Computing Services

Unit Annual Report

2003-2004

 

 

Personnel

 

John Bowers - Director

Pam Gades - Instructional Technology Specialist

Linda Harstad – Business Manager

Dave Savela - Network Manager

Lynn Schulz - Principal Analyst/Programmer

Matt Senger - User Support Supervisor

Mark Van Overbeke - System Administrator

Rebecca Webb - Web/Events Calendar Coordinator

Doug Williams - ResNet Administrator

 

Student Consultants and Morris Administrative Interns:

Joel Blaha, Emily Christiansen, Matt Fair, Nick Geistfeld, Tony Heinen, Matt Helgeson, Amanda Hyde, Angie Lozano, Toby Martinez, Kate Rolfs, Mike Stone, Aaron Vasecka

Purpose

 

UMM Computing Services provides technology support to all UMM's instructional, research, and administrative programs.

 

Function

 

A.        To maintain and improve the campus-wide network, the residence hall network, and UMM's Internet link.

 

B.        To manage and operate central systems for academic and administrative users, including email and web servers.

 

C.        To provide well-equipped public computing laboratories and classrooms for instructional and research use.

 

D.        To give technical assistance and user support to faculty, students, and staff for computing projects of all types.

 

E.         To design, develop, and maintain databases and administrative systems to serve the record-keeping and management information needs of the campus.

 

F.         To offer training on computing applications and network resources via short courses, written handouts, newsletters, and tutorials.

 

G.        To see that UMM's needs are considered in University-wide technology planning.

 

H.        To project campus computing and network needs, to plan for the future, and to lay the groundwork to see UMM's needs fulfilled.

 

Evaluation

 

Despite budget cutbacks and a greatly reduced number of student employees, UMM Computing Services completed another year full of ambitious projects and important accomplishments.  Our plans for 2004-2005 are similarly impressive and challenging.  More than any other office on campus, UMM Computing Services must continually strive to keep up with changes in technology and to support the changes that technology brings to higher education and administrative support.  Our ability to keep pace will be pushed to the limit in the upcoming year by the cumulative impact of budget cuts and by the departure of Computing Services Director John Bowers, who is leaving UMM on July 9.

 

UMM Computing Services maintains computer labs across campus, some of which are also used as classrooms.  Planning began in Fall 2003 for a new Computing Services facility in the renovated Social Science building.  This room will contain 40 (or more) computers, will be used for selected Social Science division classes, and will be available for 24-hour access for students.  We recommend that the initial purchase of computers be included in the building budget, while the future/ongoing replacement of these computers be managed as part of annual technology fee allocations for student computing facilities.  We also recommend that the smaller lab/classrooms in Camden 10 and Behmler 39 be permanently closed when the Social Science building re-opens, in order to keep from over-extending our ability to manage and replace student lab computers.  Computing Services staff (in particular Dave Savela) also participated in planning across the board for the network design within the renovated Social Science building.

 

During summer 2003 the open Computing Services lab on the third floor of Briggs Library was redesigned into an enclosed room which now serves both as a public lab and as a library instruction facility.  The computers in the Camden 10 and Behmler 39 lab/classroom facilities were replaced in summer 2004, thanks again to allocations from the student technology fee. 

 

Led by system administrator Mark Van Overbeke, an entirely new cluster of servers was installed in summer 2003 to manage redesigned and strengthened email services for the Morris campus.  The new structure tightly integrates UMM email with central University mail services, greatly improving spam blocking (preventing messages from known spam sites from arriving at UMM mailboxes) and spam filtering (labeling messages that appear to be spam so that users can more easily manage and delete them).  The new servers also protect against viruses in all incoming mail messages.  As part of the conversion, we also moved mailing list management to a central University server, allowing us to offer more full-featured list management; and a Webmail server was also installed at the Morris campus, allowing faster, easier mail access to UMM students and to members of faculty and staff who are traveling.

 

New web-based systems developed by Matt Senger are bringing improved and streamlined services to several offices on campus.  Matt developed a student employment database for the Financial Aid office, a work-order tracking system for Media Services, and a system allowing faculty to assess student learning in classes for the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.  These systems are written in ColdFusion and they allow staff to interact with the data via web browsers, greatly simplifying the ability to make queries and run reports for multiple users on the network.  ColdFusion has become a key technology for UMM system development, and the next projects Matt has underway will improve the events calendar and the management of digital image files.

 

Pam Gades was appointed as a member of the "IT Core Group" that will provide central support and leadership to the next three-year Bush grant funding instructional technology efforts in the Faculty Center for Learning and Teaching.  This role is a good complement to Pam's duties as the leader of faculty support and instructional technology training for Computing Services.  Pam continued to offer an ambitious schedule of training and support for WebCT, Dreamweaver, InDesign, and other critical software applications at UMM.  Another two-day Instructional Technology Institute was held in August 2003, with co-sponsorship from Computing Services, Briggs Library, Media Services, Continuing Education, and the NTNT program.  The same groups collaborated again on a very successful Instructional Technology Fair in October, this time featuring two of the popular tented pavilions for short presentations.  Another cooperative effort in instructional technology was the new "Tech Tuesdays" series of lunchtime brown-bag sessions, which informally combine presentations and discussions on technology topics of interest.  Computing Services staff led four of the twelve sessions in spring 2004.  Pam Gades and John Bowers both presented at separate conferences on the innovative "Creating Digital Media" multimedia lab sessions that were developed by a team led by Pam.  The "Creating Digital Media" hands-on tutorials are a prime example of a new idea catching hold among instructional technology professionals called "low-threshold applications," where a faculty member needs only a few minutes or perhaps one page of instructions to learn a new software function that he or she will find useful.  A final effort to note in Computing Services instructional technology support for this year is the addition of a number of commercial training CDs on various software packages, offering many hours of video tutorials available for checkout to all UMM faculty, staff and students.

 

New University standards and guidelines designed to protect private information on University computers, and to greatly improve network security across the University of Minnesota network, go into effect in September.  Compliance with the new policies and guidelines will be enforced beginning later in the year.  The new standards will require Computing Services to step up management of operating systems and patches on the computers of staff and faculty users, and to expand the use of system vulnerability scans, network filtering, authentication, support contracts, and other procedures and strategies to protect the software and data of UMM network users.

 

With systematic procedures and budget lines now in place for the regular replacement of faculty desktop computers, Computing Services has been forced to devote increasing time and attention to the sale and disposal of retired systems.  Although it is a public service for UMM to sell computers at low prices that still have a couple of years of usable life left for home usage, it requires a substantial effort every year to collect the retired computers, list them for sale, arrange for payments, determine which software licenses may legally be transferred, clear private data on the hard disks, test components, and manage dozens of other details that this process requires.  We thank Linda Harstad for her leadership in this grueling process, and we appreciate efforts of the Divisions and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs' offices to simplify these procedures and make them more efficient.

 

The annual budget of UMM Computing Services was reduced by more than $24,000 as part of the second year of new campus-wide budget cuts.  The cuts came from lines that support UMM's public computing labs, central systems, and technical support.  Among the specific changes made was a reduction in available dial-in modem service from 48 to 24 lines during the summer months.  It's anticipated that we will have difficulty adding any new software licenses in the near future, and that the impact on the central server account will begin to become apparent in a few years when some of our relatively new servers begin to show their age.  For the second year, John Bowers was an elected member of the Budget Task Force, representing the Administrative Committee.

 

Narrative and/or Statistical

 

UMM's Internet traffic has been shaped by advanced management tools since spring 2003.  The explosive and uncontrolled growth that was underway before that time was fueled primarily by (mostly illegal) file sharing of movies and music.  This growth could not be maintained and the University of Minnesota adopted a technology called Packeteer to set ceilings on various types of usage.  The Packeteer server analyzes traffic on the network and can be configured to set limits on how fast various types of traffic are allowed to move across the network.  Thus we can permit web traffic and email to travel at full speed while causing peer-to-peer file transfers to use only a limited portion of the available bandwidth, preventing the serious problems of congestion that plagued network users in the past few years.  The steady state of network usage over 2003-2004 means that we are using all available bandwidth in the most efficient way, although there is no question that we are using the network link at full capacity and the campus is hungry for more bandwidth.

 

 

Together with SHOT (our consortium of campuses supporting ITV) and Media Services, this year we converted UMM's interactive television services to the H.323 standard, which allows the two-way link to be carried entirely over standard network connections and the Internet.  This greatly simplifies ITV access for UMM users.  New locations in Behmler, the Student Center, and Science were configured with connections to a special network subnet that is reserved exclusively for the use of ITV meetings and classes.

 

Projects are underway to increase the speed and capacity of network services for UMM's users.  Supported by the UMM student technology fee, we began converting all connections on ResNet to 100 mb/second service -- a ten-fold increase over the current 10 mb/s service.  The campus as a whole began to realize the benefits of a phased migration to gigabit service on the network backbone.  Wireless network service was available to users for the first time this year as well.  Over the course of the year, Computing Services improved the wireless infrastructure and authentication system, so that the restrictions on wireless connections at the beginning of the year (only a single client card was supported) were eliminated by the end of the year.  New locations were added in spring 2004, so that wireless access was available in seven locations by the end of the semester.  Computing Services also devoted new attention to network security and management of network threats this year.  A "snort" system was added to the central network services to detect intrusion attempts and to control malicious activity on the campus network (for example, to prevent the uncontrolled spread of network worms).

 

 

 

Data on usage of the UMM Web site reveals that our site cracked the "10 millions hits" mark during April 2004 (the month used as our data point each year), generating an average 346,947 hits per day from 10,802 individual visitors who remained on-site nearly 13 minutes (up more than a minute from 2002 and 2003). Computing Services, Directories, Library, Registrar, Academics and Athletics continue to be the most-used pages, while the redesigned Prospective Students site doubled its number of monthly views over the same period a year ago.  2005 usage reports will provide data on traffic to our redesigned Splash page (point of first web contact for off-campus users) and its secondary pages (maintained by Rebecca Webb) which will emphasize UMM's unique strengths.

Major changes recommended/Plans for 2004-2005

 

1. Complete a successful search for a new Computing Services director.  UMM Computing Services will be short one staff member, and greatly restricted in our ability to start new projects, until we have new permanent leadership.

 

2. Replace computers in Behmler 10.  The main UMM Computing Services lab facility, where the help desk is located and the largest variety of computer equipment for students is provided, will be due for replacement in spring 2005. 

 

3. Increase network speeds for users, increase core network capacity, and increase wireless network service.  Offer 100 mb/second network speed to users across campus and on ResNet.  This requires the full-scale replacement of "edge switches" in each building, an effort which is already underway; Doug Williams will complete all residence halls before the end of the summer.  Replace the central network switch with a new Cisco 6500 switch to enable expanded gigabit service on the campus backbone, greater capacity to add new sub-nets, and improved options for special services such as security features.  Provide wireless network service (802.11g) throughout the entire building in Briggs Library and Student Center, and in selected locations in other campus classroom buildings and residence halls.  Meet the demand for improved access to multimedia services across the network by providing the fastest network speeds available with current technology.

 

4. Upgrade servers and services.  Roll out access to SharePoint collaboration services on our new central Windows 2003 server.  This will allow document sharing and collaborative efforts between Windows and Macintosh users in UMM's administrative offices.  Upgrade the UMM-IT server for expanded instructional technology services, and upgrade the Radmind server to improve services available to Macintosh users in Computing Services labs.  Investigate the feasibility of offering a central server to allow users to back up their files, automatically and reliably, across the network.

 

5. Implement and support the document imaging (ImageNow) project for Admissions, Financial Aid, and Registrar.  These offices will greatly benefit from electronic archiving, indexing, and retrieval of their paper files.  In addition, the ImageNow system allows document processing and handling (for example, approvals of applications for admission) to be managed electronically across the network, with no need for the physical transfer of paper from desk to desk.  The ImageNow system has already been successfully integrated into the operations of a number of administrative departments on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses.  Each UMM office's needs for this system differ from the others, and UMM Computing Services needs to provide technical support to users, management of scanning equipment, and technical assistance with user accounts and workflow processing.  Lynn Schulz and Matt Senger are the essential support staff for this project.

 

6. Roll out the new UMCal service to UMM.  UMCal is the new free, centrally supported calendar system designed to simplify calendar management and meeting scheduling across the entire University of Minnesota system.  At UMM, this will be a new service for most users, while it will replace the paid Meeting Maker service (which is a much less feature-rich alternative) for staff in some departments.  UMCal also opens up very interesting possibilities for the management of resources including meeting rooms and equipment offered for loan.  Our goal is to convert Meeting Maker users and offer several levels of training to users for UMCal.

 

7. Provide better monitoring and management of UMM's Internet traffic.  The T3 line that provides UMM's Internet service is an expensive resource that is currently being used at its fullest possible capacity through the entire academic year.  At peak times, network congestion and competition for bandwidth severely cramps users both on ResNet and on the campus network.  Non-intrusive sampled monitoring of Internet traffic outbound from the UMM campus will allow us to indirectly observe the applications that are occupying the largest pieces of our total network bandwidth, and to develop strategies and procedures to ensure that all users have fair and equitable access to the limited total network services.  This will also allow us to instantly identify the sources of problem traffic, such as the dissemination of a worm across the network.  Network monitoring and analysis of this type has been solving problems at the Twin Cities and Crookston campuses for over a year now.



Return to 2003-04 Annual Reports List