Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Ctrl-F

Ctrl-F to Search

Are you looking down the barrel of an exceedingly long web page? That’s fine if you’ve got time to spare, but there is a better, faster way!

In most web browsers and programs, all you have to do is hit the key combination Ctrl+F. This will bring up a search box where you can input the phrase you’re looking for.
 
Internet Explorer will bring up another window:

iefind
 
Google Chrome will show a drop down search bar:chromefind
 
Firefox will bring up a toolbar at the bottom of the page:

mozillafind
 
You can also go to Edit>Find, in most cases, if you’re a fan of the mouse.
Cut your search time today!
 
Dan

All ITS Meeting

We had our All ITS Meeting on Wednesday (Some Pics). Instrumental to the conversation was a discussion about potential positions of IT with-in the university. In many scenarios the success or failure of an educational organization in these times can be directly linked to how that organization streamlines the flow of information between their departments, the student body and the outside world.

“Information technology . . . is becoming increasingly the key to national economic well being, affecting virtually every industry and service. One would be hard-pressed to name a business that does not depend on the effective use of information: to design products and services, to track and respond to market demands, or to make well-informed decisions. Information technology will change the world more permanently and more profoundly than any technology so far seen in the history and will bring about a transformation of civilization to match.” — John Diebold

There is no doubt that information technology is currently a major force with the potential to affect a range of organizations in fundamental ways. The impact of information technology on business operations has been enormous and will increase substantially. A shift from an industrial economy to an information oriented service economy is under way; and no one knows when the process will slow down.

At Davenport we provide a tactical or transaction-ally heavily service model. We need to satisfy the needs on the ground, things like websites, network infrastructure, reports, customer support and ERP maintenance/development all have components that are tactical, commodity or transactional based, where purely the number of things that you get done equals a good job (the more tickets you close the better you are doing).

However, this is purely a reactionary standpoint and suggests that IT services are about working quickly on a large number of transactions with each individual transaction having a small amount of value to the institution overall. This is what we might call a tactical response to the institutions needs. A need presents itself and we address it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This role is instrimental and unavoidable to the institution’s well being and continued operations, but there is another approach that IT needs to broach to present a higher level of value and thus customer service to the institution, strategic goals.

Strategic goals are about operating smarter and taking into account with each transaction or project initiation it’s weight in terms of satisfying the institutions strategic initiatives. Indeed this methodology suggests forging relationships that dig-out or lay bare the strategic value within IT’s client base such that IT can pursue initiatives for the institution on a departments behalf or in concert with a department.

This ideology might be considered strategic partnership with the institution. IT should be brought into and trusted to safeguard the institutions strategic initiatives where IT is concerned. IT should have an attitude with regard to the institution that is based on a proactive stance toward achieving those goals and should be evaluated in part with regard to the success of those strategic initiatives.

A Giant Cloud on the Horizon

Wikipedia tells us: “Cloud computing is the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources  as a service over the Internet on a utility basis” (link).

While that definition is concise, and accurate, it’s also too jargon-heavy to be useful to most people who don’t work in IT.  So, I typically describe the cloud as the arrival of completely commoditized Internet services.  Basic email accounts are now freely available, with large storage capacities and downtime comparable to the electric company.  Web hosting, that used to cost $100s monthly is now available for an extremely low cost, even free in some cases.

If the first phase of the commodity internet was widely available high-speed connections (that train has left the station) then the next phase is the delivery of services that are also commoditized (defined as affordable, widely available, and essentially the same regardless of vendor).  Just so we’re clear, electricity, sewer service and city-water are other examples of commoditized services (and like broadband, you can still buy a house in the country cut off from those services too).

In terms of cloud services, I’m most intrigued by Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) and Elastic Computing (EC2) services.

S3 is a cloud-based service, that charges pennies for very small slices of internet performance.  As I write this today, Amazon charges as little as $0.12 per gigabyte for up to 500TB of storage.  The mere fact that they will even sell you 500TB of storage is shocking, but that the price is in line with what it costs to buy storage at Best Buy is even more surprising.  Remember, Amazon is selling you web-attached, backed-up, server-grade storage… that hard drive from Best Buy is slow, for personal use only (in terms of performance) and requires a computer to actually serve any purpose.

Combine Amazon’s S3 cloud storage, with Amazon’s EC2 virtualization platform and you can put an entire virtual server in the cloud.  EC2 allows you to take a virtual server image (essentially a copy of a hard-drive), store it on S3 and then use it as a web server.  Amazon actually creates the virtual server for you, running any of a number of popular operating systems (including the biggest contenders: Windows Server, Red Hat Linux, Solaris and Oracle Enterprise Linux). Here’s the kicker though: They charge for usage by the hour! Sticking with their utility model, users of EC2 pay anywhere from $0.10 to $1.20 per hour to run an EC2 server at Amazon (they also offer fixed rate plans for servers running 24/7).

Unlike many cloud services (e.g. Gmail, My Yahoo) Amazon S3/EC2 are back-office services. Their intent is to compete with the data center, not with some desktop client software (e.g. Yahoo Mail competes with Outlook/Exchange).  For my money, this makes S3/EC2 one of the first cloud computing deployments to go beyond offering a software-service and into the realm of offering a utility. Electricity comes to your home, but it’s useless without the infrastructure to do something with it.  Similarly, S3/EC2 provides storage and servers, but you still need to put software on them to perform actions.

So the question is, does anyone actually use these services?  Are people building virtual cloud servers?

The answer is an emphatic YES.

In fact, and this is mind-boggling to me, experts indicate that Amazon (who won’t share real numbers) is provisioning up to 50,000 virtual servers per day on their EC2 platform.  Read that again… 50,000 new virtual servers going online daily… at a single cloud provider.  That pace represents an incredible 18 million virtual servers online at Amazon per year.

The storage service (S3) reported that as of August, it had 64 billion objects stored on the cloud filesystem.  That was up from 40 billion in February.  So not only is the cloud storage service at Amazon incredibly popular, it’s already been popular for quite some time.

So there are really two questions to ask:

  • Why is this so popular?
    Simple:  It’s cheap.  It’s easy. It’s already web-attached.
  • Should we be using it?
    Simple: Yes
    Not-so-simple: When and where?

Eventually we’ll know what cloud services to use, when and for what.  In the meantime, it’s important to keep an eye on them and judge their value against our needs.  In the case of Amazon S3 for example, we can store large multi-media files (such as those used within Blackboard courses) at about 1/100th the price of storing those same files at Blackboard.  Should we make the move?  Perhaps.  Stay tuned.

Should you store passwords in your browser?

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You go to a website and it not only asks you to create a user account, but it also asks if you want to store your username and password so you don’t have to enter it in every time you visit the site.

Convenient? Definitely! But how secure is this? If someone sits down to your computer, can they discover your passwords? This is a real concern as many people use the same password for everything they use on the Internet. If they can access your passwords, they may be able to log in to your TIAA-CREF account and reallocate your investments, access your health records, banking information, and a host of other possibilities.

The answer is, yes. It is actually a very simple matter to access this information. It is easily accessible from all known web-browsers including, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. How can you protect yourself? There are a number of ways. The most important thing that you can do is to not use your Davenport computer for personal, sensitive business, even at break-times. However, you may need to use your work computer for Davenport business at sites that still need to access sensitive information, like ePay, and the 5/3 website when you reconcile your P-card.

The best solution is to never store your password. When it asks to save your password, just say “no.” If “Remember my password on this computer” is already checked, uncheck it. When you are finished with a website, don’t just close the page, log out. Remember to log out of your computer when you walk away for more than a few minutes.

If you would like to make sure all of your current saved passwords are deleted from your PC, call the Customer Support Center. They will be able to walk you through it, or do it for you remotely.

Jim McDonald

Tired of the same ol’ Power Point backgrounds?

Tired of using the same ol’ PowerPoint backgrounds?  Office 2007 has included some downloadable templates at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101043291033.aspx.  The easiest way to see what is available is to select the Design tab in PowerPoint,
Select the “more” down arrow next to the shown themes:

powerpointpic1
And then select “More Themes on Microsoft Office Online…”

powerpointpic2

On a security side note, there are many websites that “say” they have PowerPoint templates. A good rule of thumb is to never download anything that is not published by Microsoft to work within a Microsoft program.  You do not want to be in the middle of a presentation and then find out that there was malicious software downloaded along with the template. 
Thanks,
John