstations or a computer with a multicore processor(s). BCCD even runs in virtual machine (VM) environments. This mean that you may boot multiple BCCD VMs on different cores and emulate the cluster environment right in front of your audience. CIS will be testing BCCD on our High Performance Workstations during the winter break. For more information, please visit http://bccd.net/.

LittleFe Build OutLittleFe is an interesting project funded in part by Intel (until this year) to build a portable (< 50 lb) six-node cluster with a relatively small amount of money (< $3,000). The LittleFe portable cluster is a simple and easy way to build a hardware and software resource for teaching  parallel processing speedup, efficiency, and load balancing. CIS will keep an eye on their call for applications for 2012 LittleFe grants. If you are interested in being involved in this project at HMC, please contact Jeho at CIS.

If you are looking for a more serious type of HPC resource, take a good look at the FutureGrid Project. The FutureGrid Project focuses on offering new and dedicated test-bed environments for research challenges on grid-enabled and cloud-enabled computational schemes in sciences and engineering. The FutureGrid also actively supports education and broader outreach activities:

“…. The project will advance education and training in distributed computing at academic institutions with less diverse computational resources. It will do this through the development of instructional resources that include preconfigured environments that provide students with sandboxed virtual clusters….”

So it sounds like the FutureGrid is waiting for your innovative ideas to exploit their new experimental testbed for your research and teaching on HPC, scientific computing, parallel computing, distributed computing and cloud computing. Harvey Mudd College is especially good fit for FutureGrid in terms of its scope. So we encourage faculty members to look at the FutureGrid website and feel free to contact CIS for any assistance to apply for FutureGrid instances.

The next SC12 conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 10, 2012.

Lecture Capture Pilot in the Learning Studio Classroom

WirecastIn April 2011 Prof. Mike Erlinger approached the ETMS group with a proposal to build a lecture capture system in the Learning Studio Classroom. Prof. Erlinger was interested in an automated lecture capture system that would make it easier to videotape student presentations for students to review. Our audiovisual staff had manually videotaped classes for Prof. Erlinger in Spring 2011, but this required a great deal of staff time to accomplish. Prof. Erlinger worked with Michael Meyka and James Sadler to write a proposal that used off-the-shelf components to create a more automated system. Since this project fit very well within the scope of our Teaching with Technology Innovation Grant program, ETMS decided to fund the project and create a pilot automated lecture capture system during Summer 2011.

The system that was installed for the Fall 2011 semester consisted of a web cam installed in the ceiling of the classroom, a PC desktop with Wirecast software, a VGA converter box and a large hard drive. Total cost of the system was approximately $1500.

Prof. Erlinger began using the lecture capture system to videotape student presentations in CSCI 121-Software Engineering during the Fall 2011 semester. Michael and James did a presentation at A Bite of Learning on September 19th to describe the pilot program and our very preliminary results. Soon after that Prof. Michael Orrison asked to participate in the pilot program as well. He has also been using it to record student presentations in Math Forum.

While we’ve gathered a lot of good feedback with the pilot program, we’re not ready to go production with the lecture capture system yet. We’ll be continuing with the pilot program in Spring 2012 with the same two courses. We’re limited in the number of courses we can support because we don’t yet have a solution for storing and distributing the videos. However, in Spring 2012 we’ll be running another pilot with Kaltura, a hosted video service that integrates with Sakai, our course management system. So stay tuned for more information on that pilot!

Highlights of 2011

As we did last year, at the last CIS staff meeting for the year we put our heads together and listed the things that stood out for us as significant accomplishments during the past twelve months.

Here’s the list we came up with:

  • Google Apps for students
  • Began work of migrating faculty to Google Apps
  • Digital signage for Dining Services
  • Two high performance workstations in Learning Studio
  • Annenberg and Nelson series went without a hitch
  • Alumni Weekend was perfect
  • Bite of Learning – last one was a huge success. Thank you Greg Lyzenga!
  • Streamlined CIS admin services through FootPrints ticket system
  • Lecture capture pilot in the Learning Studio Classroom
  • Online reading for Admission via OnBase
  • New VMware infrastructure
  • Created Learning Studio help desk area
  • Successful move to Sprague 5th floor
  • Incident review process – every incident (such as a server outage) gets a careful review so that we learn from it
  • Sakai is updated from CX more often (Registrars of the Colleges requested this)
  • Selected IAM package
  • “Add User” tool created for Sakai
  • Secondary and remote Cognos access for Advancement staff
  • Cognos 10 upgrade well under way. Veronica holds office hours.
  • Multiple JICS upgrades with proactive testing
  • Hiring of Veronica, Mitch, and Cindy
  • Project summary and documentation agreement with BAO
  • Service initiative with BAO
  • Project portfolio management in the works
  • Helped convert 4-5 spaces into temporary classrooms for use during TLB construction
  • Camera set up on roof of Kingston to record TLB construction
  • For the first time ever Commencement was streamed live
  • 4 new Sharp copiers were installed

IAM @ HMC journey begins

In my last update from the CIO  I gave a quick overview of Identity and Access Management (IAM).  We have now contracted with Fischer International for Identity and Access Management services.  Throughout 2012, this decision will have an increasing impact on all of our daily computing lives.  You will hear and read more and more references to your “HMC Credentials”, which will be a username and password derived from your current Charlie or Alice passwords (Active Directory).  We will stop referring to credentials that are specific to an application, such as “your Zimbra username and password”.   Eventually, your HMC Credentials will be the only credentials you need to access most services; moreover, you will see a “single sign on” ecology begin to emerge:  once you’ve logged in to one service, you typically will not have to provide credentials for the next service you visit.  For example, you would log on to your computer in the morning and then visit Sakai, which would recognize that you have already authenticated and not ask you for your credentials a second time. Ditto when you visit email (including Google Apps) after you’ve logged into Sakai or the Portal.  And so on.

The IAM @ HMC initiative will also bring you a web interface to reset your password for your HMC credentials.

There’s more: an important milestone along the IAM @ HMC journey will be our ability to join InCommon, which is an Internet2 initiative.  Two immediate benefits: you will be able to use your HMC Credentials to access online resources through the library, NSF resources and any other “federated” resources that work with InCommon.  We anticipate joining InCommon in the first six months of 2012. 

Starcraft 2 Tournament in the Learning Studio

This past weekend, we hosted a highly successful Starcraft 2 Tournament in the Learning Studio.

Roger Weichman sent us “a few pictures I took of the Starcraft 2 tournament this weekend.  They had a great turnout.  Players came from other schools too, like CalPoly, UCI and UCR.”  Around 60 people turned up, with about 40 playing.  Kevin Riley ’12 was the overall winner.

The pictures are here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71962990@N04/6500379501/in/photostream/lightbox/

We’re delighted that the Learning Studio gets used by so many people in lots of different ways.