Duke ITAC - November 19, 2009 Minutes

Duke ITAC - November 19, 2009 Minutes

ITAC Meeting Minutes
November 19, 2009 4:00-5:30
Allen Board Room

  • Announcements & meeting minutes
  • SISS (ACES/STORM) Improvements & Upgrades (Kathy Pfeiffer)
  • New Data Center (Angel Wingate, Pat Driver)
  • Microsoft Exchange directions (Debbie DeYulia, Mark McCahill, Laurie Harris)

Announcements & Meeting Minutes

Terry Oas opened by asking ITAC members present at the November 5, 2009 meeting if they had comments on the minutes. The minutes were accepted without objection.

Tracy noted that the December 3 meeting would be the last ITAC of the semester, and would close with an end-of-semester reception after the meeting’s regular business.

SISS (ACES/STORM) Improvements & Upgrades – Kathy Pfeiffer

Kathy said Terry invited her to discuss some of the improvements delivered to Duke by PeopleSoft in October. She noted that these improvements were the direct result of Duke faculty input, and that PeopleSoft had responded rapidly and directly to the university’s requests.

SISS manages a range of university systems including the student information system (as well as tools like Resource25 and ImageNow.)  PeopleSoft/Oracle’s student information system was first implemented in 1998; at that time, Duke implemented a web interface known as ACES and STORM since PeopleSoft lacked a self-service component.

Last year, PeopleSoft delivered their own self-service component that duplicated some functionality Duke had previously customized in-house, like bookbagging.  Duke and SISS worked with central offices and through focus groups to identify functionality that was needed in the PeopleSoft product.

Everything basically worked when the new SISS version went live, but the community of faculty and students responded with significant concerns, Kathy noted, over the usability of the new system.  Kathy’s talk today will focus on how SISS reacted to that feedback and how the vendor, in turn, has made adjustments.

SISS implemented quick-fixes based on faculty and student feedback, such as a graphic schedule for students and a PDF roster for instructors, Kathy noted; these were generally developed in-house. Simultaneously, working groups of faculty and students met regularly to get at the root cause of why people were disconcerted. What came out of those discussions were concerns over essential navigation of the applications.  There were too many ways to get to one place, Kathy said, while some pages led to dead ends.

SISS provided quick-links to help, but in this instance, the university realized it needed PeopleSoft to help quickly; we couldn’t wait years for the next release, Kathy said. Duke sent the project strategist for PeopleSoft the Facebook address for an anti-ACES site created by students, which got the vendor’s attention, Kathy noted. The SISS team began to meet with PeopleSoft’s development team, while SISS management communicated with company executives on how to improve the product and to arrange a site visit.

Kathy noted this response doesn’t happen overnight, but results from a relation developed over a decade between Duke and the corporation.  The university has been responsive to product development and providing feedback, and being a consistent member of product feedback groups, she noted.  Duke used all of those connections in this case.  The greatest advantage in meeting with PeopleSoft came from regular focus group meetings with students and faculty and the ability to bring to the vendor not just complaints, but concrete ideas and steps on how to resolve the concerns.

Oracle/PeopleSoft began working on these issues last November, Kathy said, a direct result of faculty involvement in the process.  The vendor also knew they would meet with faculty and students in the June timeframe.  PeopleSoft really was prepared when they came to campus to meet with the faculty focus group and ITAC, Kathy said, and were eager to make changes based on what they heard.

In August, a product was delivered based on Duke specifications; this is now part of the base product for all PeopleSoft customers worldwide.  Kathy said that while SISS was disappointed by the initial campus response to ACES/STORM last year, the team is pleased with the vendor’s response and with the strengthening of communication channels with the development team.

Alvy Lebeck how other universities feel about the changes. Kathy said the vendor has had a lot of other positive feedback about the changes. Tracy noted that Ivy Plus schools were saying that the new version improved a great deal, and that other schools are appreciating the Duke-inspired changes.

An ITAC member noted that Duke intellectual property helped make the product better; does Duke gain from the arrangement? Tracy noted that this helps keep the vendor paying attention to Duke needs.  Terry noted that having a good-performing piece of software, and having the improvements built into the vendor base product rather than requiring university upkeep, was a pretty good payback.

Kathy demoed some of the changes in the PeopleSoft application. A tab structure has been added to the top to make navigation easier throughout the system. PeopleSoft also added retention of where you’ve been before to allow simpler back-navigation.  The advising center has been modified to be clearer about the destination as well, while student details can detail a list of advisees internally. Kathy described this as a comprehensive view for faculty with improved navigation.

She noted that she wrote to faculty in October letting them know about the changes, she received a few favorable emails, which showed that the complaints appear to have been resolved.

Kathy noted that the following were perceived as lessons learned:

  • There’s nothing that beats hands-on testing of groups of end users. Students had navigated before the 2008 launch but faculty didn’t.
  • Focus groups have been useful in that they’ve been a consistent group of participants spanning heavy to light users, important to get a range of feedback. Focus groups are good for prioritizing and articulating what issues are.
  • Regular communication to students and faculty every couple of months is helping to keep lines of information flowing both directions.

Kathy noted that there are some upcoming projects, like applicant access for students, textbook display, and Blackboard interface improvements, that will make use of focus groups. The graduate school is also implementing paperless applications this year, and decided to use focus groups with DGS/DUS stakeholders early on based on the PeopleSoft experience and communicating back with the vendor where improvements were needed.

Terry said he heard from his DGS today that all fall 2010 applications aren’t yet available on the system. Kathy said that they should be, and that departments are using the imaging system for spring admits. She said the feedback has been somewhat mixed but generally positive. The deadline is Dec. 15 and DGSes should be able to review these as they arrive.

Terry said the early deadline had passed and it was disconcerting that the admissions committee at least in his department wasn’t yet able to access all the documents, especially since the process was beginning earlier than ever before to maximize recruitment of the strongest candidates. Kathy said she would talk to the Graduate School about the release dates of the applications.

Terry asked what Kathy thought the best tools for gathering faculty input were. He noted that Julian Lombardi had expressed frustration that it was hard to get faculty (even plied with free food) to find time for feedback sessions. What worked for SISS in getting faculty engaged very early in these kinds of efforts? Kathy said it is a challenge to get faculty to make time especially for issues that don’t affect them immediately. But she noted the importance of targeting the right faculty.  Kathy added that she’s found direct email works well; web postings work to some extent, but that direct blitzes are important.

Jim Roberts added that SISS formerly communicated through DGS/DUS users, not end users, and that that was changed to get the message to a broader audience of end users. Kathy said SISS is moving beyond administrative support of central offices and schools to more outreach to students and faculty directly.

Terry said it looks like SISS has some self-motivated, active volunteers on both the faculty and student sides. Was this because of the vast dissatisfaction with the PeopleSoft 2008 release, and is there a less disruptive way to get people engaged?  Kathy said that a lesson learned is not to wait to get feedback, but she noted there were focus groups and end-user tests by students before that version went live. She said that some of the navigation issues just didn’t come up, and that sometimes you have to see users experience the learning curve to catch some of these issues.

Terry said an alternative is to see whether it’s possible to have parallel systems and ask a group to truly have to use an application rather than just testing it in order to get feedback from a smaller subset. But he noted you have to have willing guinea pigs and it’s hard to cultivate those relationships.  Kathy said she went to several faculty members’ office to “test drive” the latest bundle of changes, and she asked faculty to do things without any directions on where to click; that feedback was provided to PeopleSoft, who instantly fixed those issues. It’s not a cookie-cutter kind of process, but one that involves time with people and relationships.

Klara Jelinkova said the software development lifecycle is changing, from an older three-year-refresh model to one in which user communities need to be increasingly more willing to be activists in their product experience. We all need to be willing to engage since it’s less about how well you test before roll-out than about how you respond when things break. Jim said that’s exactly what the team talked about before PeopleSoft went live.

Terry said the question is whether you can get a group of motivated people together to actually complain and push for change. He added it’s our obligation to make sure their concerns get taken seriously and implemented to the greatest possible extent.

David Jarmul noted that the Office of News and Communication is happy to help in gathering focus groups and student/faculty feedback.  He also added that he hadn’t heard about the improvements in SISS and the “happy ending” until today, and that this would be a good message to promulgate more broadly.

Michael Ansel asked if announcements about these focus groups could be made on the homepage of sites like Blackboard or ACES since the users are right there then thinking about the application. Klara noted improvements coming soon to the web single sign-on environment will give application-specific announcements right at authentication.  Lynne O’Brien noted that online and offline (like The Chronicle) announcements had been made about e-learning focus groups but that some users had disabled their Blackboard announcements module.

An ITAC member noted that he uses his classes to test software applications; if he doesn’t assign testing as a class assignment it doesn’t work. Terry noted these focus groups were self-selecting based on faculty unhappy with the 2008 version. Kathy said SISS picked some of the more vocal complainers, along with faculty they knew only used the system occasionally. By and large they were faculty who SISS had worked with through the years. For students, SISS started with DSG and GPSC and then pulled in known complainers.  She said having critical students and faculty was vital. Jim noted that the faculty group sees a small number of people who are consistent contributors making the greatest difference. They have to trust that their input will make a difference, however.

Terry said that this is a nice story that should be communicated effectively through campus news outlets. It might help induce people to buy in to a focus group-based communication mechanism, he said. Tracy noted it is timely given the need to get feedback anew with new projects. Michael pointed out that the ACES and STORM improvements show what happens when systems launch without sufficient input.

New Data Center – Angel Wingate, Pat Driver

Angel said Pat would review the history to present of the new campus data center, as the project leader for the OIT side and in corralling DHTS, FMD and the various players to move this project forward.

Pat presented pictures and images of the project. She noted this was a highly collaborative effort, with the health system as well as other groups around the university.

On the campus side, the existing data center was over 50 years old, lacking sufficient power, cooling and without space to grow. That launched the project scope, strictly as a campus initiative. After convening different departments to understand other campus requirements, the project was meant to understand globally what was required.

A project was initiated in May 2005, after a feasibility study that found three possible locations for a new data center. A campus building housing a departmental server room was selected over two other finalists, which were ruled out due to infrastructure impact risk for one finalist and due to power and design constraints in a second. A third space was selected as being really the only space on campus that was deemed affordably ready for data center conversion.

5,000 sq. ft. was allocated for the data center’s first phase. As construction began, the health system learned its key data center facility would be impacted by hospital expansion plans. Collaboration between the university and health system ensued; as an institutional decision, the new space was selected to be used jointly for both needs.   The campus agreed to accept a smaller footprint initially to accommodate health system needs, with campus expansion saved for a second phase.

That second phase would need more than the initial 5,000 sq. ft. space; 7,250 additional sq. ft. were allocated.  That phase one completed in less than a year and was largely occupied by health system equipment. By late summer 2008, OIT began moving its equipment into the remaining first phase space.

Tracy noted that the one-year time horizon is remarkable and short; most universities take much longer to even plan these facilities.

Pat noted it is a single room, although the construction took place in two phases.  Only a temporary partition wall with soundproofing and insulation separated an active construction site from the second phase of the data center. Dust mitigation was an important factor, Pat noted.  The second phase started in shell space in May 2009.

The second phase incorporates lessons-learned from the first phase, including higher power (9-11 kW per rack vs. 4 kW in phase one, with growth potential.)  Construction ended in late summer 2009 on the second phase.  The team is also continuing to evaluate process and security for the facility.

Terry asked how the space expanded from the initial 5,000 sq. ft.; Pat noted that had been the amount initially allocated to data center space. University leadership allocated the remaining space based on collaboration with the health system.

Pat noted the campus had one set of ideas; conversations with the hospital led to some evolution in the nature of what is deployed in the space.

Pat showed photos of the construction and completed space for the new data center’s second phase. She noted that based on lessons learned from the first phase, infrastructure and fixtures were adjusted to make even higher utilization of the space. The second phase also has greater options for mechanical systems expansion.  She also noted a much higher level of redundancy in the new facility, qualifying it for Tier 3 status.

She noted that a range of groups are involved throughout Duke in the evaluation, design and implementation of the data center project. Pat added that efforts are ongoing around facility monitoring, maintenance, procedures and standardization.

The joint university-health system team that worked on the project won a presidential teamwork collaboration award, Pat noted.

Alvy asked what the lessons learned were from this data center effort. Pat said that having a clear vision of future needs and having all the players at the table in the beginning makes these projects complete more successfully.


Microsoft Exchange directions – Debbie DeYulia, Mark McCahill, Laurie Harris

Mark opened by describing a layer of infrastructure that deals with the outside world (mail gateways, virus scanners, etc.); these systems serve the health system and university central and distributed mail systems.

He noted OIT is looking at offering different mail enhancements, including Exchange as one central mail option.   Mark noted that improved email alias configuration is on the way, which will offer better functionality and facilitate Exchange. He also noted that DHTS is largely using Lotus Notes but is in the midst of moving to Exchange over the next 9 months or so.

On the OIT side, Exchange would be offered as an option for departments who want to migrate their mail system, or for Sun Mail (DukeMail/IMAP) users who want to move into the Exchange world.  Calendaring is the other half to the offering.

Mark announced that OIT is looking to move away from the current technology behind the dCal service – Oracle’s Corporate Time server – and to Microsoft Exchange for calendaring services.  There are 2,700 active calendars and 600 resource calendars; the plan is to migrate them to Exchange.  Mark stressed you can use it as a calendar-only system, not an email system if desired.

Notes calendar users will have to migrate since DHTS is closing that solution. Other departments will have the option to move from their distributed calendar solutions to OIT Exchange if desired, though that is not required.

Debbie said that OIT is looking at Notes users first given the prioritization of finding an alternative.  Those users will move for mail and calendar to Exchange environments on the university or health system side as appropriate. Next, Oracle Calendar users will migrate to Exchange.

She noted that proof of concepts have completed with Fuqua and University Counsel’s office.  That group is using mail and calendar with Exchange. John Board noted these customers were actively lobbying for Exchange. Klara noted that some Fuqua users stayed with Sun Mail for email and Exchange for Calendar.

Debbie said that in December/January, OIT will move internally to Exchange for calendar (300+ users.) By August 2010, the rest of the university will be moved off of dCal and Lotus Notes.

She added that other departments have expressed interest for both calendar and email.

From an integration perspective, Mark notes that OIT has been supportive of the Exchange direction pushed by Fuqua. He noted Exchange is now the standard for private-sector communication and collaboration, allowing out-of-the-box integration options with tools like MS Office, presence systems, document management like SharePoint, and unified communications for telecommunications and email.  He demoed how Duke’s Cisco VoIP system integrates naturally into Exchange. Mobile device support is actually streamlined given common support for ActiveSync by all platforms except BlackBerry, for which OIT will offer a BES server for integration and support.

Outlook Web Access will allow users to authenticate and perform a remote-wipe on their mobile device as well, Mark noted. He added the Exchange direction will allow the retirement of NotifyLink.

Apple offered really good Exchange support in Snow Leopard, Mark noted; Mac users can use the native Mac applications to get at mail and calendar. Windows users will likely wish to use Outlook.

Mark noted OIT is building an Exchange 2007 environment with clustered continuous replication, which makes sure two copies of your mailbox exist (one on each side of a cluster) with automated failover between the two environments.  The environments are being designed so that the existing and the new data center will provide multi-site replication.  The environment will be able to scale to 18,000 to 20,000 users if the demand is there.

He explained how Exchange’s architecture and clustering work, emphasizing that the synchronization between NetID and Active Directory was critical to enabling broad use of Exchange. He added that there is some work to be done on integration with mail tools for functions like changing account names.

Debbie noted Microsoft recommends Outlook Web Access; Thunderbird can also be used, along with Outlook. Mac users can use the web, Thunderbird, Entourage, or native applications with Snow Leopards.  Thunderbird (with the Lightning plugin) as well as web access works for Linux systems.

Mark noted that public folders are a different concept than shared folders under Unix. Mark noted that it’s not clear whether this would be broadly used or pointed towards document management solutions like SharePoint instead.

Terry asked why a department might choose to stay with Sun Mail over Exchange. Mark said that some users with tremendous (multi-GB) amounts of mail may find it challenging to make that transition.  Mark says that 2 GB+ mail users should plan to shrink their mail footprint to transition or stay on Sun Mail.  He added that Laurie Harris as project manager works with prospective customers on these kind of issues.

Debbie added that collaboration is happening with the health system, from sharing notes on the transition to using the same tools where possible.  She added that some areas may need to upgrade to Office 2007 to use the supported version of Outlook for OIT’s Exchange environment.  A range of support options exist, from customers direct-dialing into OIT to distributed service desks escalating issues to OIT’s Tier 2 service desk.  She also noted a range of users planning to migrate; Financial Services, the Provost’s Office, Auxiliaries, and Perkins Library are all under discussion.  OIT, Divinity, Nicholas, Pratt, Sanford, and A&S are all under discussion for migration from dCal to Exchange, she added, to discuss migration options and experiences.

Michael asked if the Exchange migration is open to students. Debbie said that about 800 students have dCal accounts, but that it’s unclear how many are actually using it.  The students with dCal accounts will be polled as to whether they want to keep the calendar, in which case they’ll move to Exchange; if not, the accounts will close after a notice.

Terry asked if dCal and Exchange are in parallel and communicating with each other. Debbie noted they are both running, but that they don’t communicate with each other. Mark said that if we could move fairly quickly with a migration we can avoid the pain and cost of building integration between the systems. Debbie added that once a group migrates to Exchange, their old dCal calendar will remain read-only so the user group can view old meetings in there for a while if needed.

Terry asked which events would be migrated from dCal to Exchange. Debbie and Mark said that future events would be, but not many old meetings/events will be carried forward into Exchange. Terry noted he does use his old meetings as a form of diary.  He added that adoption is important since most faculty aren’t on a unified calendar system and it’s hard to get meetings scheduled.