Weekly Update 2008-04-11

This week’s topics include EPSCoR and RFI; identity management (IdM); VITL sustainability plan; VMWare president’s visit.

Good Morning, All,
Here’s summary of things I worked on last week and some background on a couple of longer-term efforts underway.
Last week I wrote about EPSCoR, a federal funding agency that works in conjunction with NSF, NIH, etc., to help stimulate research capability in states that have traditionally not gotten many federal research grants. Vermont is one of 27 states and territories that are supported by EPSCoR. Last week I wrote about the regional network and a visit with the NorthLink folks who are building fiber optic networks across the Northeast Kingdom. The NSF wing of EPSCoR has announced its intention to solicit proposals this summer for projects to improve cyberinfrastructure support for research and teaching in science and engineering. They suggested a couple of possible project areas for the states to consider. Our EPSCoR office (Judy Van Houten, Kelvin Chu, and Jim Vincent) want to focus on building the network connectivity among the INBRE partner institutions in Vermont. INBRE is an NIH EPSCoR-funded program to support development of students and researchers in biosciences across a number of institutions in most of the EPSCoR states, and Vermont EPSCoR (managed by the office at UVM) is the lead institution for the grant to Vermont.
So in preparation for that grant, likely to be due in early fall, we (Judy, Kelvin, Jim, and I) met this week with the state CIO, Tom Murray, and the vice chair of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA). The INBRE partner schools are spread across the state, and we’ll need to work with the telecom providers to develop an architecture for high-speed service. At this point, we’re looking to implement gigabit service to most of the remote locations. The state CIO has a telecom history and has worked with providers in the state to develop a network to support state agencies. The eState initiative started by the Governor and approved by the legislature last year including the establishment of the VTA. The VTA chair, Mary Evslin, was out of the country last week, so Vice Chair Peter Meyer (our VP Karen Meyer’s husband) participated in the meeting for the VTA. The VTA is tasked with developing broadband networking capability throughout the state in support of economic development, so they have been inventorying state networking capability and working with businesses and vendors to promote expansion of network services and increased capacity. This EPSCoR project might help their program.
The meeting was an introductory one but was very helpful. We left with a clear plan of next steps: generate a Request for Information (RFI) to be sent to telecom providers in the state; convene a meeting to explain what we’re doing and review the RFI; solicit non-binding proposals for how we might design such a network and what it would cost; and use the results of that RFI to frame the proposal in late summer. So we’re now hard at work on the RFI and have a meeting scheduled in about two weeks to meet with vendors.
One issue that’s been on our agenda for attention for a couple of years is to redesign the electronic identity management (IDM) and electronic account system. This week we had another situation arise that pointed out, yet again, that our IDM system hasn’t kept up with the evolving uses of that system and management needs. Several of us have been watching the IDM listserv on Educause, so we know that the problems we face are very common across higher education, but it’s still time-consuming to resolve the specific problems when they do arise. In general, the problem is that the netid/password combination is used to provide access to a variety of services — email, access to some web sites, access to the Microsoft Campus Agreement library, etc,. But it’s also needed for things like VPN access for visitors to campus, who should have no access to the MCA library. So the short version of this is that we need to disentangle authentication from authorization, to redesign our IDM system to anticipate that people represented in it will have a variety of roles on campus and will need access to a variety of service in different ways (“yes can use VPN; no doesn’t have email; no can’t get MCA; yes can access that web site; etc”). There was an Educause webinar on this presented by Penn State folks about 6 wks ago, and they described a major campus program in which IT was a participant but in which campus constituents played a major role. We’re not ready to tackle this yet, but we’re going to need to get it on our agenda. And the resolution of the issues, one at a time, continue to take time.
The VITL Board met this week (http://www.vitl.org), and I participated by phone. The major issue for discussion was the “sustainability plan” required by the legislature to describe how VITL expects to stay in business over the long term. One element of that plan was the funding to be authorized by the legislature as a surcharge on health care transactions in the state. The discussion this week was to review and approve that sustainability plan, since the legislature is in session and funding for VITL was on the table. We agreed on language and forwarded the plan to the legislature.
And finally, the University hosted Diane Greene, Class of ’76, at a small luncheon on Friday that I was invited to attend. Diane is the CEO of VMWare, a startup technology firm based in Palo Alto that now has 6000 employees. We (UVM) use VMWare extensively and will be running about half our servers on VMWare by the end of the summer. The President had established a relationship with Diane some time ago with a visit to her offices in Palo Alto and had invited her back to campus to talk at the “Invention to Venture” conference on Friday. After her talk, a small group of us had lunch at Englesby. She’s a very bright and accomplished individual, and it was a very enjoyable and informative lunch. VMWare and IBM have a close working relationship, and UVM runs many of its systems on that combination of products. We’ll be looking for opportunities to publicize what we’ve done and expect to work with VMWare and IBM more closely as a result of this meeting.
This was a relatively quiet week for meetings … next week will be much busier!
Have a good week, all.

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