Duke ITAC - December 9, 2010 Minutes

Duke ITAC - December 9, 2010 Minutes

ITAC Meeting Minutes
December 9, 2010, 4:00-5:30
Allen Board Room
  • Announcements and Meeting Minutes
  • Digital Signage System Demo (Samantha Earp, Steve Toback)
  • Tipping Point (Intrusion Protection System) Update (John Board, Artem Kazantsev and Mike Cullen)
  • e-Learning Roadmap Update (Ed Gomes, Samantha Earp, Amy Campbell)        
  • End of Semester Reception                                            


Announcements and Meeting Minutes

Alvy Lebeck called the meeting to order, noting that the technical agenda for the day would be slightly shorter than normal to allow for an end-of-semester reception.  He then opened the floor to announcements.

John Board announced that the Pratt School of Engineering had just decommissioned its email server after an impressive 30 years of independent email service.  

Amy Brooks shared that her team was able to recreate recent problems with the email system.  Amy and her team have been in contact with engineers from Sun and Oracle to verify a bug that has since been successfully patched.

Digital Signage System Demo (Samantha Earp, Steve Toback)                                             

Samantha Earp began the first segment by introducing Steve Toback, Jack D’Ardenne, and herself.  

Steve described the project as a centrally managed infrastructure for the distribution of information via networked video screens across campus.  He explained that these screens could be used to distribute departmental, university, or alert information via RSS, HTML, video or JPEG formats.  Steve demonstrated each media type in the new system, from the JPEG banners similar to those currently displayed at Duke to progressive-download HD video.

Robert Wolpert asked for more detail about the alert functionality.  Steve explained that authorized users (by department/group) are able to modify individual digital signs or groups of signs, while OIT can push changes to all signs within the network if necessary.  Thus, in the event of a campus emergency, alerts can be pushed to these signs as well as the existing mechanisms.

Continuing with the presentation, Steve named Jack D’Ardenne as the project manager for this initiative and Ginny Cake and Samantha Earp as executive sponsors.  Participants in the pilot are Duke Alert, OIT, Student Affairs, Fuqua, and Duke Law.

According to Steve, the project team has been working with physical devices since September, but production rollout of the system has been delayed in order to replace the Cisco 4400G Digital Media Player currently being used in the pilot in favor of the 4305G model.  The 4305 player boasts more memory, a lower price, and a smaller footprint, although it does not currently support HTML content; that functionality will be added in the spring, Steve noted.

Steve explained that OIT will be responsible for paying for the digital signage shared infrastructure, hardware and software support, and administrative staff, while customers signing on to this system will be responsible for digital signage players, hardware, software, and any necessary displays installed in their units.  Steve clarified that a group or department would be free to use existing displays or purchase new ones, but called Cisco’s professional display (as shown in the demonstration and available though Duke) a “phenomenal value” compared to similarly-priced displays on the market that are not intended for 24-hour use.

Steve then opened the floor to questions.  Robert Wolpert asked whether campus groups already employing digital signs would be expected to upgrade, to which Steve said no.  According to Steve, the new system is not intended to immediately replace existing systems, but rather to begin fostering an infrastructure that will allow for better service and sustainability via centrally managed updates.

Ed Gomes asked if the software behind this system is capable of responding to requests generated via a touchscreen interface.  Steve confirmed that with the help of a touchscreen overlay, users could use the digital signs to interact with web content.

Dave Richardson expressed concern with relying on the digital signs for relaying information when coverage and reliability of this system are yet to be established.  Tracy Futhey and Samantha Earp both addressed this point, noting that this system would complement existing services rather than replace or compete with them, as existing content systems will provide alert feeds for the digital signs to use.

Jack D’Ardenne pointed out that the system is also capable of streaming live or pre-recorded voice content, and could potentially be used as a kind of PA system for emergencies.

In closing, Steve encouraged those with questions to get in touch with him at oit-its-info@duke.edu .

Tipping Point (Intrusion Protection System) Update (John Board, Artem Kazantsev and Mike Cullen)

John Board described the Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) as analogous to a virus scanner for network traffic; IPS looks for network packets and patterns of network packets known to be associated with network attacks on application and systems.

Since implementation of the Tipping Point IPS, John credits the system with blocking about 6 million outside attacks on Duke per day, about 2,500 of which are considered “major” or “critical”.    Additionally, Tipping Point blocks about 1.5 million outgoing attacks per month.  Most of these are low severity, John said, but we can still account for about 200 “major” or “critical” outgoing attacks being blocked each day – a measure that lowers Duke’s risk of outgoing traffic being blacklisted by other networks.

Though Tipping Point has offered a valuable security boost, John continued, the service has also presented some challenges.  Campus network traffic has grown dramatically since Tipping Point was installed about two years ago, and the IPS has been suspected as a possible contributing cause in several recent network outages and performance issues.  Though John doubts that Tipping Point is responsible for network outages, he acknowledged that the service has been shown to contribute to diminished network performance.  Additionally, maintenance of Tipping Point requires consistent attention to new inspection rules, which must be updated routinely.  John said that the inspection ruleset grows at a rate of about 1% per week due to vendor updates.

John then discussed general statistics about Tipping Point traffic.  Internal (Duke-to-Duke; including ResNet and wireless networks) traffic accounts for as much as 80% of the total inspected traffic, yet analysis of this traffic yields only 1% of the total identified attacks.  Additionally, a small fraction of the Tipping Point rule set (~1%) appears to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of the total inspection time without identifying any attacks in a recent six-week period in which the effects of these rules were closely monitored.

Having received reports of slow data transfers from multiple research departments, John explained that his team has been conducting experiments in ongoing efforts to reduce the load on Tipping Point in a responsible way.  Turning off resource-intensive but low-yield rules did not appear to have a substantial effect on performance, but several experiments with limiting internal scanning were successful in improving overall network performance. John showed a graph illustrating performance gains corresponding to each configuration tested and explained that the current solution has improved network responsiveness from a 40-50% lag from wire speed to a 20% lag.  With the help of next-generation scanning hardware recently implemented at Duke, this lag has been further reduced to 10%.  John explained that OIT is continuing performance experiments to consider reinstating the full internal network scanning if the new hardware processes the full scan more efficiently.

Robert Wolpert asked whom a person could contact with concerns about network scanning, and whether a map of Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) borders is available to those interested in learning more about how internal traffic crossing these borders may be affecting transfer speeds.   John encouraged anyone with questions to file a Help Desk ticket or talk to Debbie DeYulia, and Artem Kazantsev named Bob Johnson’s group as maintainers of the VRF list.

e-Learning Roadmap Update (Ed Gomes, Samantha Earp, Amy Campbell)                                                    

Ed Gomes provided a brief update on the e-Learning Roadmap project, explaining that the year’s evaluation of various Learning Management Systems (LMSes) has resulted in a formal recommendation of Sakai as the successor to Duke’s Blackboard implementation.

According to Ed, Sakai’s open-source application framework will be more flexible than other contending systems in meeting Duke’s evolving needs, as well as more cost-effective to implement and maintain.  The e-Learning Roadmap team has recommended a phased implementation process that will include a limited pilot in the spring of 2011.  Assuming all goes well with the pilot, Ed continued, the team plans for a complete transition of all courses by July 2012.  This implementation plan features external hosting in order to minimize overhead in rolling out the exploratory pilot.

Tracy Futhey then talked about next steps in the LMS project, explaining that the spring Sakai pilot will allow the team to test for themselves that the attractive features of Sakai are truly beneficial in the Duke environment, as well as allow Duke’s governing bodies to examine the implemented product and confirm whether this is the appropriate direction for Duke.  Aside from administrative approval, Tracy explained that the pilot is also important for determining feature requirements and scope of implementation, evaluating external hosting as a long-term solution, and more accurately estimating support costs.

Tracy then discussed special groups to convene in the process of piloting and evaluating Sakai.  An implementation planning team will be focused on bringing the system up for analysis, while a transition and support planning team will evaluate the pilot from a faculty perspective and prepare for broader testing and deployment should the university sign off on Sakai as the official Blackboard successor.  Tracy explained that the committee plans to involve ITAC as an ongoing oversight body during the exploratory pilot, with a working group of 3-5 ITAC faculty members to meet monthly with teams prior to the full pilot review in May 2011.

The floor was then opened to questions.  DSG representative Ben Getson asked if Sakai would be re-branded for use at Duke. Julian Lombardi expressed an interest in adding an extraction layer to help people think of Sakai as a service rather than a project, but explained that no final decisions have been made about that.

In the absence of further questions, Tracy thanked Amy Campbell, Samantha Earp, Lynne O’Brien, Ed Gomes, Julian Lombardi, and all other people who have helped with the e-Learning Roadmap project along the way.