The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 7, 2000
February 7, 2000
VOL. 29, NO. 21


CIO Reviews Year's Progress

'State of the union' on Hopkins technology lays out innovations to come

By Stephanie Reel
Chief Information Officer

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The Committee for the 21st Century stated in its 1994 report, "Our vision for the university in the 21st century imagines a technologically advanced university that provides ready access to information, easy communication, expanded opportunities for sharing academic resources and new modes of delivery of instructional programs."

Today, I am happy to report that we are on course to achieving this vision. Although there is still considerable work to be done, we truly have a lot of very exciting efforts under way and many more that will start as we continue to move forward.

One year ago, my first charge as the university's new chief information officer was to oversee organizational realignment. I felt we needed new ways to communicate and bring together the various information technology staff spread throughout the university system. Many members of the IT team knew little about the work being performed elsewhere in the university. For example, some struggled with challenges already addressed by colleagues across town, while others paid more to purchase products or services already acquired by another group.

"We needed new ways to communicate and bring together the various information technology staff spread throughout the university system," says Stephanie Reel, chief information officer.

Partnerships and collaborations needed to be formed, and they needed to happen in a hurry. And they did. Common policies are being written and communicated, networking technological solutions are being shared, and desk-top service purchasing agreements have been signed. A Microsoft licensing agreement was signed providing excellent pricing for their products, and outsourcing arrangements for Internet services were negotiated across the entire family of Hopkins entities.

To strengthen our organizational structure, we have consolidated in three major areas: networking and telecommunications, instructional technologies and management information systems.

Mike McCarty has been appointed chief network officer, with responsibility for all networking, telecommunications and desk-top support activities across both the university and health system. He has begun to realign staff roles and responsibilities to be functionally focused rather than geographically based.

As director of research and instructional technologies, Lee Watkins now has responsibility for service to students and faculty, in areas related to instruction, scientific computing and electronically enhanced education. Under his watch, student orientation programs have been enhanced, a Microsoft computer classroom has just been completed, a computer laboratory was augmented and enlarged, and a multimedia center has been reconfigured to provide improved support to faculty and staff in the design and deployment of enhanced courseware.

Ken Mattola, senior director of information systems, is responsible for applications development activities, help desk services, technical support and computer preparations. The focus of his organization is on a strategic plan for the replacement or enhancement of major applications in each of the functional areas of the university. The highest priorities in this area are student services, research administration systems and human resource management systems.

A governance structure also has been created. The CIO now reports monthly to the Council of Deans, providing updates and soliciting support for new initiatives. Reporting to this Council of Deans are a networking and telecommunications advisory committee, serving the university and health system, and a financial and administrative systems advisory committee, serving the needs of the university in areas related to management information systems. This second committee, chaired by James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration, has created seven groups focusing on priorities in functional areas. A policy committee also has been formed, chaired by a representative from the Office of Internal Audits, which will publish information systems policies for distribution and enforcement across the university.

As a component of the campus master planning activity, the construction of the Hodson Building and the proposed demolition of Merryman Hall have created a need for much of Garland Hall to be vacated by its current IT residents. When coupled with a need for efficiencies and economies of scale, we have initiated planning for the consolidation of the Johns Hopkins University Data Center into the space currently occupied by the Johns Hopkins Health System Data Center. This will need to occur by December 2000.

We are currently focused on a few, very important target areas, which include investing in networking technologies to improve e-mail services; defining a portal-based strategy for providing "just for me" information to our researchers, students and administration; providing national leadership to Internet2 initiatives; participating internally in telemedicine projects; and exploring best practices for the development and deployment of systems to support electronically enhanced education.

Since e-mail has become just as critical to the daily operations of Johns Hopkins as electricity and telephones, a plan to tackle the challenges of handling the profusion of e-mail is being implemented. Many of you experienced a serious disruption of e-mail service in December. This was due, in part, to a user error that created an endless mail loop. This loop generated hundreds of thousands of redundant messages, creating tremendous backlogs on the Homewood system.

We have now implemented an automated process that will notify systems administrators of this and other types of problems at any time of day or night. We also are developing a strategy to prevent service interruptions such as December's from recurring. A new e-mail relay system was already included in the budget for this fiscal year. Purchase and installation of the new relay are now being expedited.

Recognizing the importance of reliable service, we also are developing a long-term strategy for e-mail and associated services. We will be selecting a product and seeking funding to acquire and implement a single, Unix-based e-mail system that will be available to all Hopkins users. This highly reliable and accessible system will meet industry e-mail standards and will use a central directory of the addresses of all Hopkins users. Development of this enterprise-wide directory is another goal that will be realized during calendar year 2000.

Although this system will be sufficient for many users, the reality is that some persons and groups need functions that go beyond the capabilities of basic Unix email. These tools include groupware products, calendars, scheduling products and threaded discussion products, among others. These tools will also be available.

There has been much discussion related to authentication of users connecting to Hopkins through an Internet Service Provider. We are in the midst of several exciting efforts related to remote access to Hopkins. A search for an ISP that is capable of providing international access as well as encrypted sessions utilizing a Virtual Private Network approach is nearing completion.

In order to meet the needs of the remote worker, we are also developing an architecture that will make use of the features and functions of a Directory Enabled Network. Included in this architecture is the Light Weight Directory Protocol directory itself, as well as security and authentication services, policy-based network management, quality of service attributes and a number of other functions based upon a DEN.

We are actively working with other universities within the community of Internet2, a project of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development. Because a solution is needed before this architecture can be developed, we are testing two authentication services, both developed around the need to authenticate and access library journals. The Business of Medicine course as well as courses in the School of Arts and Sciences will be involved with the pilot during this current semester, working collaboratively with information technologies from both the Welch and Eisenhower libraries. Upon successful completion of the pilots, we will begin to implement the solution this spring.

One of the most important functions that we provide to the university is in the area of support services and the telephone help desk. As the customer base becomes more dependent upon technology, and often more in need of skilled assistance, this is an area that is clearly in need of focused attention.

Within the next few months, a plan will be developed to create multitiered help desks at the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses that will be staffed during more hours of the day and night. Staff will be able to address most issues over the phone, technically trained staff will be available to be dispatched to the workplace when needed, and "on-call" personnel will be better able to respond during off-hours.

In the area of technical support, a more rigorous approach has been taken in defining contractual obligations and in documenting customer expectations. More importantly, however, we have decided that it is no longer in our best interest to manage all of these functions internally, so we will outsource services wherever feasible.

In the area of telecommunications, there is a problem with geography because the installation and support team is located several blocks from the Homewood campus, with very limited access to on-campus parking. To address this issue, we have requested on-campus space to allow network, desk-top and telecommunications staff to be more responsive.

In summation, it seems to me the university has some wonderful opportunities to take a good look at the way it uses information technology to differentiate itself. The vision of a technologically advanced university equipped for the 21st century can be met if we work together to accomplish our goals. The Committee for the 21st Century's 1994 report can be found online at:

Introducing 'connected@JHU'

Have a specific question about your office computer? E-mail? Teaching tools? JHUniverse?

Beginning March 6, The Gazette will give you all the information you need to keep on top of technology in connected@JHU, a monthly forum in which HITS will report new services and offer advice on how best to use existing ones. To get your answers from an expert, fax your questions to The Gazette at 410-516-5251; an e-mail address will be announced soon.