This monthly newsletter is sent to the Michigan IT community to provide updates, answer questions, and spark conversation about the projects that the university is undertaking as part of NextGen Michigan, a UM-wide effort to improve IT services and invest in technologies that support U-M's current and future needs. Please direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Articles were contributed by the Michigan IT Community. If you have a story to contribute, or an idea of what we should cover in the future, please let us know.
With the start of the new academic year upon us, I like to take a moment to look back and reflect on our goals and accomplishments over the past fiscal year. When considering all of the IT projects taking place on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint, and UMHS campuses—from implementing MiChart, to making improvements to research advanced computing services, to piloting new technologies to support new pedagogical approaches, to rolling out MiWorkspace for Central Administrative Units, to creating an IT Strategic Plan for U-M, as well as all of the unit-specific work that takes place each day to support our faculty, students and staff—one begins to get a sense of the collective value that Michigan IT brings to the university.
Many of these FY13 accomplishments are captured on the CIO website. As we enter the new year, I look forward to working with a vibrant Michigan IT community to accomplish new goals and continue to grow as a collaborative network of people making IT work on all of our campuses.
This year also brings changes to the NextGen Program Office and the ITS leadership team. I am extremely proud to share the news that John Gohsman has been named Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer at Washington University, St. Louis and will be retiring from U-M at the end of August. John will be Wash U's first CIO—a tribute not only to John but to the work we've all accomplished at Michigan. In his 30 years with the university, John has had tremendous impact across administrative applications, enterprise infrastructure, business intelligence, teaching and learning applications, and strategy and planning—in addition to leading the NextGen Program Office and IT Rationalization.
In the next few weeks, we will be posting two new positions to fill the breadth of roles John played across ITS, and we will be conducting a national search to make sure we find the best people, either internal or external, to fill these roles. Please join me in congratulating John on this tremendous achievement, and feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
— Laura Patterson
University units seeking information technology investments for the FY15 budget year that are estimated to cost more than $1M or that will result in a new or changed shared service should submit a request by Friday, September 6, 2013. These requests will be reviewed and prioritized by the CIO and the U-M IT Governance committees this fall.
A number of initiatives are underway in ITS Information and Infrastructure Assurance (IIA) and Identity and Access Management (IAM).
IIA has produced a short video, Protect Yourself & the University from Spear Phishing, to help members of the university community learn how to recognize and protect themselves from spear phishing attempts. In recent weeks, criminals have used spear phishing to trick people into revealing their UMICH password. The criminals then attempted to use the passwords for identity theft. The video and U-M's efforts to protect staff from acts of spear-phishing have been featured on AnnArbor.com, Detroit Free Press, and WXYZ-TV 7. Please take a look and share the video with others in your units.
IIA is working to implement a network Intrusion Prevention Service (IPS) for the university in 2014. IIA is reviewing responses to their Request for Proposal (RFP) for an IPS vendor now and developing a rough timeline. There is a new webpage on Safe Computing with information about this effort: Network IPS Planned for 2014. Updates will be posted to that page as they become available.
IAM is working toward providing users with a means of resetting forgotten UMICH passwords themselves so they don't need to call the ITS Service Center for this. Our goal is to provide password reset capability sometime later in the fall. People will need to enter answers to security questions in order to use the feature. Then, if they forget their UMICH password, they can answer the questions to have a code sent to a non-U-M email account that they can use to reset their password. The IAM team is using open source software, PWM, in conjunction with MCommunity.
IIA has updated much of the information and instructions on the Safe Computing website. Two new items in the site's left-hand menu include:
Your feedback on the site is always welcome. If you have suggestions, please send them to email@example.com.
The ITS Identity and Access Management (IAM) website has been expanded to cover how identity information gets into U-M systems, logging in to U-M services (accounts and passwords), how people get (and lose) access, IAM-related policies, and more. It better communicates and explains IAM topics and more clearly defines and articulates the policies that apply to IAM practices.
IAM has been an area of rapid growth and development for ITS, the Medical School and U-M Health System (UMHS). We now need to step back and develop a clearly defined and integrated strategy in support of the university's mission. As a first step toward that development, ITS, the Medical School and UMHS are partnering to engage an IAM consulting vendor to perform an independent assessment to:
A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued this month.
This May, the university signed strategic training contracts with two well-known technical training vendors, Webucator and New Horizons. The new IT training resources are the result of a collaborative effort between ITS and members of the IT Technical Training Interest Group, a mix of instructional support, administrative, and training professionals from across campus. The group assisted in the initial requirements gathering and Request for Proposal (RFP) process that resulted in the selections.
The established contracts with these vendors enable U-M faculty, staff, and students to receive discounted, pre-approved rates on a variety of desktop application training programs. Both vendors offer instructor-led and various online or virtual training options.
To obtain more information about these vendors, including links to each vendor's site and contact information, visit the newly re-modeled U-M Technical Training website. The site also includes links to other technical training offered at U-M. For those who want to get involved, the IT Technical Training Interest Group is available for U-M faculty and staff who are interested in discussing, sharing and collaborating on IT technical training.
This fall, the group will focus efforts on issuing an RFP for more complex technical training.
Image courtesy of savit keawtavee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Gartner for Technical Professionals, a new service specifically tailored to help IT professionals, addresses technology architecture and design, implementation strategy and overall project execution. This service was formerly provided to U-M by Burton Group Research. This service is brought to campus by the Medical Center Information Technology (MCIT), Medical School Information Services (MSIS) and ITS.
The Gartner for Technical Professionals membership includes:
The new service and the regular Gartner Core Research are accessed using your uniqname and UMICH password through the library.
On Thursday August 8, Information and Technology Services (ITS) and IT in LSA launched a new cloud-based service management system called ServiceLink. The new platform will provide their organizations' support staff with faster, more reliable access to data, records, and knowledge resources. "ServiceLink will help us deliver the exceptional 'wow' customer service that we aspire to, as well as improve productivity and reduce operational costs," says Holly Nielsen, the ServiceLink project co-sponsor for ITS.
The rollout of ServiceLink will happen in six major phases over the coming year, with each phase focusing on a different set of support tools and services. The first release of ServiceLink now provides the following capabilities to ITS and IT in LSA:
According to Cassandra Carson, the ServiceLink project owner for ITS, the transition to ServiceLink for this first phase will be virtually transparent to those who contact the ITS Service Center. "The online service request form on our main help page has been updated, but anyone who calls in or emails 4HELP@umich.edu should not notice much difference in how they communicate with us," Carson explains.
The ServiceLink collaboration between ITS and LSA (which will also include Administrative Services Transformation) is part of Michigan IT, an initiative to connect the community of technology expertise and resources across campus. Approximately 120 people from all three units contributed to the rollout of the first release and over 400 support staff attended training on how to use ServiceLink for incident and request. There are currently about 660 active users on the system.
"Michigan IT is all about strengthening cross-campus partnerships to deliver excellent, cohesive service to meet evolving campus needs," says LSA IT project sponsor David Sweetman. "We're excited to work with ITS and AST on the ServiceLink implementation, and we hope this service becomes a foundation in the delivery of future campus-wide offerings."
ServiceLink is part of NextGen's multi-year strategy for changing U-M's IT service approach and investing in technologies that will advance the university's academic, teaching, research, and clinical programs. To learn more, visit the ServiceLink project site and read the FAQ.
Unveiled a year ago this summer, Michigan's Modular Data Center (MDC) is proving to be a cost-efficient and sustainable boon to the university's research community.
When the MDC was originally brought to the university in June 2012, it was projected to be an innovative and cost efficient way to expand the university's capabilities for computationally rich research. The eco-friendly MDC is special not only for its compact size (it is roughly the size of two boxcars), but for its lower operating cost, improved utilization of hardware assets, and decreased energy consumption benefiting university researchers and their use of high-performance computing.
The university officially accepted the MDC for use from Hewlett Packard on November 1, 2012, with minimal compute taking place until Flux—the first university-wide, shared computational discovery or high-performance computing (HPC) service—was migrated into the space in January 2013. MDC is the research cloud for campus, which is perfect for Flux and other high-performance computing on campus.
"Moving Flux to the MDC provided a significant savings in terms of power costs for Flux," said Ken Powell, Director of Research Computing Infrastructure in the Advanced Research Computing unit of the Office of Research, and professor of Aerospace Engineering. "That allowed us to avoid a previously anticipated increase in the cost of Flux—so the move had the double benefit of saving energy and saving money for U-M researchers."
The MDC is currently at 20 percent power and using 20 out of 44 racks. This discrepancy is expected to improve over time as newer equipment is manufactured and more researchers choose to store their data in the MDC.
In a typical data center, the energy cost for cooling can be twice the cost of power dedicated to computing. However, to maximize potential cost-savings, the MDC is most effective when it is fully loaded to capacity.
"The one downside is the disparity between how much has been physically loaded and how much has been electrically loaded. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to pack it as dense as we might like at this point," said Andy Palms, executive director of Communications Systems and Data Centers.
Since its adoption of the MDC, Dick Boyd, director of Engineering for ITS Communication Services, said the response has been an overall positive one, with many outside nonprofits and corporations consulting U-M about the MDC.
"HP has brought some different customers through here, in part because of high-performance computing and MDC, have met with Ford, Wayne State, and have had conference calls with MIT, University of Kentucky, and a half a dozen others," said Dick Boyd.
Boyd and Mark Linsenman, computer operations manager, presented at the Association for Computer Operations Management (AFCOM) Michigan Regional Conference this past January in Ann Arbor, as well as the AFCOM Data Center World Conference in April in Las Vegas.
Moving forward, the research community will continue to work with the College of Engineering and other researchers on campus to decide what comes next. But in the meantime, the Modular Data Center is a high-performance option for researchers that is ready to be taken to the next level.
Correction: The article has been corrected to state that the MDC was originally brought to U-M to expand the university's capabilities for computationally rich research, rather than to improve research data storage. The MDC is not used for data storage.
The MiWorkspace project team recently completed the proposed redesign of MiWorkspace for use in Academic & Research units. In partnership with the End User Computing Steering Group and roughly 100 campus technical subject matter experts, the team is proposing adding several new features to MiWorkspace and some significant technical updates to ensure the service meets needs of Academic & Research units. Final approval of these recommendations is subject to review by governance groups. The design will be an iterative process, and we anticipate additional updates based on emerging requirements from campus, the EUC Steering Group, and lessons learned in our pilots.
Proposed improvements range from specific technology enhancements, to approaches on supporting classroom computing and student (lab) computing.
A series of three Academic & Research pilots will kick off in early fall and run through the first quarter of 2014. LSA has agreed to be our first pilot unit, and is identifying three small groups of administrative and faculty customers who will test the Academic & Research technical solution. The project team expects to have all three pilots designated by September.
As of late July, the MiWorkspace service was supporting more than 3,500 regular employees (not including temporary employees or students) and 3,800 computers; this number is expected to grow by the end of the calendar year.
To learn more about MiWorkspace, visit the project site.
Reducing the number of physical servers on campus through virtual server technology is one of the overarching goals of IT rationalization at U-M. MiServer and MiDatabase help achieve this goal, which not only saves the university money and effort, but also helps lay the foundation for future NextGen technologies.
We're excited to report that the MiServer and MiDatabase teams are making great progress toward their goals. As of July 2013, units from across campus have already retired or avoided the purchase of nearly 400 servers as a result of the MiServer and MiDatabase services. This reduction has resulted in combined hardware, staff, power and facility savings of approximately $350,000.
The chart below gives a breakdown of how units have been able to reduce the number of physical servers they operate by leveraging MiServer and MiDatabase.
How do you know if MiServer or MiDatabase is the right choice for your computing needs? A website focused on MiServer and MiDatabase as part of the ITS Shared Services roll-out provides resources to help you decide when and if the services are a good fit for you.
The site includes information such as:
There are many reasons why moving to the services makes sense, but below are scenarios that might help you decide.
If you answered yes to any of the above, then MiServer and MiDatabase may meet your needs.
Find the resources you need to get started on the MiServer and MiDatabase website.
In order to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible for the university community to use cloud computing services, the NextGen Michigan Cloud Computing project is currently working on establishing a strategic partnership with a cloud infrastructure provider. In April, the university identified Amazon (Amazon Web Services) and Microsoft (Azure) as the two finalists in the selection process. The project has since decided to focus on one vendor at a time, beginning with Amazon. Negotiations with Microsoft may begin later in 2013 or early 2014.
Bill Wrobleski, Director of Infrastructure Services in ITS, says, "Our advisory group recommended that we focus on one vendor at a time. They wanted to make sure we do an excellent job with the first vendor, before turning our attention to a second vendor. Based on their advice and on the feedback we received from campus during the selection process, we decided to focus our attention on Amazon Web Services."
Negotiations with Amazon have moved more slowly than expected, but the team is hoping the university will finalize an agreement later this summer or early fall.
Putting in place an enterprise agreement is only part of the work that needs to be done to allow the campus community to effectively use the tools. The ITS project team, with support from a cross-campus Advisory Group, has been actively designing all aspects of the service from campus infrastructure to billing. The project expects to have design work complete by the end of August at which time the team will begin implementation.
Due to several challenges, particularly the slower-than-expected contract negotiation process, the service will not be available this fall as originally planned. The project will announce a new timeline soon. If you have specific questions about these plans or a cloud service you are considering, please contact Cloud Sourcing Manager, Bob Sabourin (rsabes). You can follow the vendor selection progress on the NextGen Michigan website.
Sometime in August, UMICH subscriber number 31,000 signed up for M+Box, U-M's personal cloud storage and collaboration platform. The service's user base has risen steadily since it first rolled out to campus in the spring of 2012. "We're very happy that so many in the U-M community are using M+Box to support their studies, work, and research," says MaryBeth Stuenkel, the M+Box service owner for Information and Technology Services. "In fact, we're exceeding our growth projections."
All current U-M students, faculty and staff can sign up for a free 50 GB personal account. Departments and units are also finding that M+Box provides a flexible and convenient workspace for sharing files and collaborating on projects. "We have just started to make 200 GB shared accounts available in M+Box, which we think will make the service even more valuable as a collaborative space," adds Stuenkel.
View the July 31 live event (1:46:13). The next meeting is September 25, 1-3 p.m., Palmer Commons - Great Lakes North. The Collaboration Forum has over 400 members and is a great place to stay on top of the latest news and updates about M+Box, M+Google and CTools. The Forum is a self-directed, peer-supported group that is dedicated to encouraging, promoting and improving a common collaborative platform for sharing knowledge and information at U-M. Join the Forum.
There's no such thing as summer vacation when it comes to new features and updates to M+Google! Here's an overview of what happened over the past few months:
We offer home delivery! To get the latest news on M+Google:
IT Governance was formed to represent the many needs of the U. read what they're discussing and follow-up with your representative if you have questions, comments or new ideas.
Learn more about the various committees on the CIO website
The success of the next generation of Michigan IT relies on the efforts of scores of people from across campus. This feature profiles those who are making NextGen real. If you are interested in being profiled or want to suggest someone to be profiled, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your role in the NextGen effort?
My role in NextGen is to help identify and secure optimal technology support for students, faculty, and staff, and I believe that the principles of NextGen will help our campus do that. As Assistant Provost at University of Michigan-Dearborn, my responsibilities include Information Technology Services. In 2012 I served as the interim IT director here in Dearborn. I've also been a member of the Unit Rep Steering Committee, the Collaborative Domain Group (teaching and knowledge domains) and the Michigan IT Strategic Working Group.
What do you think are the opportunities or wins for campus coming out of the NextGen effort?
The wins are significant for us: strategic counsel from a number of technology leaders in Ann Arbor and in Flint; access to tools and systems such as Google, Flux, Box, Blue Jeans, resulting savings that can be reinvested in critical infrastructure needs. Our campus could not have investigated, pursued and invested in these at the scale, pace, and effectiveness without the strategies and structures embedded in NextGen.
What do you think are the challenges for the NextGen effort on campus?
Managing the creative tension between timely, proactive, decision-making, and deliberate research and inclusive processes. I believe that students, faculty and staff—the people we serve—are waiting more than any of us would like. The tech folks I work with in Dearborn and see in Ann Arbor are very, very busy. The time for solid communication and relationship building is tough to come by, and still essential.
Another challenge is how to be courageous about going with an 85% solution and being crazy rigorous about finding workarounds and support for the 15% who need something more or different. Also, getting REALLY robust customer feedback and being quick on fixing mistakes we make. And as always, there are the common fears associated with taking a leap of faith to work more interdependently.
What brought you to the NextGen project?
A sense of urgency, an awareness of our limitations, and a strong desire to provide the many excellent tech team members on this campus with the resources they needed to deliver. Dearborn was on the cusp of many changes. I am not a career technology person. Between the expertise and desire on our campus and the generous counsel we received from Flint (Thank you, Vahid Lofti!) and Ann Arbor (ditto to John Gohsman, Phil Ray, Dawn Brennan, Colleen McCormick!), we have been able to develop and implement a more coherent, and more aligned tech strategy.
What is your educational background?
I was an English major, little bit of romance languages, and some systems theory/group dynamics study over the years. I graduated from U-M back when students had more fun.
What book are you currently reading and/or what is the last book you read?
Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy about WWI and William Bowen's Higher Education in the Digital Age. (They go together don't they?)
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you order?
Charles Barkley. Life is short; I want to hear some stories and laugh. I would order Thai or Indian.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
Very little is surprising about me. I'm an extrovert. When something interesting happens near me or to me, everybody knows.
Consider the logo from a screen reader user's perspective. To them, the logo's main function is a link and not a branding element. To be most helpful to this group of people, use the destination of the link in the logo as the alternative text. For example, a U-M logo linking to the U-M homepage is in the website's banner, the alternative text should be "University of Michigan Homepage," and not "University of Michigan Logo."
Don't mark the logo as a <h1> heading. Reserve <h1> for the main page title, and use subsequent headings (<h2>, <h3>, etc.) to create an outline, so that screen reader users will have a sense of page hierarchy. For more information, see Evaluating Navigation Elements or Proper Headings.
These guidelines also apply to ensuring the accessibility of other logos and images on websites.
Thanks to Jane Berliss-Vincent and members of the Web Accessibility Working Group (WAWG) for this contribution. To be added to the WAWG mailing list, email Scott Williams at email@example.com.
ITS has introduced several new products and services over the past year with more yet to come. But as challenging as it is to roll out new offerings, deciding which existing services ITS should continue to support can be even more difficult. "We have a bunch of old systems that are getting little or no investment," explains Bill Wrobleski, director of Infrastructure Services. "As a result, they are out of date and, frankly, on their last legs."
That's where Project Horizon comes in. The initiative, which kicked off in April, will take a series of legacy ITS services and consolidate them into their new NextGen alternatives, where they exist. Legacy systems that do not have a clear NextGen alternative will be put into containment. "That means that we will limit new users and let current users know that at some time in the future we'll probably look at retiring the service," adds Wrobleski, the project owner.
The project team is currently evaluating which services might be good candidates for replacement with a NextGen alternative and which need to receive continued support. The team will soon complete its analysis and then communicate specific recommendations to the U-M community. According to Wrobleski, the key objectives of the project are to:
The estimated end date for Project Horizon extends into 2015, so any service retirements will not be immediate. "This process will take quite a while," says Wrobleski. "Changes resulting from our recommendations will have generous timelines, plus lots of communications and transition resources to help minimize the impact to the community."
In addition to Project Horizon, there are several other ITS services that are going through the retirement process or have been recently retired, including Lyris listserver, UM Wireless Network, and Virtual Firewall. These retirements are being handled separately from Project Horizon due to timing and/or logistical requirements.
We're always interested in your feedback, comments, concerns and questions. Please share your thoughts with the Program Office using the Contact Us section of the NextGen Michigan website.