Committee on Information and Communications Technology
Annual Report – FY09
The Committee on Information and Communications Technology addressed a series of topics over the course of FY09 in order to provide input and feedback regarding the use of information technology at Columbia University. Key discussions are highlighted below.
- CU ID cards and delineation of “Officer” rather than “Employee” status
The Committee continued its review and sponsorship of renaming the “Employee” role on ID cards to “Officer” and “Staff.” “Officer” stickers were made available throughout FY09 for those who desired to append the stickers to ID cards already issued. Beginning in FY10, newly issued ID cards (for new faculty, staff and students and as needed to replace expired or lost ID cards) will reflect the “Officer” and “Staff” rather than “Employee” nomenclature.
- Next Generation CourseWorks Recommendations
The Committee reviewed and endorsed recommended investment in replacing the current CourseWorks application (supporting faculty and student interaction and access to course resources) by a more robust application environment based on the Sakai open source technology. Unfortunately, in light of the current challenging economic environment, the University later decided to defer this investment.
- Accounts Payable and Supporting Electronic Document Management Technologies
The Committee reviewed and endorsed the progress made by Accounts Payable in improving its service levels by leveraging electronic document management technologies and streamlining formerly paper-based processes. The Committee also reviewed and encouraged plans for expanded leverage of electronic document management technologies to facilitate process improvement in other University areas.
- Information Security and Disaster Recovery
The Committee hosted a dynamic exchange on security needs/opportunities as envisioned by our Computer Science faculty at SEAS vis-à-vis the security programs now in place at Columbia University, thereby integrating our best academic thinking into the administrative programs supporting Columbia.
- E-Science Recommendations
In a joint meeting with the Libraries and Education Senate Committees, the Information Technology Committee reviewed and endorsed the recommendations of the Columbia University e-Science Task Force to more effectively leverage technology to advance the scientific research of the University.
- Oversight of CUIT Technology Deliverables and Services:
Over several sessions, the Committee reviewed key deliverables and services provided by our central information technology organization, CUIT, focusing specifically on:
- PeopleSoft Human Resources technical upgrade in December 2008 and planned functional managerial self-service enhancements to be launched in FY10
- Client Support Services such as the help desk, desktop support, phone and PDA (Blackberry) support services
- Technology Infrastructure capacity, needs and directions, particularly with regard to Data Center facilities and Network infrastructure
The Committee endorsed planned capital investments and process improvements in these areas.
- Student Financial Aid System Replacement
The Committee reviewed and endorsed the need to invest in a new Student Financial Aid System given the loss of vendor support for the existing module that is part of the current Student Information System (SIS). This requirement has been funded by Columbia University and has emerged as the top information technology investment priority for FY10.
The Committee discussed and drafted information technology requirements, considerations and recommendations associated with Columbia’s expansion to the new Manhattanville campus (separate report attached). The Committee’s discussions and report have increased our understanding of the breadth and complexity of the Manhattanville challenges.
The Committee reviewed and endorsed the preliminary projection of FY10 IT priorities and investments.
Details are provided in the Committee meeting minutes, and interested Columbia community members are welcome to contact Candy Fleming or Sharyn O’Halloran (Committee co-chairs) to discuss any topic in more detail.
Senate IT Committee Report – Manhattanville IT Needs
Columbia University is one of the leading academic and research institutes in the world, with sponsored research expenditure of $789 million in FY2006-2007. As Columbia expands its campuses to include the new Manhattanville site, it is imperative to foster a campus community and to maintain a sense of homogeneity with the main campus. In this report we review the expansion of the main campus and consider how technology should enable seamless communications and access of resources from the users’ perspective.
This report reviews the current status of CU’s IT infrastructure and the IT requirements of the Manhattanville expansion phases, also taking into consideration how the additional demand may affect existing IT infrastructure of Columbia University. The committee has identified seven major areas of IT investment clustered into two tiers, including four broad infrastructure areas and three functional areas affecting the end users.
Tier I – Infrastructure
Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning
Tier II – Functional
Communications and Collaboration
Other User Requirements
For each major area, the Committee has considered the following topics:
Effect on Manhattanville
Guidelines for Recommendation
We summarize our observations and recommendations below.
- As part of the Manhattanville capital construction process, the required backbone cabling and major equipment will be implemented using the existing dark fiber connecting Manhattanville to the Morningside and CUMC campuses as well as new fiber that will be installed during construction. The infrastructure can handle various network traffic such as data, rich media (web 2.0 content), voice and video telecommunications, with equivalent connectivity to that already available to the other campuses. Additional funding and resources will be required to address ongoing operational needs and equipment life cycle renewal.
- Wiring buildings with gigabit Ethernet vs. wireless to the desktop have been considered, with the conclusion that wireless should be available throughout the research buildings but that wired networking remains a requirement as well given the high network speeds potentially required to support computational and communications needs for researchers and their desk- and bench-top equipment. In residential buildings, it is likely that only wireless networking will be needed.
- There is an opportunity to provide open wireless to urban public areas in the vicinity of the Manhattanville expansion as a community service. Further effort will be required to assess any associated liability and impact on services provided exclusively to the Columbia community as part of previously signed agreements and licenses.
- Data security measures will be necessary, including implementation of some policies that currently differ between the Morningside and CUMC campuses (e.g. HIPAA). This involves:
- Securing the communications on the wired and wireless networks from eavesdropping.
- Securing desktop computers and servers to protect confidential data, including Patient Health Information (PHI).
- Network connectivity to research computing facilities off campus at Lamont and Nevis is currently inadequate for some applications. Funding for these improvements, which reflect University needs beyond those for just Manhattanville, will need to be secured.
- Ongoing funding models must be developed and implemented that account for:
- Replacement of major equipment initially covered by the Manhattanville building construction capital investment.
- Recurring costs including NYC revocable consent fees, hardware and software maintenance, and staff effort.
- Resolution of differences in CUMC and Morningside campus funding models for this infrastructure. (CUMC now uses a square-footage-based model whereas Morningside combines direct charge back and apportionment of central costs to the schools.)
- There have been no plans developed to date to address the computing needs for Manhattanville.
- 2000 square feet have been allocated for a server room in MBB. However, scattering server rooms across the various buildings of Manhattanville Is not cost-effective.
- A holistic framework for data center planning and research computing needs is being pursued by CUIT with guidance from the EScience Task Force Final Report (February, 2009).
- Required enhancements of the existing Morningside Data Center have been identified and will be phased, starting with NYSERDA grant-funded research and improvement.
- Significant additional funding will be required to complete renovations of the existing data center to most cost-effectively accommodate:
- Manhattanville phase 1 research buildings (MBB, GSB, SIPA)
- ISB needs
- Consolidation of some server rooms currently distributed across campus
- Green approach to energy efficiency and server consolidation
- A longer term plan for computing capacity will be needed to support later Manhattanville phases and University-wide data center needs. This may require:
- Construction of a Manhattanville data center in Phase 2
- Construction of a data center elsewhere
- Renting of server space or leveraging cloud computing capacity elsewhere
Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP)
- Currently Columbia does not operate mirrored Data Centers in a way that they can provide backup for one another.
- This is mitigated by a Disaster Recovery contractual agreement with IBM that will facilitate data center recovery operations following a campus disaster but may require a week or longer to restore basic operations.
- Construction of an off-campus Data Center, potentially at Manhattanville, Lamont campus or elsewhere, and preferably close to a renewable power source (e.g., near hydroelectric, solar or wind farms), would improve our ability to recover on a timely and cost-effective basis from disastrous events.
- Data backups and archives of much research data are frequently managed by the researchers themselves and are insufficient. This need should be addressed by leveraging the CU Libraries’ Academic Commons for archiving research data sets and would also benefit from improved and redundant data center facilities.
Public Safety (electronic access, surveillance, monitoring)
- Building Management Systems, access and surveillance are integrated with CU systems managed by CU Facilities and Public Safety.
- Funding for expansion of back office equipment and staff will be required to handle new capacity.
Research Computing Requirements
- Guidelines, infrastructure, and support services are needed to facilitate and incent collaboration and technology sharing across groups of researchers in order to more cost-effectively leverage current available computing power and in effect establish internal University cloud/grid computing capabilities.
- Columbia should also evaluate opportunities to extend its computing capabilities by outsourcing and leveraging evolving external cloud computing options (e.g., Amazon EC2 and S3) in a secure and cost-effective manner.
- For example, Stanford today offers Amazon EC2 credits as part of faculty startup packages.
- Columbia will need to establish central infrastructure and incentives to encourage researchers to leverage better and more cost-effective computing technologies, such as:
- Investing in blades
- Centralized backup
- Green computing
- Professional administration
- Monitoring and reporting
- Columbia may develop solutions addressing these needs by sharing or collaborating on solutions with other universities.
- These needs already exist across Morningside and CUMC and will increase with the accelerated growth of research driven by the expansion to Manhattanville.
Communications and Collaboration
- Manhattanville will drive increased use of conferencing, e-classrooms, and collaboration tools due to distance of the Manhattanville site from CUMC and Morningside.
- Demand for social networking technologies (email, wikis, blogs, conferencing, collaboration tools) will accelerate and in turn will increase demand on existing computing infrastructure and support services.
- Use of communications technologies including telephony (conventional and cellular), television, IPTV and CCTV, and email will accelerate and will increase demand on central IT services due to increased population as well as expanded geography.
Other User Requirements
Other support needs will expand in volume and complexity given the campus and population expansion:
- Teaching and Education
- E-classroom needs
- Security and backup
- Network access
- Remote access and control
- Backup and Security
- Technology consultation
- Server administration
- Libraries Facilities
- Service facilities for the SIPA and Business buildings -- full service subject-based research and technology support e.g., digital commons, data analysis (GIS, spatial, financial) with limited print collections and emphasis on delivering both electronic and print materials on an as-needed basis
- Mind-Brain-Behavior science building -- subject-based research support
- Campus Community library space -- cultural community hub -- library research/technology support -- technology-rich group meeting, research consultation spaces with videoconferencing capability
- Security and desktop scanning (ports and viruses)
- Local and remote support for users
- Batch deployments and patch management
- Assuring appropriate desktop management processes and tools to optimize energy utilization, security, and user productivity
- Electronic document management
- Ease of access
- Secure wireless access
- User support