CIO's Blog

Stephen Frazier, Western Illinois University


Reporting on Major uTech Projects

Two new online reports are now providing detailed information about University Technology (uTech) projects; Summary and Detail reports. These reports are automatically updated each night and they can be accessed on uTech’s website with ECom credentials at: http://www.wiu.edu/university_technology/other_info/projects.php

Given the number of initiatives that University Technology is managing, visibility into uTech’s projects is critical. uTech provides a wide variety of technology services that directly or indirectly impact almost every individual and organization at the University. At any point in time, uTech is managing dozens of new IT implementations while providing support for ongoing production services. Keeping our stakeholders apprised of the status of these is important.

This newest reporting system, called the Major Project Tracking System, documents and tracks all of uTech’s major initiatives; whether they are currently underway, completed, on hold, or planned. This system was developed in-house using an existing application.

Detailed information about twenty-four active major projects is now being updated and tracked in the system. Tracked information includes the projects’ purpose, scope, managers, target start and end dates, milestones, and the current status. While there are more projects than listed in these reports (150 at last count), we’ve eliminated those that are either small or specifically for uTech internal operations.

Project managers are updating projects in the tracking database on at least a weekly basis. The reports are generated by the Pentaho Reporting tool and uploaded to uTech’s website each night. These reports, along with the newly implemented IT Governance, will help to improve transparency of IT project activities.


Conquering WIU’s Wireless Divide

There has been a wireless divide on the Macomb campus at Western Illinois University.  Students living on campus are either on one side of that divide or the other.  That’s all going to change later this summer when wireless access becomes ubiquitous in all of the residence halls.

Wireless access has been available in the residence hall rooms on the south side of the campus.  Caroline Grote Hall was one of the first residence halls to be provided with wireless access in the Fall 2007.  When the Corbin and Olsen Halls remodel was completed in August 2012, the wireless system was upgraded in them.  Westbrook (formerly the International House) has also had wireless since August 2012.  Lincoln and Washington were the most recent ones, which were brought online in the fall of 2013.

The north side of campus has not enjoyed the same wireless coverage, however.  Bayliss, Henninger, Tanner and Thompson have only had coverage in the common areas on the 1st and 2nd floors (Tanner’s 3rd floor common area also had wireless) since August 2007.   The University is financing $450,000, approximately half the cost of the project, which will be paid back over three years using ResNet fees to provide Tanner, Thompson, Bayliss and Henninger with 802.11n or 802.11.ac wireless coverage in all of the student rooms.

Contract work is scheduled to begin on May 12 in Thompson Hall to run conduits, molding, installation of ceiling brackets and wireless access points.  The anticipated completion date of the work in all of the residence halls on the north side of campus is two weeks before classes start for the fall semester.  The contractor and University Technology will be working on it throughout the entire summer. The majority of work should be done by the time the general student population moves in.  However, there may be punch list items that still need to be completed when students arrive, depending on what unforeseen difficulties the contractor encounters.

ResNet’s Internet egress also requires an equipment upgrade.  This upgrade will allow ResNet’s wired network and wireless network to take full advantage of our connection to our Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Bandwidth improvements will be needed to handle the increased network traffic from student-owned mobile devices in residence halls on both the north and south side of campus. The good news is that this ResNet egress upgrade has been approved and it is ready to go.

Bandwidth was increased from 256 Mbps to 620 Mbps (a 2 fold increase) earlier this year.  With the installation of new network equipment later this summer, it will increase to 2 Gbps in the fall.  That’s approximately eight times as fast as it was at the beginning of the Fall 2013 semester.  That type of increase will be welcomed by both mobile and non-mobile ResNet users… and I think they will be very excited!


How High Can We Go?

Judging by the reaction of students living on campus, the bandwidth improvements on the residential network (ResNet) just before the Thanksgiving break were well received! The total bandwidth was increased from 265 to 520 megabits per second (Mbps), effectively doubling the former capacity of the network. Students have expressed excitement about this turn of events, which University Technology wanted to accomplish before the upcoming final exam period.

It might seem as though the networking team pulled a rabbit out of the hat to accomplish this latest bump in Internet speed. Actually, however, they had been working on it for the past 6 months or more. It began with a series of discussions with one of the two Internet Service Providers (ISP) that are providing bandwidth for the University’s networks. Although we had subsequenlty received one Gigabit of bandwidth capacity from this ISP for ResNet, we are still waiting for final word regarding the Macomb campus network bandwidth increase from our other ISP. However, being provided with additional bandwidth from the ISPs is only part of the equation.

Providing access to the Internet involves many types of equipment (including the University’s firewalls, switches, packet shapers, intrusion detection systems, copyright infringement detectors, etc.). Unfortunately, our currently-owned network gear has limited capacity to handle much additional throughput. Therein lies the real challenge because replacement of this equipment will require significant investments (the cost could be between one and two million dollars over multiple years). So, although our ISP is providing us with a full 1Gps for ResNet, we are only able to access half of it because of our curren tnetwork equipment’s capabilities. The rabbit (okay, there was one) that the team pulled out of the hat was a plan which allowed ResNet to take immediate advantage of a part of the 1Gbps bandwidth by removing a piece of network gear that was creating one of the bottlenecks. So, given our current equipment, the reality is that we are only able to take advantage of just over 50% of the new ResNet bandwidth now available form the ISP.

With these most recent changes to ResNet, the previous individual student’s 1 Mbps limitation has been removed. Students now have the potential of obtaining higher bandwidth during times when fewer students are on the network, such as between 2:00 AM and 10:00 AM. They should also see improved bandwidth numbers during higher usage times, which typically occur between 2:00 PM and 11:00 PM. Students will now see more variability in the speeds they obtain. It is possible one second to get 20 Mbps throughput and the next they might only see 3 Mbps or less, depending on how many students are concurrently sharing ResNet. Nevertheless, these speeds are a significant improvement over the original 1 Mbps per second limit that was previously in place.

University Technology has been developing a proposal for the longer term that leverages a phased approach to acquiring the needed equipment to overhaul both the Academic and ResNet networks. It calls for supporting a full gigabit initially with increases to 3 Gbps, 7 Gbps, and eventually 10 Gbps. The plan includes the use of open source solutions where applicable (which is an inititiative in the new IT Strategic Plan) and the elimination of some equipment that will create new bottlenecks as the ISP-provided bandwidth is increased. To keep all of the costs from being incurred in any one single year, acquisition of new equipment will be spread out over several years or more . This plan will be proposed and vetted in the new IT Governance Process, along with future enhancements to the wireless and wired infrastructure.

Not wanting to raise expectations while we grappled with the best approach to resolving the network bottlenecks, University Technology refrained from openly announcing plans before now. Interestingly, we might now be faced with another dilemma. Students who live in the residence halls may notice the disparity in speeds between the ReNet and the campus network, particularly when they use computers in the labs and classrooms. If they do, we ask for their patience and understanding as we work though the issues noted above.

2013-11-[15-21] ResNet Weekly Average

Resnet Inbound and Outbound Traffic

The graph above shows the significant difference that recent changes made in the Inbound traffic on ResNet.  Dan Romano (Director of Infrastructure Services) and I would like to recognize the network team that has been working on these latest improvements and a long term strategy, including Tim Rericha, Hosam Badreidin, Brian Andrews and Gary Douglas.


How Are Things Going To Be Different With IT Governance?

The implementation of IT governance at Western Illinois University required that two questions be answered by the President’s Cabinet.  One pertained to the membership of the top-level IT governance decision making group (called the Council) and the other question was who will become the owner (Owner) of the IT governance process.  They made these decisions last week.  Since then, a question that I’ve been asked is “How are things going to be any different with IT Governance?”  Before I respond to that question, let me provide a little background information that may shed some light on my response.

Background Information

During the President’s Cabinet meeting on November 11, 2013, Dr. Neumann (Associate Provost) and I had the opportunity to meet with the President’s Cabinet to discuss the new IT Governance framework and the new 2013-2018 IT Strategic Plan for Western Illinois University. As you may know, the Board of Trustees accepted the IT Strategic Plan at their board meeting in October and one of its intitiatives is the implementation of IT governance.

The IT Governance Planning Committee made three recommendations to the President’s Cabinet for the composition of the IT Governance Council and two recommendations for the Owner. In regard to the Council, the Planning Committee recommended the options that it be the 1) President’s Cabinet, 2) the President’s Cabinet with a representative from each of the divisions, or 3) simply a representative from each division. In the latter case, of course, a campus-wide budget would be necessary. All three recommendations included the CIO, the Budget Officer and legal counsel serving on the Council. In regard to the Owner, the planning committee recommended that this individual be either the CIO or the President.

At the start of the Spring 2014 semester, this IT Governance Council will become the top level IT Governance body, which receives proposals from its three working groups (called Alliances). As proposals are forwarded to this Council, it will determine which proposals should be moved forward. After prioritizing them, the Council will give the proposals to the Owner of the IT governance process (governance is established to aid this individual in IT decision making). The Owner is responsible for information technology at the University and for implementing anything that s/he accepts.

At the Cabinet meeting, the President and VPs selected the first option. Therefore, they, along with the CIO, the Budget Officer and the attorney, will comprise the IT Governance Council. In addition, they decided that the President will be the Owner of the IT Governance process. The President’s Cabinet traditionally has made all major IT funding decisions and therefore they felt that they have been performing the Council’s role in the past.

How Are Things Going To Be Different With IT Governance?

I have been asked whether anything will have changed by implementing IT Governance given that the President and his Cabinet will be assuming these top-level IT governance roles. Typically the question has been phrased as, “So, how are things going to be any different?” I’ve also been asked if my CIO responsibility as the senior IT decision maker for the University is changing because the President will be the Owner of the IT governance process.

IT governance has been implemented in a variety of ways at colleges and universities throughout the world and most likely no two models are exactly the same. I am optimistic that the way we have chosen to implement it here at WIU will be effective… let me explain why. In the past, IT enhancements and new initiatives proposed by campus members could be vetoed by a director or the divsion’s Vice President. If that happened, the other VPs and the President may not have had the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. Now that the President’s Cabinet will be assuming the role of the IT Governace Council, all proposals forwarded to the Council from the Alliances will be considered by all members of the President’s Cabinet. The University’s voice in IT matters, therefore, will be considered by the top level of our administration. In my opinion, that’s a good thing!

By serving on the Council, senior administration will have a greater opportunity to be involved in the aplication of technology in teaching, learning, research, and the administrative processes of the University as well as how it applies to the student life experience. As the CIO, I will be a member of the Council and I can answer questions, provide recommendations and subsquently implement proposals approved by the President in his role as the Owner. In one respect, while I become directly acountable to the President for implementation of the proposals he approves as the Owner, I do not see my current role as CIO changing.

In the past, large IT projects often needed funds to be provided by a VP or the President’s Cabinet. Under IT governance, the President’s Cabinet will determine whether funds are available for those proposals they want to move forward. Who better to determine how to fund the proposals they accept than the President’s Cabinet acting in their role as the Council?

Another difference is that the new IT Governance will provide faculty, staff and students the opportunity to fully participate in the IT decision-making process. Members of the University will be encouraged to propose suggestions for IT enhancements, particpate in the IT goveranance working groups and attend any of the meetings of the Alliances or the Council. The entire IT governance process will be open and transparent.

Where Are We At?

So, where is the planning committee at in the process of implementing IT governance? Letters have been sent to the Faculty Senate, SGA, Chairs Council, Registrar’s Office, Vice President, and President requesting that they appoint individuals from their areas to serve on the Alliances. The planning group’s intention is to conduct orientations before the end of the semester and to kick off the IT governance process at the beginning of the Spring semester.

In preparation, we are developing a website and an automated online workflow process for the submission and tracking of proposals. Faculty, staff and students will be able to use their ECom credentials to complete proposals online. As proposals work their way through the governance process, submitters be informed of the status of their requests at each step via emails generated by the tracking system.

Incidentally, the IT Governance Planning Committee continues to meet every Monday at 3:00 p.m. in Library 180. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join the group and participate in the planning!

IT Strategic Plan Priorities

During the President’s Cabinet meeting, we also discussed the IT Strategic Plan priorities. These included the consolidation of AIMS and ESS with University Technology, the ERP (mainframe), improving the IT Infrastructure (including bandwidth, ownership and funding of the network) and a 3rd party assessment of the University’s IT security stance.

I’ll talk more about these priorities in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My door is always open!


Join the IT Governance Planning Process!

Please accept this as your personal invitation to participate in a committee that has been working on IT Governance. Since the Spring semester of 2013, a subcommittee of UTAG and others have been working on a proposal that includes elements of other universities’ implementations, adapted for implementation at Western Illinois University. The meetings, which are held on Mondays at 3:00 p.m. in Library 180, are open to the entire campus community. We’d love to have you join us!

Based on feedback received after the first draft of the IT Governance proposal was posted for comment on uTech’s website, some changes were made. The most notable of these changes was to the membership of the Alliances (the working groups that research and make finalized proposals). The committee has also clarified some of the details of the proposal and developed forms to be used in the IT governance processes. The latest version is available on uTech’s Website.

Provided that 2013-2018 IT Strategic Plan, which calls for the establishment of IT governance, is approved by the Board of Trustees on October 11, the President’s Cabinet, Faculty Senate and SGAs will begin appointing members to the Alliances.  Prior to its implementation, there is still work to be done on planning for IT governance… and we need your input!


The Bandwidth Beast

In a recent post on the University’s Facebook page, a WIU student raised concerns about bandwidth and Internet speed within the residence halls.  Western Illinois University is certainly not alone among higher education institutions in this struggle to “tame the bandwidth monster.”   There is an interesting article written on the bandwidth topic by Keith Fowlkes, a CIO at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky (see http://www.informationweek.com/education/campus-infrastructure/can-colleges-tame-the-bandwidth-monster/240150686).

Access to the Internet is needed to support academic scholarship and research.  Students, along with faculty and staff, consume bandwidth on the University’s main network for these purposes.

The residential network (ResNet) used by students living in the residence halls currently provides 265 Mbps bandwidth.  When students simultaneously access the Internet, bandwidth usage is maxed out and remains that way, typically until the early morning hours.  Streaming videos, downloading music, using file-sharing software, and gaming does tax the speed of ResNet further.  As Mr. Fowlkes points out in the above referenced article, this is “compounded by cable and satellite content providers piling into the mix with their mobile apps.”   In addition, users are introducing a myriad of new devices to the networks in increasing numbers, including tablets and smart phones.

During Summer 2013, University Technology (uTech) entered into discussions with WIU’s internet service providers (ISPs) to address bandwidth needs.   The University is negotiating to purchase an increase of bandwidth on ResNet to bring it up to 1Gps. We recognized the need to increase bandwidth to 3Gps over the next few years and then to 10Gps after that.  Expanding bandwidth beyond 1Gps, however, is expensive. Not only is the cost of the additional bandwidth involved, but the network firewalls and packet shapers will also need to be replaced.

It should be noted that uTech’s Strategic Plan draft, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees in October, proposes increasing the bandwidth.  The proposed IT governance process that will be implemented this semester will prioritize IT projects, including bandwidth.  Students from both campuses will have representation in this process.  More about the IT Strategic Plan and IT governance can be found at wiu.edu/university_technology/other_info/it_strategic_plan_and_governance.

Will the networks ever provide enough bandwidth to satisfy the rapidly growing demand for it?  Maybe not … but there is hope in the future given some of new emerging technologies. Until then, we ask for your patience as the University continues to add bandwidth in affordable chunks.  We encourage everyone who is experiencing unusually slow network performance to contact the uTech Support Center at (309) 298-2704 or enter a Service Request by going to http://my.wiu.edu and clicking on the SysAid icon.


Request For Comment

To date, the draft 2013-2018 IT Strategic Plan and the new IT Governance proposal have been shared with the President’s leadership team, the deans and directors of Academic Affairs, the leadership of the Faculty Senate, the leadership of the Student Government Association at the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses and the University Technology Advisory Group.  We are continuing to meet with other groups on campus as the opportunities arise.

While we will be scheduling open forums on both campuses for discussion, we are now seeking considered input from all students, faculty and staff.   To this end, we have created a special web page for the purpose of gathering feedback from the University community.  The link to it may be found on uTech’s site at www.wiu.edu/utech at the top of the right-hand panel (just above the link to the CIO’s blog).  After clicking on the link, you will be prompted for your WIU network credentials.  This page not only provides links to these two new documents and a mechanism for gathering comments, but it also includes links to view the comments that have been submitted.  Comments are displayed without identifying who submitted them.

Comments are requested through September 13, 2013.  This cutoff date allows time for final editing and approval before the documents are submitted for inclusion with materials that go to the Board of Trustees prior to their October 11 meeting.

Thank you for your participation in this most important endeavor!

Stephen Frazier, CIO

Western Illinois University

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.