Duke ITAC - January 15, 2009 Minutes

Duke ITAC - January 15, 2009 Minutes

ITAC Agenda
January 15, 2009 4:00-5:30
RENCI Center

  • Announcements
  • Research Computer Procurement (Jim Luther, Jim Siedow)
  • Voice over IP Transition (Bob Johnson, Angel Wingate)
  • Common Solutions Group (CSG) Update
  • Other Business


Terry Oas called the meeting to order at 4:03pm. 

Kevin Davis noted that he had sent out minutes from the December 4 ITAC meeting to the list for review.  He mentioned that ITAC’s practice has been to post minutes to that list a few days before the following meeting for feedback followed by approval at the subsequent meeting.  Kevin noted that this was a practice ITAC was looking to return to in the new year, and that old meeting minutes from 2008 were currently being worked on.

Kevin also noted the beginning of a pilot project to make audio from ITAC meetings accessible via iTunesU only to ITAC members. Kevin added that presenters would be presented with the option to opt out from their portion of the presentation being posted online.  ITAC members interested in access to the iTunesU space should contact Kevin.

Terry asked the committee for their thoughts on December 4 minutes.  The minutes were accepted with the inclusion of comments from Neal Caidin. Terry stressed this is an important process because the minutes will effectively become public and speakers’ comments will be posted.  Terry noted that sensitive items or comments can so be flagged as needed by ITAC members and guests; he stressed that we want to be able to have candid conversations at ITAC while making sure the community stays informed and perceives ITAC as an important conduit by which they can learn about key issues brought to the committee.

Kevin added that previous minutes for 2008 would be distributed to get historical info update and posted.  Terry encouraged members to speak to Kevin about iTunesU access.

Presentation on Computer Procurement

Jim Luther and Jim Siedow distributed a copy of the formal announcement of this matter, dated January 14, 2009. Jim L. and Jim S. appeared previously to ITAC to discuss this matter and are providing an update.

Jim L. noted that his policy has evolved in light of institutional interests around computer equipment purchased with grant funds, due to Federal regulations governing how research support funds may be spent. The government classifies computers in the same category as pencils and notepads, Jim noted; you cannot use direct grant funds on computer purchases unless it will fulfill specific scientific purposes associated with the grant. 

Jim L. noted that there have been some concerns from faculty over this change in interpretation of the policy, and that groups within the administration have been meeting for some time to address a response to this issue.

Jim L. noted that under the new policy, direct grant funds can be used to purchase computers that are directly connected to scientific equipment or if the computers themselves are computer equipment. Other computer purchases can’t be made on direct grant fund codes unless the researcher can justify that some or all fraction of that computer time will be used for the research project, in which case the cost of the PC can be split between the research fund code and another funding source or sources, such as departmental funds.

As an example, Jim noted that if a researcher can reasonably estimate that half of a computer’s time will be used on research purposes and the remaining half on preparing lecture notes, the funding of half of the computer from the research grant should be documented. Jim noted other peer institutions have also begun to use balanced interpretations of the policy such as that one that Duke is now implementing.

Jim Luther mentioned the recent feedback received from grant-making agencies focused on computers, office supplies, etc. began several years ago and continues to impact policy choices today.  The most important thing for business managers is to create adequate documentation; we need to have the documents to validate why something was done.  This is a key lesson from our interactions with agencies.  There are specific guidelines that can be followed.  When you split purchases between university funds and grant funds, business and grant managers should follow the new guidelines. Jim’s group will be authoring documentation to help prepare departments for what they need to know and how they should document.

An ITAC member noted that there are some cluster nodes in the Duke Shared Cluster Resource system; can grant funding still be used for these computers? Tracy stated that was a clear example of a scientific instrument and thus allowable for grant funding.

Terry Oas gave an example of estimating at time of purchase that a computer will be used for research purposes 40% of the time; he asked whether this will be reviewed against actual effort for compliance.  Jim Luther opined that computer effort reports should not be necessary, and that what the purchasing faculty or department proposes to do at time of purchase should suffice as long as efforts are made in good faith.  Jim L. re-iterated that his group will work to train the business managers and grant managers about how to proceed, and that his team will monitor progress over six to twelve months to ensure the process is proceeding well. 

Terry suggested that it might be reasonable to request computer effort reports from staff.  Jim S. suggested that was reasonable if it did not become overly intrusive, and that groups will need to think proactively about how they intend for the equipment to be used.

John Board said that his department has traditionally been expected to provide computing for students, and that this policy may impact that; as a result, John noted, faculty are inquiring what fund code to make purchases with.  John asked if there had been consideration about to the financial impact of these policies as a form of an unfunded mandate? Jim S. noted that on the medical center side in particular there are sufficient funds to cover. 

Dave Richardson asked whether a grad student doing thesis research on a machine paid for by a grant could use that machine to check their email.  Jim S. responded that it comes back to good faith and following the guidelines, but that slight incidental use was not the focus of the effort.

Robert Wolpert inquired whether the percentages Terry mentioned previously were intended to be the percentage of effort by the computer or effort expended by an individual on that computer?  Jim S. responded that the “reasonable person” test applies; if someone asked a user of that computer how much it is used for various functions, what would that user say.

Susan Gerbeth-Jones asked if IT departments would be tasked with maintaining this documentation and policing the effort? For example, could grant money be used if a department wants to buy space on a server rather than a whole machine?  Jim S. suggests that if it were backing up the research data that would be acceptable.  Jim L. mentioned that for any departmental grant charges, there needs to be a methodology that complies with the policy.

Terry asked if departments can re-budget to or from computers Jim suggested that departments can re-budget as long as they can justify the allocation.

Voice over IP and Telecommunications

Bob Johnson from OIT updated the committee on cellular enhancements, particularly on main campus.  A number of campus areas had already seen improved wireless signal, Bob noted, but added that the Bryan Center, Law School, Fuqua (near the Thomas Center) and Hock Plaza (lower levels) were targeted for near-term enhancement, primarily needed for AT&T service.

New equipment is due to be delivered within a couple of weeks; nevertheless, some installation of cable is already under way.  The expected completion date is March 15, though it may be done as early as March 1.

Angel Wingate provided background on the voice over IP (VoIP) project.  Today Duke has 30,000 voice lines and multiple switches, with old equipment (5ESS) carrying most of the traffic.  This project will move all 30,000 of these lines to VoIP. The project is kicking off this month with an expected 24-month completion window.  OIT’s VoIP transition team will replace all the digital handsets on campus but not analog handsets.

Angel reviewed project governance, sponsorship, and leadership. The groups assisting in these governance efforts will help prioritize deployment order, review the need for handsets (with a goal of reducing total install base), oversee the needs assessment process, and approve scope changes.  Angel added that needs will be analyzed based in part on the economic climate. 

Bob introduced Dean Corn, a long-time Duke employee, who will serve as the project’s director.  Bob and Dean presented the planned phases for the VoIP implementation.  The initial phase will ensure both that VoIP functions as expected and that OIT and DHTS have completed the network readiness assessment; this phase will also enable the team to refine processes. 

The second phase will encompass the actual implementation of the technologies as well as the physical swaps of digital sets for VoIP phones.

Bob explained that Dean’s team of senior analysts will work with identified departmental communications contacts to evaluate unit needs moving forward.  This project will not assume that all current lines need to be replaced.  The project goal is to convert 800 phones per month on a fairly aggressive two year timeframe proposed.

The migration itself will be split into two different implementation phases.  The first implementation set will include:
•    Phones connected to Avaya (end of life for this system is August 2009)
•    PRMO March-July 09 (PRMO is currently in VoIP ACD pilot).
•    The Provost’s office
•    Any campus moves requiring new handset purchases
•    Cost avoidance opportunities

Construction of Duke’s new hospital expansion will impact copper twisted pairs, which would have necessitated a major legacy phone infrastructure replacement; this will generally be avoided through VoIP.

The second implementation phase will include all Duke’s remaining digital handsets.

Bob mentioned OIT has worked with DHTS for one year to install the infrastructure.  Network assessments have shown that the network architecture is sufficiently robust to ensure that communications continue for business continuity considerations.

Rafael Rodriguez added that at this point the infrastructure in the central office is upgraded, but that many in-building needs still need to be addressed.
Angel and Bob noted that a remaining open task was to verify departmental contacts.  Dean’s team will reach out to departments, show them what they have today, and help them make decisions about how to move forward.  There will need to be broader announcements to the larger community.  Business analysis will likely reduce the total number of handsets on campus.

Bob mentioned that current Telecom revenue will fund the project including handset replacement.  Sets will be leased, enabling equipment to be swapped later without an additional capital expenditure.

Jim Siedow mentioned that 4 years for a desktop phone seems like a short lifespan.  Tracy noted that this is a point that will continue to be examined going forward.

Bob demonstrated some sample Cisco handsets, spoke about some of the features that digital phones can provide, and demonstrated a software application (“soft phone”) that emulates a phone on the desktop. Tracy clarified that analog handsets will not need to be replaced and added that the “soft phone” requires a Duke IP address, including a VPN connection.

At the end of the project, OIT projects $2.7 million annual operating cost savings.  Currently, four different platforms exist on campus.  This project will bring reduce that to one.

Alvin Lebeck asked what the monthly phone rates and department costs are.  Angel stated that the current average digital bill is $37/month.  Once the rates are changed in July 2010, the new rate would be reduced to $18, and departments get the phone included in the cost as opposed to today’s model which requires the hardware be purchased.  Tracy clarified that the plan is to have everyone continue to be charged the current rate until one cut off date.

Dave Richardson wanted to know how this desktop software might impact a laptop paid for by a grant; currently, grant phone charges are paid for by the department, but now they may be on the laptop. Angel said that the line will still have a line charge, exactly like a phone, even though it is “on your PC.”

Rafael mentioned that the Health System is investigating today’s phone usage model.  He described a scenario of individuals with desk phones answered by assistants and cell phones as well, and whether transfer between the two or other convergence were possible. Rafael also noted that the actual operating costs savings may be greater than estimated since the assumption is that lines will be converted one for one; however, the business analysis may reveal that some existing lines are no longer necessary.

Terry noted that some Duke staff might have personal cell phones that get used more for Duke business.  Who pays the bill then?  Rafael agreed that many policy and business decisions remain to be made.
Wayne Miller asked if there were any implications for voicemail, and whether OIT could look into providing a more feature-rich voicemail system. Bob said this is a goal of the presence and messaging efforts currently underway within OIT.

Bob Newlin expressed a concern about receiving sufficient notice for VoIP efforts. His department recently had staff coming to do a demo; however, they needed four active network ports, and providing those is a challenge on short notice. Bob J. mentioned that Dean is strengthening the Methods of Procedure for the project to address feedback such as this.  Bob N. requested that departmental IT staff be involved in these demos and in the implementation.  Angel mentioned that the governance team is working on identifying the appropriate departmental staff and that might be the IT contact.

Terry asked if VoIP phones use DHCP.  Bob J. said that VoIP uses dynamic, private IP addresses.

An ITAC member asked if there would be any impact to long distance charges.  Bob and Angel discussed that OIT is looking at how services can bundled; there is no firm answer yet, but there are promising conversations with the vendors.

John Board noted that they have many handsets in labs rarely used.  Now with better cell coverage and penetration Duke can start looking at more lines being disconnected.

Common Solutions Group (CSG) Update

Tracy discussed CSG, a group of 25 research universities which just completed their January workshops.  CSG has three annual meetings to discuss common topics and policies; CSG provides an outlet to learn what Duke’s peers are doing, and what issues/solutions have they come up with. One half day workshop focused on cloud computing; the full day session was on the relationship between IT and Libraries.

Lynne O’Brien spoke about the Open Library Environment project. (OLE - http://oleproject.org/).  Lynne noted that one of the overall issues discussed was how libraries can reexamine their processes with open source solutions.  For many undergrads, course management is how they get to the library, for instance, and as Duke evolves its offerings, it would be better if all these systems work well together.

Lynne noted that CSG also had discussions about digitizing film, audio, LPs, etc., relative to how universities make those collections available as part of the overall streaming media offerings.  The discussion addressed both copyright and technical issues. 

Paolo Mangiafico noted Peter Brantley’s discussion at CSG on how libraries are changing.  Peter suggested libraries need to think about what they are and what they do.  Some of the types of questions and situations to consider from the discussion:

  • “If libraries did not exist today, would we invent them?”
  • The most important thing is the networks between people.
  • How do you get access to information? 
  • How do we mash-up information? 
  • What things will work better if you move them to the network? 
  • What is the IT impact?
  • What is the budget impact?
  • How do you fund these things? 

Klara Jelinkova discussed virtualization, which she noted is actually a continuation of several CSG conversations from the last few years.  Data center virtualization is relatively well understood, but what other applications of virtualization are possible?

Terry Oas and Jim Siedow asked how virtualization differs from a grid.  Klara said that was a big discussion at CSG and added that for the purposes of this CSG overview, she would not address specific differences between cloud computing, grid computing, and virtualization.

Klara said that Virginia Tech is looking at complete data center virtualization.  Normally you have powerful machines for administrative use.  They are trying to figure out how to use powerful administrative machines that rarely use all their cycles for research.  The technical solution is not that complicated; however, policy and budgetary considerations need to be addressed, Klara said.

MIT studied the actual cost savings of virtualization.  Their analysis found that they do not necessarily save money directly on IT costs, but that resources are used more efficiently.  For example, valuable data center space is used more effectively, Klara said.  MIT is offering tiered pricing based on space utilization, with more efficient space users paying disproportionately less for hosting.

A Berkeley case study explored preventing laptop users from storing sensitive data locally, using a virtual operating system that you pull down to your laptop and work on.  When the user is done with that virtual session, there is no data on the laptop.  Cisco solved this issue in a similar way, Klara noted.

Terry asked how they prevented screenshots.  Klara suggested Cisco may be able to share that information.

Rafael wondered how this was different from Citrix; Klara noted that it is a very similar solution.

Duke spoke about our Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) that Mark McCahill has been working on.  Duke is exploring VCL’s potential for labs or other uses.  VCL comes from NCSU (http://vcl.ncsu.edu/); however, OIT is looking at a more generic implementation. 
Terry described how an instructor might customize an application for their class that replicates 25 identical images.  Mark stated that one of the appeals is that users can have custom “weirdo software” that today groups need to maintain labs for.
Terry posed a question about what licensing issues this presented. An ITAC member responded that licensing tends to be software specific. 

Bryan Fleming asked what clients and platform would support VCL. Mark said many widely remote connection technologies available across platforms, including VNC and RDC, may be used since VCL is operating system agnostic.

Tracy added that CSG discussed how in tougher economic times universities might be able to run shared services, leveraging strengths to allow one university to host services like email or learning management systems across campuses. Perhaps one university is strong at delivering a particular service, and they can offer that service to other institutions. There are data privacy concerns and such, but Tracy noted it is a discussion at this point.

Other Business

Andrew Tutt inquired about reports of problems with the library’s wireless Internet connectivity from Friday January 9 through Monday January 12.  Tracy asked Angel if an update was available.  Kevin Davis noted that there is no official update yet because OIT is still researching.  Tracy stated that OIT will complete the investigation and report back with an update at the next meeting.