March, 2017 CIO Update
It is definitely March, and I have a busted bracket and the start of some spring allergies to prove it. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend another excellent annual ACCS (Association of Collegiate Computing Services of Virginia) conference in Portsmouth. It was great to see so many VCU staff benefiting from the professional development and networking opportunities available there and to see so many colleagues from other institutions. My fellow CIOs and I had some lively discussion and idea exchange, much of which will lead to continued collaboration in multiple areas. For this month’s post, I’d like to highlight some enhanced services as well as some smaller but interesting infrastructure upgrades.
We now provide VCU employees and current students the ability to install the Microsoft Office applications – Word, Excel, Powerpoint – on up to 5 PCs or Macs – for free. Eligible individuals may go to the TS Microsoft Office Website or portal.office.com to obtain their free copy after authenticating using their VCU eID and password. Departments within the university have access to Microsoft Office through their technical support personnel. Other Microsoft products such as Visio and Project which are not included in the VCU Microsoft agreement and can be purchased under the Commonwealth of Virginia Microsoft Academic Select Master Agreement or via the VCU Technology Contracts website.
Expanded support for faculty
Learning Systems has expanded its support for faculty by implementing a new website to serve as a single location for faculty to find all teaching and learning support resources offered by LS. Here, faculty will find news, alerts and knowledge base articles, a Teaching & Learning with Technology blog (TLtech)–updated weekly by LS; short how-to videos created by LS and stored in a new “Learning Systems Academy” space in Kaltura; and links to Open Office Hours where faculty can schedule consultations with LS staff; and an email address for faculty use, that will generate a service desk ticket assigned directly to LS. Learning Systems continues to develop and deliver online and f2f workshops on Blackboard, VoiceThread, and Collaborate–these schedules and registration links are also located on the new website.
Rice Rivers Center – Inger Rice Lodge Network Support
VCU Network Services was tasked with providing Internet and VCU network access at the Inger Rice Lodge. Expected to be operational by this summer, the lodge will allow the Rice Rivers Center to host ecologists conducting on-site research or multi-day fieldwork excursions. The facility will provide accommodations for 25 to 30 visiting researchers, students and other groups to stay at the center for days or weeks.
The existing facilities at the Rice Rivers Center are connected back to VCU by a leased circuit. Rather than having a separate leased circuit installed for the lodge, it was determined that extending fiber for data and copper wire for telephone lines from the Walter L. Rice Education Building would provide the best networking experience by tying all the facilities into one unified network. Although tying the buildings together involved burying almost a half-mile of cable, it was also cost effective compared to a second leased line. The cost for rural installation of cable is much lower than installations in an urban environment and a pay-back period of less than 2 years is possible compared to a second leased circuit. If additional bandwidth is needed, increasing the speed of the one leased circuit is much more cost effective than installing additional circuits.
The nature of the Rice Rivers Center site will allow us to use a cable plow for installation between buildings. The process uses a vibrating blade to split the ground and cut a narrow slit. As the ground is being cut a flexible duct is placed at the desired depth by feeding it down a chute which is located on the back of the blade. The plowing process can be completed in a fairly short time, with easy clean up and minimal disturbance to the original surface area. This process will not work on our main campuses, with lots of paved area, the underground construction debris of decades, and many underground utilities that need to be avoided, but it is ideal for the Rice Rivers Center. The plow line will follow the existing road to minimize impact on plant life. Once the duct is plowed in, a cabling contractor will pull the fiber and copper cables between buildings and terminate them. As in the existing facilities, wireless and wired connections on the VCU network will be available once the equipment is installed.
VCU Police Support – Improved E-911 Reliability
The VCU Police Dispatch Center is currently tied into the City of Richmond e-911 Center via an encrypted network link that runs over the Internet. This process has worked well, but is exposed to several potential points of failure. To address this issue, VCU Technology Services has partnered with the City’s Department of Information Technology to tie a few spare strands in the VCU fiber infrastructure supporting the new VCU Police headquarters to the City of Richmond fiber. This will allow us to place e-911 dispatch terminals in the new VCU Police building directly on the City’s e-911 Center network. The encrypted Internet link will be retained as a backup connection between sites.
With the installation of VCU fiber infrastructure to the new VCU Police building the construction required to tie into the City’s fiber is relatively minor. VCU and City manholes are side by side so only a foot of conduit needs to be installed to tie the duct systems together. A few hundred feet of a small fiber cable will be pulled in existing duct to connect the VCU and City splice points, and the City will need to splice two of their fibers together in Broad Street. Work has already started and is expected to be complete within a week.
Tech Fair Next Week
Just a reminder to please join us at VCU TechFair, Tuesday, April 4 from 10-2 at Cabell Library (Room 303) and Wednesday, April 5 from 10-2 at Tompkins-McCaw Library. Thanks to the staff from VCU Technology Services, VCU Libraries, and our other VCU partners for their participation in this great event. Thanks also to our many vendor partners for their support.