Duke ITAC - February 16, 2006 Minutes

DUKE ITAC - February 16, 2006 Minutes


February 16, 2006

Members present : Ed Anapol, Owen Astrachan, Pakis Bessias, John Board, Shailesh Chandrasekharan, Dick Danner represented by Wayne Miller, Nevin Fouts, Tracy Futhey, Michael Gettes, Daron Gunn, Deborah Jakubs represented by Ed Gomes, David Jamieson-Drake represented by Bob Newlin, Roger Loyd, Dmitriy Morozov, Kyle Johnson, George Oberlander, Mike Pickett, Rafael Rodriquez, Dalene Stangl, Molly Tamarkin, Trey Turner III, Tom Wall, Steve Woody

Guests: Kevin Davis, OIT; George Ward, OIT

Start time : 4:05 P.M.


I. Review of Minutes and Announcements:

  • Tracy Futhey says Al Haacke, who was with OIT at Duke for nearly 10 yrs, passed away unexpectedly this past weekend. There is going to be a memorial service later today. Al was part of the systems group at OIT.

  • John Board says in two weeks the Provost will be joining us. There will be some items related to strategic planning be on the agenda. Let us know if there are other agenda items you would like discussed.

  • Since we have talked here about the Smarthouse before, it is announcing today that we have an anonymous backer who is giving $3.5 million to build it. The name of the donor will become public later in the semester.

II. Update on the DukePass portal - Deborah Johnson

Deborah Johnson says we launched DukePass this past fall for all graduate and professional students. We now have the entire student population able to log into DukePass. We worked very closely with the graduate and professional schools to fid out what content they needed. This year we were able to break out undergraduate and graduate/professional school statistics. Usage goes down as undergrads progress in their university career. At least half of the freshman class logged in last month. We are planning to have a functionality so you can log into DukePass and have a registration checklist where you can sign up for dining, housing, parking, cable, phone, etc., so users can see their status and what they’ve completed.

Graduate and professional student usage has not been as much as we had hoped. We didn’t launch DukePass in time for orientation programs, and we have heard that in order to get students really using something you need to incorporate it into the orientation programs. We have had some increase, largely because we changed one of the discussion topics to a GPSC basketball ticket exchange. A student from every graduate/professional program has posted to that forum. We like to find those little things we can do to facilitate that kind of communication among students.

John Board asks how labor intensive is it to create a new channel?

Deborah says it depends on the content of the channel. An RSS feed is very straightforward. It depends on the underlining system and connectivity.

We worked with schools, e.g. the Law School, so that they have a few extra channels they get when they authenticate. It recognizes their career, gives them law journal links, and that’s what we worked with each of the schools to decide what content and functionality they needed for their students.

Students have found the DukeCard channel to be one of the most useful elements. We also added the Cameron Crazie Counter this year. What the students have really been asking for is the ability to add to their FLEX and dining via bursar charges. We’ve worked with the DukeCard office, we know what want to do, we just need to have the resources and time to do it.

Students really like the library channel, seeing all the items they have checked out at the library and being able to renew them. We have also have had students say they use DukePass a lot without logging in f to read the Chronicle articles and to use the search channel. Students have also been using the rider board, which during breaks has received a flurry of messages about rides to Virginia and other nearby places.

Students talk a lot about a good calendar. The thing we do with the calendar right now is we filter only for activities for students. Students have told us that: 1) they don’t realize that we do this and 2) they don’t realize that they can customize and select other kinds of events. It’s not very intuitive right now. They have a whole lot more ideas about how to make a good event calendar. They’d also like the ability to enter their NetID and password on DukePass page instead of hitting a “login” button and going to a login page. They would like to be able to make look different, less text, differently colored background; they’ve also talked about a tutorial, such as a quick view when you login that tells you how to customize DukePass.

Shailesh Chandrasekharan asks who is your point of contact in a particular school/department?

Deborah says it’s not departmental, just based on schools. We used both a student affairs and a technical person.

Molly Tamarkin says at the Nicholas School, missing orientation was a key factor in something not getting adopted more. We tried to do things after the fact like send announcements, but missing that window was crucial. One of things I was thinking about departments: would be possible to have different skins at the department level?

Deborah says that’s the challenge with graduate schools, because students really live within a department. We’ve done a little of that this year with Pratt grad students, so we’ve given them graduate and Pratt content, but I don’t know that we’ve had enough feedback from that.

III. Panel Discussion: Managing Duke Desktops - Kevin Davis, Nevin Fouts, Molly Tamarkin, Steve Woody

Mike Pickett says the general idea of this panel discussion was that each person would talk a little about what they do, about how they manage their computers.

evin Fouts introduces Kevin Smith, who directs Fuqua's technical support group. His group's responsibilities include desktop support. At Fuqua, there are 933 systems that would be under image management. For the faculty systems, there are about 30 unique images to support those systems. For staff, PhD and public systems there are 15 images. For image distribution two systems are used, one to just deal with individual system imaging, and another to deal with large groups of systems like we have in lab environments. There we use multicasting. An imaging server, software library, Powerquest Deploy Center software and a Windows security update server make up the toolset. Major needs: rapid reimaging of public spaces. After a residenial program has completed, the next program might be needing those same team rooms within 1-2 days. We would like to have the systems refreshed and re-imaged within a day. Other need: more powerful tool to reduce the time required by technical staff to manage desktops, so we can use the cycles gained to do other things.

Molly Tamarkin says for Arts & Sciences, I’ve broken it up by operating system. From the Nicholas School’s viewpoint, imaging was never something we did very well. In Arts & Sciences it works very well. We have about 1,100 Windows systems imaged primarily with Deploy Center. It has issues, like that it can’t support hard drives over 100 GB, but it’s only $4 a seat. Our concern with Macs is that Mac users are not used to saving things to the network, so it’s harder on imaging. Linux is the easiest one. Everyone in Arts & Sciences is using kickstart files, starting with Yum, which was developed in Physics by Seth Vidal. Some problems are with local configurations and keeping up to date with those. Also, non-standard hardware is hard to support with imaging. It’s amazing to me how hard imaging is to get right, still. Even when we do have a lab, my experience is that sometimes there are glitches. When you have a department without a regular replacement cycle and with many custom purchases, it’s very difficult to support imaging. Tablet computers and PDA’s are new challenges for us, and I have a feeling images for them are a ways off.

Kevin Davis says with the OIT computer labs, George Ward is our operational manager for the labs. We had a challenge with roughly 6,000 Windows machines. We typically do an image for each model of a machine. If we had a request for something that we didn’t have already, it was a major manpower challenge to get out and install it. Last year George and the team came upon an interesting deployment solution, Altirus. It’s about $25 per seat, and that’s a big investment. With Altiris we have 4 tiers. We have one base level image that is pure operating system with device drivers. The second layer adds profiles for security and the Kerberos login. We then repackage applications that go on the image and pick what machines we want to send those packages to. On much shorter turnaround time, we can now create new software packages and deploy them. I’d add that we’re not at the same level of development on the Mac side because there aren’t the same packages that provide the same support at this time.

George Ward says Altiris has been a lifesaver for us; we used to not be able to make changes until the breaks during a semester. It is expensive, but being able to provide better services has been wonderful. This has been so far most robust and best solution that we’ve found.

Steve Woody says DCRI is a pretty locked down environment. We have about 1,200 clients who are all on Windows, of which maybe 30 percent are laptops. From an imaging point of view, we manage all of it with 4 images, so we spend a lot of time and effort on the image. We’ll play around with drivers a lot to find one that works on two different models. We can generally re-image a machine in 20 minutes. We have something we call a migration tool that stores user preferences on the network. We then re-image a machine, bring the preferences down, and the user has their desktop like it was before. Problems: the Dell 270s are a headache. We’ve been getting a 50 percent failure rate. Another issue is finding a good tool to deal with spyware. No one tool seems to work, and every instance we run into we have to use a set of tools to clean it up or just re-image the thing. Other thing is flat panel envy. We use a ghost for imaging from a server. For applications, we have a base level image, and probably about 100 scripts that are automated.

Mike Pickett says a lot of the conversations so far have been around technology pieces; what types of balances do you find between security and making systems unlocked enough to be useful to users?

Steve Woody says we have interesting login mechanisms: one is forcing an auto-logout after 15 minutes of inactivity. We don’t use personal firewalls. Security for things like IE is minimal, which is why we have spyware problems.

Nevin Fouts says for virus scanning, users can’t disable the virus scanning all together, but they can toggle on/off the automatic virus scanning.

Kevin Davis says the user experience in labs is something we’ve been looking at. We feel that adding areas like virtual help, whether tutorials or IM-based support, is important. Because of the frequency usage of lab machines, we have to have some restrictions on boxes.

George says we added a software request form, and we use it as a way to receive feedback on our image.

Mike asks what is the basic complaint from users?

George says students are so used to having their own machines. They want to be able to add software on the fly. It’s stepping away from “it’s my machine,” it’s a general purpose machine.

Steve says the express manager is one of the biggest successes we have had because it preserves the desktop.

Molly Tamarkin says that’s one of biggest problems for us, making sure settings are the same. The biggest source of customer dissatisfaction is when we get new image and they lose bookmarks, etc.

Kevin Smith says in the PhD labs we have such a collection of software we have to make sure it’s locked down. If not, it would take more techs than we can afford to manage 80 PhD students. Machines are given one drive as application drive, and another as data drive, because some data drives are too big to do over the network. Setting redirects over the network are some of biggest challenges.

John Board says is there no hope for a tool in the immediate future that just auto-configures everything?

Steve says the company that looks like they’re trying to do something about it is Lenovo.

Tracy Futhey asks when you build an application package, how much is specific to Duke, or to the OS and hardware program? Are each of those a level of distinction? Is it possible that a version of something is the same for various universities, or are 10 departments out there all doing the same work?

Molly Tamarkin says Yum works well because is has a standard package installer. We could work cross-program, but one issue is differences in operating system drivers, settings, etc.

Kevin Davis says we’ve seen with Altirus, only the most recent version got close to being practical.

Molly says one thing we’ve done is when we go to reinstall an OS, one question might be why are we doing that? Maybe all we need to do is update the security, maybe all that is important is applications. Maybe we’re making too much work for ourselves.

Kyle Johnson says one question is why do we have to buy a machine with an OS on it? It’s cheaper to buy empty,

Daron Gunn asks how long does it take to build an image? In other words, if a student wants a new application, when does that decision have to be made?

Kevin Davis says we usually say July 1. We’re still looking at if we’re going to push that date back. Right now the biggest the challenge is getting doing that work slotted in with all the other work the developers do. After that, the actual work takes 2-3 hours, and then testing can take a while.

John Board asks do you ever deal with software where the licensing is specific to a hardware serial license?

Kevin Smith says we use Tivoli for licensing for our PhD area. We have 80 students and maybe purchase 20 licenses for them.

Molly says I think our Matlab does, but they’re running that off of the server, and few have installed it locally.

Kevin Davis says it’s almost entirely the math and physical science world that has that these days.

Molly says I like being in control of my computer; I think that’s why faculty and grad students don’t come to us, because people want to feel like they know what’s changing on their computer and be in control.

Steve says we make the opposite argument: if you have problem, we can get you up and running faster if you have standard equipment.

IV. Report on student computing labs - Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis says in terms of changes, one of biggest is the evolution that has been happening in collaboration with the library in the space of public computing. The goal of the library’s information commons work is to have libraries be a better place for students to do work on computers with people who can answer questions about better research tools than Google and Wikipedia. Part of this is the library’s renovation. Another big part was ePrint. Part of the goal was to get to where students can’t distinguish between a public computer in a library and a public computer in a lab. Thanks to Ed Gomes and his team, ePrint works in the library as it does in labs. We are also experimenting with having lab workers to answer questions in the Bostock lab after the Help Desk closes. Also, the MPS lab on
East Campus is a real improvement and expansion of space. There are some big changes coming ahead, but hopefully they will be positive ones for students.

Tom Wall says all collaborative efforts we’ve been undertaking are largely driven by students and student input. Sometimes students need technical assistance after 7:00 PM, and the students responded well. We’ve been collaborating both in terms of budget and training. This is something we think can scale.

Kevin says in terms of this summer’s upgrades, we have proposed to move to a four-year refresh cycle as opposed to 3-years. Also as part of this we are looking to expand LCD life to five years. Old 17-inch screens are in experiments to see if we can use dual displays for engineering labs. One of the controversies is what to do with Macs with the changes in the Intel platform. We do have some need for the East Campus MPS, which has G4’s with 2 GB of RAM. We’re looking to upgrade those machines as well as some in the more popular labs. Then, in the future, we’ll do a trickle-down approach and take multimedia machines and move them to general lab use. Part of the philosophical shift here is putting the newest machines into the multimedia labs, perhaps every two years, and keeping them as up to date as possible.

The busiest lab is on first floor of Perkins. We were talking to students last week with Tom and it sounds like quick printing is a major need. Other interesting data is there is a big difference of Windows versus Mac usage. Mac’s are about half as utilized as Windows machines. The residential lab in GA may be better situated as an instructional lab rather than a general lab. Now there are two major instructional labs, and on most days most of the seats full.

John Board asks is Linux utilization attempting to distinguish login versus bodies in seats?

Kevin says this is just bodies in seats.

Kevin says we could benefit from more concurrent licensing. Many universities are using a key server to make applications available in labs and on students’ own machines so users can compute wherever they want to. Looking in those directions is important. Another big focus is on collaborative spaces. We’ve had some discussions with Kyle Johnson on stations designed for 3-4 individuals to work on a single document. We’re looking at new facilities largely in experiments with collaborative spaces.

V. Screening of the 2006 Froshlife winner - Julian Lombardi



End time : 5:26 P.M.