Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Firesheep

Firesheep is a Firefox extension released by Eric Butler last week at the Toorcon 12 hacker conference. Once installed it gives the user an easy interface to hijack active sessions for popular online services that do not default to SSL encryption (https). This extension is most effective when watching login information over unencrypted WiFi. Some example sites it watches for by default are: Amazon, Basecamp, Cisco, Dropbox, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google, Windows Live, Twitter, WordPress, and Yahoo.

While this extension may eventually affect a change in the way these companies handle default connections, there are steps you can take to help today:

  1. If you use Firefox, use the “HTTPS Everywhere” extension to force several popular sites to use SSL encryption. (Or if you want more specific control of which sites are forced to SSL use the Force-TLS extension and add your desired sites to the config) (Yet another way to accomplish this is outlined here for users of the NoScript extension)
  2. If you use Google Chrome, you can force SSL encryption globally: http://www.ghacks.net/2009/01/10/use-google-chrome-for-secure-web-browsing/
  3. Update your bookmarks or manually type in the https:// to force the site to use SSL encryption.

The problems exploited by the Firesheep extension are not new, it simply wraps them with an easy to use interface. If you are logging into a website it is always best to do so over a secure connection – keep a close watch on the sites you log in to and make certain they all use https. If they are not secure it may be a simple task for someone else to access your account and personal information.

Sneden Center Technology Project

Often much work of an IT department occurs behind the scenes.  As Davenport University recently celebrated the grand opening of the Robert W. Sneden center, and in recognition of this event, I thought an article highlighting the efforts of Davenport’s ITS project team during the construction phase would reveal a rarely seen aspect of information technology.

In September 2009 an ITS project team was formed, consisting of members from the Network Team and Grand Rapids ITS Campus Support team, to participate in the design and engineering process for what would ultimately become the Sneden Center. Hundreds of hours were invested in detailed review of the building drawings with the University Facilities department, architects, engineers, vendors and customers, resulting in a technology infrastructure plan that would not only meet current needs, but support expansion for innovative technologies two or three decades in the future. To showcase the commitment of the team members to keep the compressed schedule on track, one engineering meeting was even held in Holland with participants driving from Grand Rapids during the middle of a blizzard! Ultimately over 3,500 hours would be invested in the IT portion of the project by the University’s technology partners and the project team.

The first challenge the project team faced was the relocation of technology and electrical cables leading from the Academic Building to each of the Residents Halls and Student Activity Center, as the cables were buried underground directly in the middle of the future foundation site. In preparation for a previously arranged service outage during the 2009 Thanksgiving Holiday, Town & Country Group partnered with the project team to diligently complete preparations in advance of the designated time to minimize interruption of electricity, network and phone to staff and students. During the actual service outage the project team worked around the clock to successfully transfer power, fiber optic data lines, phone lines, cable TV, building management and security infrastructure to a new, modular vault and conduit system routed around the future construction site. This “pre-construction” project would involve over 600 hours and due to the time of year, technicians found themselves working in several feet of ice water to make the final connections in the underground vaults.

"Pre-Construction" Project

"Pre-Construction" Project

During the construction of the Sneden Center, Town & Country Telecom would install over (22) miles of high speed fiber optic and copper cabling including a 1,250 foot underground directional bore beneath the road in front of the W.A. Lettinga Campus to install 40-Gigabit capable fiber optics, thus providing connectivity between the Academic building and the University Relations, Communications and Advancement building at Kraft Lake.

Sneden technology install -Town & Country Telecom

Sneden technology install -Town & Country Telecom

The Sneden Center is the second building on campus to employ a 10-Gigabit fiber optic and Cisco equipment network backbone, and the first building on campus to enjoy a newly deployed angled patch panel system that facilitates better cable routing and organization for faster installation and maintenance by reducing the need for horizontal cable managers. The angled design also allows for cables to maintain their proper bend radius for faster and higher quality network connectivity.

A monumental undertaking was the phased relocation of staff from four buildings on Fulton Street to Kraft Lake, Broadmoor and finally the Sneden Center, with over ten distinct moves requiring close coordination and timing between multiple departments of the University, Facilities, Grand Rapids ITS Campus Support, the Network Team and outside vendors to ensure the technology infrastructure and services for PCs and phones would be ready on time at the new offices and connected to the rest of Davenport.

Our partner for the audio and visual equipment for this project was Bluewater Technologies, who would install nearly 2 miles of audio video cabling (audio wire, video wire, speaker wire, control wire, etc.) Below are a few technical specifications for those who enjoy details!

Davenport Auditorium

Davenport Auditorium

Auditorium: The show piece of the Sneden Center is the Wilbur and Sharon Lettinga Auditorium with 232 seats surrounded by:

  • 16,000 Watts of audio amplification.
  • (19) Posh Retro Coax 8.0 ceiling speakers for voice reinforcement.
  • (3) Renkus-Heinz TRX82/12 (Dual 8” + 1” HF) speakers for Left/Center/Right and (2) Renkus-Heinz PNX212-SUB (Dual 12”) subwoofers.
  • Crestron DigitalMedia A/V Switching unit with Crestron V-Panel Biamp AudiaFLEX CM.
  • Two Epson PowerLite Pro Z8050 3LCD projectors (@ 7000 Lumens each / 1280×800 resolution).
  • Two 165” diagonal Draper Targa 16:10 electric screens.
Davenport Auditorium Bluewater Technologies

Davenport Auditorium Bluewater Technologies

Davenport Auditorium Control Panel

Davenport Auditorium Control Panel

The audio/video and lighting system is all controlled from a 14” LCD touch panel located on one of two presenter podiums. The technology foundation is capable of support many different type of needs from a single presenter to discussion panels with video.

Davenport Classroom Eno

Davenport Classroom Eno

Classrooms: The Sneden Center possesses (7) high tech classrooms with ceiling speakers delivering robust audio throughout the rooms and innovative short-throw projectors paired with easy-to-use PolyVision ēno Interactive whiteboard. In addition to screen capture and printing the short throw projectors are unique in that they are installed on bracket above and just several feet from the presentation board allowing the Instructor to walk freely back and forth in front of the classroom without disrupting the image for students. Two of the classrooms are located side by side; once a flexible wall is retracted the audio video systems may be combined for presentations to larger classes.

Davenport Meeting Rooms 1/2/3

Davenport Meeting Rooms 1/2/3

Meeting Room 1/2/3: Features a flexible design where audio and video can be presented independently in each of the three meeting rooms with the flexible partition walls closed or the rooms combined with an intuitive LCD touch screen for large audiences with all projectors and audio systems linked together. Wireless microphones are available along with laptop and DVD sources.

In addition, the Auditorium and Meeting Rooms 1/2/3 boasts T-coil hearing loops by Hearing Loop Systems for those individuals with hearing aids, enabling access to perfect audio perception.

Instrumental to this project’s success was a partnership established between the Facilities and ITS departments. Early involvement during the design processes, multiple meetings each week throughout the project were critical to successfully completing a compressed schedule on-time and on-budget, with a robust technology infrastructure to serve students and staff now and well into the future.

There are number University staff deserving of recognition for their contribution of hard work and long hours (including working during Davenfest!) to make this project a success. Below is a partial list from Davenport’s ITS department who went above and beyond to ensure a project well-done coupled with a smooth transition and minimal interruption for our customers:

Brent Bean
Joe Berg
Jared Doot
Pete Hoffswell
Sally Kuipers
Tim McCabe
Jim McDonald
Merrick Richardson
Josh Serba

Is it time to support Macs?

If you’ve worked here for a few years (like me) you know that officially we don’t support Apple computers here at Davenport.  Sure, there are a few Macs floating around (literally a few) but of the 4,000 computers managed by IT, fewer than 30 are made by Apple, and of those most are in a single gaming lab at Lettinga Campus.

So my question is, do we need to change that policy?  Is it time to start supporting Mac computers?

Three recent bits of information have caused me to question our long-standing policy of a PC-only Davenport.

  • Apple has 91% market share for computers that cost over $1,000.  [source] Frankly I’m stunned to read that, but I trust the data. Recall, iPads are under $1,000 and so are iPhones, so this is just Mac Computers, nothing else.
  • Apple has climbed above 10% overall market share (per-unit) for the first time in 20 years. [source] For August sales, Mac’s market-share was over 20% for the first time since the 1980s.  [source]
  • Apple is the single most popular laptop manufacturer on college campuses. [source]
  • iPad sales have continued at over 1 million per month and are projected to double next year to over 28,000,000 in 2011 [source]

What does this all mean to the CIO?  It’s simple: Technology has been consumer-driven for at least 20 years now and this is merely the latest trend in consumer preference.  As the IT department at university priding itself in technology, we have two duties:

  1. To support faculty, staff and students in the activities around teaching, learning and administration.  This is our customer support role.
  2. To provide technology leadership to the institution, ensuring we are positioned for the future.  This is our strategic role, and we take it as seriously as the customer service role.

Those three bits of Apple information have me thinking about the future of IT here at Davenport.  Davenport is a school that has long prided itself on technology in the classroom, online, and through our various degree programs. We prepare students for careers in technology, and we expose them to the technology they will see in their business and health careers.  If Apple has indeed returned to a powerful role in the personal computing space, perhaps its time to change our tune, incorporating Macs into our computer labs, support procedures, and perhaps even our curriculum.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts through comments on this blog.

Thanks!

Brian Miller
VP of ITS and CIO

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: The Future Or The Past?

It seems that all of the hype in the desktop management world these days is about VDI or virtual desktop infrastructure, this refers to technology that can potentially revolutionize the desktop computing world by offering a more lightweight, efficient and consistent desktop computing platform; but is this just history repeating itself?

When we start to talk about virtualizing the desktop many questions come to mind, the most important of which, how does this technology work? There are many different forms and levels of virtualizing the desktop that include but are not limited to application virtualization, partial virtualization and finally a fully virtualized desktop. First we’ll explore the least aggressive of the bunch and start with application virtualization. This is technology that would allow applications to be ran independent of the platform or OS that the end user is computing on; for example there is a certain piece of legacy equipment still in production that one is in charge of that is managed via a web front end, unfortunately that web front end is only compatible with the IE 5 web browser but we run Windows XP, how do we run an extremely old version of IE on a modern OS? The answer is application virtualization. This technology can be very useful for legacy applications and cross platform application management, as it allows one to execute and run an application apart from his or her local computing platform (end users would still have a full blown PC at their desk) but still have the power to interact with the application as if it were running locally of their PC; but this is only the tip of the ice berg.

To examine the other end of the spectrum let’s take a look at full VDI, completely virtualizing the desktop in its entirety. There has recently been a protocol developed referred to as PCoIP (PC over IP protocol) that allows an end user to efficient interact with their desktop that actually exists on a mainframe (for lack of better term) potentially miles away from their present location. This means that the desktop platform can be efficiently booted and interacted with across the network and presented back to a thin client device for end user interaction. This would mean that instead of having a bulky desktop computer sitting under your desk in your office, on day you may only have a single box that is much smaller that yields simply a keyboard, mouse, monitor and network connection but contains no local resources (CPU (excluding the small processor that runs the thin client itself), RAM, storage). What I find interesting here is…..does anyone notice a resemblance to the old model of thin clients and terminal servers? Years ago this model was very popular in the world of computing, there would be giant powerful terminal servers capable of processing hundreds of concurrent sessions and employees would login and interact with this via a thin client device in their office over a terminal services connection on the network.

It is interesting to think about this technology and weight out the different pros and cons of centralized computing, many questions come to mind such as….was there a reason why we moved away from this model years ago, what were it’s big disadvantages? What type of advantages do we see out of the thin client terminal server model? Does this tie into the green initiative of the future (low power consumption, PC on demand rather than always being on)? How about security and access controls, can these areas be greatly improved by centralizing data and computing? What happens to mobile computing, will there be gateways on the DMZ to allow computing from home on your virtual desktop? Will this be a bandwidth friendly venture, how about internet friendly? Could it be possible to interact with the same desktop platform from work, home and maybe even a mobile smart phone? All of these are very interesting questions; it will be exciting to see where this technology heads in the years to come.

Dmail How to Turn off Threaded Converstaions

Some people did not like the fact that when we moved to Dmail all their email was organized by topic.  This “Converstion View” had been used by Google since it started in the email business.  For those that prefer to see email one at a time you now have the ability to view mail as we were used to seeing it in GroupWise.  All that you need to do is go to the Settings tab in the Upper right corner and Click “Conversation View Off”  than click “Save” at the bottom of the page. Now all your email will appear in a a single list. The Picture below shows where I have the view to display email in a single list. So if you prefer the Google default of Threaded conversations you are all set if you want a traditional view just make this change.

conv1