IT Open Forum Notes
February 2013

 

Network Security Update

Following opening remarks by Vice President and Chief Information Officer Bruce Petryshak, Assistant Vice President Brian Holley discussed a new auditing software package called Identity Finder that will be installed automatically on all PCs and Mac computers across the campus. Identity Finder, which will replace Spider, scans your machine to uncover Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers, or bank accounts. Holley added that Identity Finder also replaces an existing manual process with an automated process to ensure employee PCs comply with the University's Information Security Policy. The new application will send its findings to a central server, where it will be examined by the IT security team. If the security team determines a possible PII-related issue, it will contact the employee to ensure the alert is valid and to contain it. Holley projected Identity Finder would be rolled out across the FSA domain by April, but the software will have to be loaded on Macs manually. For more information, visit http://mtsu.edu/projects/identityfinder/index.php.

Holley also discussed developments on the VPN (Virtual Private Network) Project. Currently, faculty and staff are able to access their computers off campus via remote desktop. Holley noted that the current system is inherently insecure due to increased attacks targeting the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Starting on April 8, the University will require that all faculty and staff use a new procedure called VPN to access resources that exist within the University network. This process provides the same access to your office PC, but in a more secured environment because it encrypts all of your network traffic. Holley encouraged attendees to visit the IT Projects Page at http://mtsu.edu/projects/VPN/index.php for more information.

In addition, Holley touched upon a new University policy to implement complex passwords to enhance security for FSA and Pipeline logins. Holley explained that users must meet at least three out of the four requirements when creating a new password including uppercase letters, lowercase letters, a number, or a special character such as a question mark. Those who haven't changed their passwords in the last six months will be asked to update their passwords to meet the new guidelines. Holley reminded attendees to change all of their passwords at the same time, especially if they use mobile devices that pull in email from the MTSU Exchange server. FSA passwords should be changed first, followed by the device passwords. Holley warned that if passwords are not updated on the mobile devices they could send the wrong password and lock the email account. The complex password policy will be launched on April 15.

TechQual Survey

Assistant Vice President Barbara Draude and Director of Academic and Instructional Technology Services Albert Whittenberg summarized the results of ITD's recent TechQual Survey. ITD conducted a survey last fall to gauge the campus community's satisfaction of the University's technology-related services. Whittenberg noted that the survey garnered roughly 1,000 responses, which helped direct strategic planning and priority setting for the next year. Whittenberg said that future surveys will be administered on an annual basis to track progress in providing services to the campus and encouraged attendees to take part. Draude added that the current survey results reflected several priority issues in which ITD has already begun to address such as the state and quality of the University's wireless access and the revitalization of the MTSU website. The status of these projects was addressed later during the open forum (read below). For more information about the survey and its findings visit http://mtsu.edu/projects/qualitysurvey.php.

Wireless Network Update

Holley announced that MTSU Network Services has initiated an expansive project to provide complete wireless network coverage to the campus. Part of the back-end solution to keep the network running sufficiently is IP address management. Previously, two older machines managed that process for the University. During the holiday break, the outdated technology was upgraded to a state-of-the-art system. Holley noted there have been some growing pains during this process, such as users not being able to access certain websites like www.bbc.com. Representatives from Enterasys have been working diligently to remedy these issues, and Holley believes many of them will be resolved in a matter of days. Every time a user connects a device to the Internet he or she receives an IP address, and that IP address may be retained for a certain amount of time. A substantial number of mobile devices proliferated during the holidays, and the University leased approximately 11-15,000 IP addresses during the first morning back from the winter break and unexpectedly exhausted its available IP addresses due to the high demand. As a result, the timeframe for assigned IP addresses was reduced to two hours to accommodate the increased demand. For example, an iPhone will receive an IP address for two hours. When those two hours expire, the system will automatically delete the user's reservation for that IP address and assigns it to a different user. Holley encouraged attendees to submit work orders if they encounter any kind of wireless issues. Holley added that the University is also upgrading its wired networks in order to provide improved wireless coverage. ITD recently upgraded the Walker Library's third and fourth floors during the winter break with new hardware to support improved wireless signal strength. A complete new wireless upgrade is on order for the library which includes the installation of 66 new access points to enhance WiFi in that area. A similar concept will be rolled out to buildings across campus. Technicians are conducting surveys such as the composition of walls and the number of floors so that ITD knows precisely where to install the access points in each building to ensure the maximum building/room penetration. Holley noted that the entire endeavor may take up to two years, but the project is currently in motion.

DAS (Digital Antenna System) Upgrade

In addition, Holley also briefed attendees on the University's Digital Antenna System (DAS) upgrade. ITD has been in communication with Verizon Wireless and AT&T in an effort to enhance wireless phone service on campus. Testing had been conducted on campus using antennas on the roof of Corlew Hall, and the findings are being compiled now and should be in ITD's possession in a few weeks. ITD plans to improve cellular service over the course of the summer.

Microsoft Lync

Holley announced that the University is replacing its current outdated Avaya phone service with Microsoft Lync. Lync offers an assortment of convenient features and is a computer-based communications system. The innovative system will provide instant messaging, video chat, conferencing, and traditional phone calls and can be accessed on any mobile device. Lync also offers users the ability to remain in contact with associates using a collection of information including availability, willingness to communication, and location and status information. This presence information would be based on Exchange calendar entries or phone status and can be manually set by the user. Holley noted that ITD will begin installing and testing the system in April with a planned rollout to faculty and staff by fall 2013. Educational materials such as instructions, tutorials and how-to videos will be made available in preparation for the new system. Holley noted that users will still retain their phone numbers and office extensions, but in lieu of a traditional telephone line users will use the Lync system itself when making calls. There will be specific E-911 software packages that will function within the system as well.

Web Project

Draude and Whittenberg updated attendees on the status of the MTSU webpage revitalization project. Draude explained that the current site developed organically throughout the years and amassed more than 17,000 disparate pages. An initiative began last year to redefine MTSU's Web presence to become more user-friendly for prospective students and to emphasize the University's retention and graduation focus. Draude said ITD is working in conjunction with Marketing and Communications because the University wants the website to be consistent with its various print materials, advertisements, and billboards. Currently the Web Team is reorganizing the website's front door location. Draude noted that 75 percent of potential freshmen base their college search on that single component alone. The new site will be organized by the University's programs rather than departments, she added. For example, if a prospective student wishes to attend MTSU in order to become a dietician, he or she may not realize that Nutrition and Food Sciences is located in the Department of Human Sciences. The new site will mitigate that kind of confusion. The Web Team is also working closely with Creative and Visual Services to obtain vibrant photos, and Marketing and Communications has contracted with an outside videography company to create videos for each of the University's programs. The Web Team is working in conjunction with each department to ensure they still have control over the content of their respective pages. The updated content will be organized in such a fashion that it will be less cumbersome to navigate. The project aims to create one University site with lots of content rather than 3,500 different sites sporting their own information. Currently, 99 program pages have been created with 28 percent content loaded on them. The first phase of the project is slated to be completed this spring.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Update

Associate Vice President Tom Wallace provided an update of the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) project, called C@M (Cloud at Middle). The project aims to deliver software applications and services to students and faculty anywhere they are and on any device. Wallace explained that on the front side of their devices users will essentially receive the pixel changes, and that is how the VDI system will function without overwhelming the University's network. When a student logs into the network from any device (including thin clients), they will be able to access the software associated with their courses from any location. This endeavor will save the University money because the replacement equipment is more cost effective and the potential loss for expensive equipment will be reduced. ITD has been working throughout the spring, summer, and fall to virtualize the machines across campus. Due to the enormity of the project, ITD has encountered a few bumps in the road along the way but is working diligently to remedy them.

CRM

Wallace also briefed attendees on the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Project, which, in the business world, includes the individuals who operate call centers, run direct mailing, and those who contact and develop relationships with customers. The endeavor is a component of the University's One-Stop Shop initiative. Any student interested in MTSU will be able to visit the One-Stop Shop to obtain information about the University, go on a campus tour, pay their bills, receive financial aid, etc. It is essentially all of the student-related services consolidated into one central location. One of these services includes the collecting and sharing of information. This is where the CRM comes into play. The idea is that any contact the University has with a student gets recorded so that college advisors can view the information entered by Financial Aid personnel, Admissions officers, and/or Records Office representatives. Wallace noted the repository of student information will be stored on a secured database, and the documents will be managed by a content management system (CMS). The objective of this project is to enhance student success so that none of them fall through the cracks along the way. The initial design of the project is being created now, and Wallace hopes to have it in place by fall 2013.

MTSU Mobile Application Update

Assistant Vice President Lisa Rogers updated the forum on a new MTSU mobile application feature that had been developed by a team of students. The new app, dubbed MTBustracking, features a bus route location identifier so that patrons may view where the campus shuttle buses are at any given time on their mobile devices. The app displays color-coded dots (red, green, silver, etc.) that indicate the bus routes. Parking Services personnel will also be enabled to change or modify the color-coded system as needed. In addition to the bus tracking app, the student mobile team is also developing MT Mobile Version 3, Rogers noted. The team is examining what components on RaiderNet could be incorporated into the mobile app. The team is also creating a study aid to assist students with their coursework and planning. Another feature that is being developed is a confirmation app for students who need to confirm their classes to prevent them from being purged from the system. Rogers pointed out that if a student has a zero balance on his or her account he or she would still be in danger of being purged if their classes aren't confirmed on time. This new app will allow students the convenience of confirming on their mobile devices. Rogers said the app would send a text to those students who are vulnerable to being purged that would remind them to confirm their classes. This procedure would be an additional use of the Rave Alert system but has been deemed acceptable, Rogers said. For more information about the MT Mobile app, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/projects/mtsumobile/index.php.

Dashboard/Data Warehouse

Rogers also provided some information about a project that examines student progressions and student numbers that comprise the new funding formula for Tennessee universities, which emphasizes retention and student success in lieu of enrollment. Rogers said the data that normally is sent to the Tennessee Board of Regents has been collected, along with census data, and end-of-term information that includes the number of students' attempted hours and earned hours, how many degrees were awarded, etc. A dashboard was engineered to pull all of that data together and store it in a presentation layer that displays trends across certain number of years. The program displays how the school performed in each of the areas. Users can click on a bullet point on a trend line to view a spreadsheet that examines the data. Rows and columns may be adjusted around it, Rogers explained. Unneeded rows and columns may be removed, and the program will automatically re-adjust the spreadsheet. Rogers said the collected data was delivered to the University Leadership Council, and University President Dr. Sidney McPhee asked everyone to examine the data to determine if there were any patterns or avenues in which the University can address in terms of student retention.