Duke ITAC - November 7, 2002 Minutes

DUKE ITAC - November 7, 2002 Minutes


November 7, 2002

Attending: Ed Anapol, Mike Baptiste, Pakis Bessias, John Board, Dick Danner, Angel Dronsfield, Tracy Futhey, Patrick Halpin, Alfred Trozzo for Paul Harrod, Billy Herndon, Bob Newlin for David Jamieson-Drake, David Jarmul, Roger Loyd, Greg McCarthy, Melissa Mills, Caroline Nisbet, George Oberlander, Lynne O'Brien, Mike Pickett, Rafael Rodriguez, Molly Tamarkin, Fred Westbrook, Robert Wolpert, Steve Woody, Scott Lindroth

Guests: Heather Flannagan, Mark Cross, William McNairy, Dan McCarriar, Ben Riseling, Paul Conway

Call to Order: Meeting called to order 4:04 pm

I. Review of Minutes and Announcements:

New pricing for Dell

Rafael Rodriguez announced that the Duke computer store has a standard configuration Dell laptop and desktop computer available at special prices for the Health System, including Raleigh Community and Durham Regional Hospitals, but all Duke departments can take advantage of the offering. The Desktop configuration is approximately $1,100 and the laptop is approximately $1,500.

New committees

Tracy Futhey told ITAC of two new committees that will be formed soon. They haven't been created because the plan is to have only two committees active at a time. The first group will be concerned with network infrastructure. We need to think more broadly about our network futures? What kind of wires do we have? Should we be thinking about a new backbone? Where do we need to look for the future? Mike Baptiste will head up this effort. We haven't assembled a team for this committee yet, but that will be the group's first task.

The second committee has not yet been formalized. It will focus on what we do with portals. This stems from a growing sense around campus that we need to do more with portals.

LDAP exploration meeting

Mike Pickett will host an Explorations meeting on November 14th on the Enterprise Directory and LDAP technology. Questions addressed will include how it is currently used on campus and how it can be used.

II. MCNC/Supercomputing update

Presented by Tracy Futhey

MCNC has two functions. One is providing networking services and the other is supercomputing services. Two years ago a fair amount of their budget was cut by the NC Legislature. This particularly targeted their supercomputing services. Recently they have provided for the loss of funding by drawing down on their endowment. They have been working on how to stay in business and what their business is.

Right now the board has endorsed a focus on cluster computer strategies. They are moving in the direction of cluster computing, but they are not abandoning supercomputing. Their strategy involves contributions from all the universities they serve. We looked at what the value of the service was and whether we could do it on our own. Duke, NC State and others will contribute a total of $1 million.

We talked with campus leaders to discuss whether we should have more cluster computing on campus. Questions arose concerning what the costs of cluster computing would look like and whether people could get the time they need in a campus cluster-computing environment.

John Board: We have been contributing money for years to the networking end. That part is not at risk. The problem is the supercomputing side. They have had large SP-type and SGI-type supercomputers that are comparable to what we have on campus. To the extent that they become a cluster shop, we won't need that kind of hardware. The draw for us is the software?that we don't have. From my point of view, the software enables us to do things we can't do on Linux nodes.

Tracy Futhey: It is not clear how the strategy will play out in three years, but it is a way for us to have access to this at a reasonable cost.

III. Homework database and OKI efforts

Presented by Melissa Mills and Bill McNairy


The reason this committee formed was two driving forces. The physics department had a tool developed with NCSU that allowed a warehousing of physics problems that could be accessed on the Web. It had been developed by a faculty member and was patched together over time. As a result, the security was abysmal. The physics department wanted a replacement tool.

Meanwhile, there was an explosion of interest from other departments like math, chemistry because they were spending too much time remaking the software every time a Web browser changed versions. Physics looked for someone who was interested in developing instructional technology. Our committee brought in faculty from several Arts and Sciences departments and an engineer. We were charged with evaluating what is going on, what we want, and we are to make recommendations on what to do.

There are lots of technical hang-ups in the current tools. We can't use the current Physics tool because it is scary. User features need to be what drives the initiative. We made a wish list of what we are after: cross platform, IMS and OKI compliant, scalable, open source etc. Our goal is to focus our efforts on building data content.

We have three basic alternatives:

  1. We can buy off the shelf products, but the problem is the cacophony of tools puts us at the mercy of the vendors.
  2. We could take the staff we have in house now and let them develop the tools they want.
  3. We could pursue joining the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI), a consortium started by MIT and Stanford that is trying to identify and define where we need to have specifications to develop the kinds of tools that education wants. OKI is also trying to develop those tools. OKI is pressuring vendors to develop along OKI specifications so higher education is in a better place.

OKI is visiting us next week and they are interested because we have a committee looking at these issues. Stanford may have already done a lot of things we are doing. We are going to wait until we meet with OKI next week before we write our report to Dean Thompson.

Paul Conway: Did the committee stray into e-reserves issues? There is a very close connection here. The library has traditionally managed the e-reserve function.

Melissa Mills: No.

John Board: It sounds like there is no good solution in 2002. Does it look like something is coming soon or does the whole process need a kick from Duke to get going?

Melissa Mills: The process needs a kick. In terms of sharing code we will be in a better place.

Robert Wolpert: Are there intellectual property issues involved? For example, what if a professor writes a question that ends up on a Stanford exam?

Bill McNairy: One hope with OKI is that you are able to bring the problems into a format that your comfortable with in your own database.

Tracy Futhey: Did OKI lead you to believe that they are doing some homework-related stuff already at Stanford?

Melissa Mills: They said they saw this as a workflow issue and the other issue is the database. They said Stanford is working on the workflow and we are working on building the database.

Tracy Futhey: So it seems they have thought through the big issues?

Melissa Mills: It was helpful to hear what they had to say because they have some terminology we weren't yet familiar with.

Pat Halpin: You might want to see about interest by people outside Arts and Sciences.

Tracy Futhey: Is this something you will make an institutional effort rather than an Arts and Sciences effort?

Robert Wolpert: I'd like to learn more about OKI. It looks like we have an opportunity to take on more of a role there. Are there other efforts under way that should be represented here? Because homework is only a small part of this and there are others on campus that have a stake in this.

Melissa Mills: Are there other people here who would like to join the OKI meeting? Are there people you would like to recommend?

Molly Tamarkin: What were considering is whether we as an institution want to have some sort of commitment to a sort of 'academic middleware,' that this would be one way to share information between institutions. Considering that this will be an open-source solution, can we benefit from it in the future?

Melissa Mills: Going out on our own and knowing what we now know makes us look a little foolish. Why develop software that no one is going to maintain?

Lynne O'Brien: It's not clear to me how much actual coordination of development is taking place. How easy will it be to plug into that environment?

Robert Wolpert: How realistic is it for us to know two weeks form now how much it will cost us to join OKI and what the benefits will be?

Melissa Mills: We'll know more than we know now. I will give an update in two weeks if you would like.

IV. National Light Rail update

Presented by Tracy Futhey

National Light Rail (NLR) is an initiative to establish a national optical network backbone to higher education. It grew out of an effort of institutions in California and the northwest that wanted bigger pipes to transfer data back and forth. After talking to vendors, it merged to the point where if the institutions felt that if they could build a link between each other for, say $10 million, they could probably link the entire nation for $50 million. They thought,"Maybe we should see if others want to join in." We've been involved for about 3 months.

The option was to run from DC to Atlanta as an express or, we thought, let's have it stop here. Part of those early discussions to show Duke's commitment involved some strategic planning funds to be committed, but that is what they are for. We are in the midst of people who are driving what might be the next national backbone. It is intended for researchers who want to push a lot of bandwidth around the country. As this is starting to looking more real, more people are getting on board.

The Internet 2 board approved a resolution to contribute $10 million to this effort. They committed this money for what they call an optical network project. Southern University Research Association (SURA) passed a resolution that they will also provide $10 million toward such an effort. The SURA resolution mentions that if Duke and other university partners back out they are not going to foot the bill. This network would not be expected to come online here for at least a year because it has to be built out. It would initially touch most of the major national labs and supercomputing centers with a spur up to Oak Ridge.

UNC and NC State will share in this effort with us. It also could be something that NCREN and the broader educational community can join if they want to.

John Board: What makes it different from Internet 2 is its optical from end to end. So we have about a year to get our on-campus capability up to par to use this fast network.

Tracy Futhey: They are talking 4 lambdas.

Mike Pickett: Is there any thought of having commercial access to the Internet through this network?

Tracy Futhey: This is a very touchy issue. Everyone around the table is saying this is not for commercial use, but that is a capability of the network.

V. Web survey tools investigations update

Presented by Mark Cross

As for Web survey tools at Duke, we have something in place now, Decision Source, a Web-based data administration and e-mail tool. Decision Source is no longer supported by the vendor. Also, we've exhausted all of our current licenses, and the hardware is also approaching end of life too.

Al lot of people at Duke like using Web survey tools like Decision Source. We want something we can take outside to other groups on campus. Some of the things Decision Source is used for are surveys going out to accepted students, freshmen year students, graduate and professional surveys, and study abroad students. The Med School is one of the few using the system to do course evaluation.

In trying to find a replacement tool, we have an advisory group of members from the provost office, CIT, student affairs, school of medicine, and the development office.

Some of the requirements we have come up with for a replacement system are:

  • 100% Web-based
  • backend to be UNIX- or Linux-based
  • oracle database
  • unlimited number of users, survey creators, and analyzers
  • must have NetID or LDAP authentication

We've narrowed our search down to three candidates: SmartAsk, Survey Said, Use Flash.

Use Flash has agreed to integrate their product with our authentication system.

SmartAsk was tested by CIT in December. It has nice interface. CIT had concerns with analysis built into it. It is also quite expensive.

Survey Said is used a Fuqua and they seem very happy with it.

Pat Halpin: How may departments have HTML surveys, PDF surveys, what are their thoughts?

Mark Cross: We have lots of interest in this.

Fred Westbrook: What is the time limit.

Mark Cross: Soon. We hope to have all three online for testing in December.

John Board: It is sad that something that does homework as in item three cant do surveys. Is there something in OKI for surveys?

Melissa Mills: I don't know of any now.

Mike Pickett: Is this something that the Med School or Health System might use?

Rafael Rodriguez: I know they do patient satisfaction surveys, but I don't know what they use.

VI. Other Business

Robert Wolpert calls for future agenda items.

David Jarmul: I'd like to be on the agenda soon. Our office is working on a redesign of the top-level Duke web pages, at www.duke.edu.

Fred Westbrook: I'd like to compare how the help desks provide support. Also, since Mark is here maybe we can talk about the future of Novell and NDS directory.

Paul Conway: We need a placeholder for the CMS subcommittee.

Mike Pickett: I'd like to have an update from the academic technology subcommittee.

Tracy Futhey: A note on the Senior Technology Architect and Strategist position. We made it through the mass of applications and will probably have a small group come through for interviews around Thanksgiving. I hope to have that position filled by the start of the year.