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Planning & Budget: Technology

Meeting of the UWM Council on Information Technology

September 20, 2006

Attendees

  • Rita Cheng (Chair), Provost and Vice Chancellor
  • Sherwood Wilson, Vice Chancellor, Administrative Affairs
  • Tom Luljak, Vice Chancellor, University Relations & Communications
  • Stan Stojkovic, Academic Deans Council Representative
  • Ex-officio Members:
    • Bruce Maas, Interim CIO
    • Laura Pedrick, Assistant to the Provost
  • Guests:
    • David Crass, Information & Media Technologies
    • David Stack, Information & Media Technologies (reporting)

The meeting was called to order at 8:06 by Provost Rita Cheng. Minutes from the September 2006 meeting were distributed and the Provost asked anyone who had concerns to make them known after the meeting.

Email issues and Email/Calendaring Request for Proposals

Bruce Maas reported that recent email issues and the broader topic of business continuity planning are related. Last week, there were problems with email delivery because the campus is in a state of war with spammers. Email volume has increased four-fold since May and is now over 2 million messages per day. David Crass and his staff in I&MT are taking measures to work through these challenges, but the real solutions lie in new equipment, a new email/calendaring system and a new data center environment.

In hindsight, it is good that the campus did not buy a commercial spam filtering appliance a few months ago because the campus would now be faced with buying another four or five such devices at $50K apiece.

The process for selecting a new email/calendaring system has been underway for three years. PantherMail was acquired for no cost about six years ago as a web based email system for students. It was never intended to be a long term solution. An excellent team led by Prof. Jacques Du Plessis of SoIS has come forward with an analysis of the different products that are available. Separate meetings have been held with campus Groupwise and Exchange users, as well as an open session for all. Prof. Du Plessis and the team explained their process, gathered feedback and created an explanatory website at emailfuture.uwm.edu. On November 10th, a day of public events will kick off the final selection process.

Two products are clear leaders, a third is a bit lower in the rankings, and two are ranked significantly lower based primarily on total cost of ownership. The three finalists are Sun, Zimbra and Communigate. On November 10th, each vendor will have to demonstrate their product against a script of challenges posed by the campus. After basic demonstrations in the morning, there will be technical meetings and trade show booths all afternoon. One hundred students will be paid $50 apiece to participate and give their feedback.

Test environments will be provided for all three systems with the goal of coalescing on a decision during the January timeframe. The experiences of UW-Parkside and other institutions are that it is hard to differentiate between products on the basis of their features. It is anticipated that the campus community will find the products roughly equivalent and cost of ownership issues will rise to the fore.

No department will be required to change what they are currently doing in regards to email and calendaring, e.g., the Exchange server in the School of Business. David Crass explained that Exchange will continue to work as it does today even after the implementation of a new backend infrastructure.

The Provost noted that the Core Service Team has been very open and methodical about the selection process and the scoring. She is aware of the perception that a large portion of the world is using Outlook and presumably Exchange. She noted that there is a fourfold greater cost for an Exchange solution than some of the others. Sherwood Wilson noted that the two front runners are ranked well ahead of the others regardless of cost.

Stan Stojkovic reported that he uses Outlook Express in the office and is dissatisfied with using PantherMail when on the road. Bruce Maas explained that a new web email system will have better features than the current PantherMail and there won't be such a large gulf between using a desktop client and using the web.

The Provost likes the fact that email will stay in one place and not wind up captive on a home computer, an office computer or a laptop.

Bruce Maas reported that all of the finalists have products that will work with handheld devices, whereas the current UWM products are quite limited. Laura Pedrick reported that the integration between the email and calendar is much better for all three of the finalists.

Tom Luljak asked if individual units will drop their current, separate systems. Bruce Maas and Sherwood Wilson reported that the Schools in Enderis and Financial and Administrative Affairs are both planning to move away from Groupwise. The Provost noted the cost inefficiencies of units running separate email systems unless there is a strong pedagogical need, such as exists in the School of Business.

Bruce Maas reported that Prof. Ed Mabry often reminds the community that some people still use dial-up connections, sometimes out of necessity, and the simpler email interfaces, such as Pine, will continue to be valuable for them.

Business Continuity Planning

Bruce Maas explained that there are two goals associated with the long term viability of the EMS Data Center. There is currently a hodge podge of various types of systems and servers. The campus is moving to an environment of efficient Sun blade servers with virtualization software that will allow I&MT's technical staff to back up each other more than they can now. Over the last three to four years there has been a doubling or tripling of hardware in the Data Center that must be supported by the same number of staff. New virtualization software, and a consistent hardware environment, will allow for a better level of support in the future.

A second Data Center could house approximately half of the new servers in the University Services Building that is located over a mile away on Capitol Drive. That way, if one of the two facilities went down, systems would be able to continue running at reduced capacity instead of stopping entirely. The email experiences of last week demonstrated that the University cannot afford for these electronic services to be totally down.

I&MT intends to buy a little over a million dollars in new equipment over three years and install it at the USB building. A work order for facilities planning has been issued to Physical Plant. The goal is to have the second facility be run "lights out", so there should not be a large impact for staffing. The Provost realizes there might be some one time costs, but she wants to see the ongoing costs to be rolled into I&MT's equipment replacement budget.

The timeline for building a second Data Center will be challenging because UWM just missed the cycle for the state's "All Agency" funding, so resources are being sought on campus. Once approval and funding are identified, a second Data Center could be underway within a year.

Bruce Maas explained that every dollar that is borrowed from future upgrades to backstop the current systems reduces the ultimate future capacity. I&MT is trying to walk a very fine line, and did buy some servers to address the current email issues.

CIO Search

Bruce Maas, David Crass and David Stack left the meeting while the Council discussed the upcoming CIO search.