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Process Improvement Symposium Celebrates Campus Innovations

Process Improvement Symposium Nominees

The Boise State community is invited to attend the First Annual 2017 Process Improvement Symposium on Thursday, January 26 in the Jordan D Ballroom, Student Union Building, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.

Boise State’s Department of Systems and Process Improvement will celebrate individual and department nominees and winners who have demonstrated innovation in University business processes.

Nominees displayed excellence in leading change, eliminating redundant systems, reduced the University’s carbon footprint, and improving efficiency across campus.

To view nominees for outstanding individuals and departments, visit the Systems and Process Improvement website.

For additional information, please contact spi@boisestate.edu.

 

Unscheduled Network Maintenance Friday, January 6

maintenance

The Office of Information Technology will perform critical network maintenance between noon and 8:00 pm on Friday, January 6.

Potential impacts to the campus community are expected to be few, brief, and intermittent. Internet access, telephone calls to or from off-campus, or VPN (virtual private networking) access may be momentarily interrupted as equipment is installed.

This necessary maintenance is due to an equipment failure that occurred last month.

If you have questions, please contact the Help Desk at (208) 426-4357, or email helpdesk@boisestate.edu.

Help Desk at The Zone – Winter Break Hours

Boise State Interactive Learning Center with snow

The Help Desk at all Zone locations will have reduced hours Dec. 17, 2016 – Jan. 8, 2017. Regular hours for all Zone locations resume Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

The Zone at the Interactive Learning Center

  • Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, through Monday, Jan. 2, 2017: CLOSED
  • Tuesday, Jan. 3 – Friday, Jan. 6: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, Jan. 7 and Sunday, Jan. 8: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Zones at MBEB, MP, SUB and Keiser Hall

  • Saturday, Dec. 17 – Sunday, Jan. 8: CLOSED

Equipment Checkout

Equipment checkout from The Zones will not be available Dec. 15 through Jan. 2.

Google, Amazon and the Boise State Public Cloud

Illustration of a cloud wearing a Boise State ball cap

“We’re over 95% virtualized, and that’s unheard of in higher ed,” Max Davis-Johnson, Chief Information Officer at Boise State University, tells me over the blues music and mechanical sounds of seasonal lattes being made at Starbucks in Albertsons Library. “We run everything in this: PeopleSoft, Blackboard, all our applications, everything we do here on campus runs in this environment. It’s really cool. This is our version of the cloud.”

So, what is the cloud?

Commercials tell us, “it’s in the cloud,” as if the cloud is some specific place or thing–it’s not. Generally, “the cloud,” is simply software and services that run over the Internet rather than on our computers. On the backend, the “cloud” is a system of networks and servers designed to handle specific tasks. And, there three basic types of clouds: public, private and hybrid.

Watching movies on Netflix or Amazon are examples of public cloud services. When we use Gmail, Google Drive and G Suite (formerly known as Google Apps), we’re working in Google’s private cloud.

Unlike public clouds that anyone can access, a private cloud is limited to one organization. If you have rights and access to a private cloud, you have access to the networking, virtualized storage and computing power of that cloud. The Office of Information Technology at Boise State uses this model to provide PeopleSoft, Blackboard and WordPress in what’s called a software as a service (SAAS) model. The software runs in our virtualized environment and is delivered over the network. We don’t have to install the software on our computers, it just runs in a browser. You must have a Boise State account to access the Boise State private cloud.

What’s really exciting is that we’ve implemented a hybrid cloud model at Boise State. We utilize the private cloud model for the systems described above but we’ve also integrated with other private clouds, primarily Google and Amazon. Gmail, Google Drive and G Suite applications run in Google’s cloud. We leverage Amazon Web Services (AWS) to run some features of myBoiseState. Of course, as students, staff and faculty, we sign in and seamlessly navigate among the services provided among these private clouds.

Tory Jamison, Associate Director for Cloud Services and Infrastructure, tells me that this integration of several private clouds is the key to our hybrid cloud infrastructure, “If we took a little time we could completely obfuscate the fact that your email was coming from Google if we wanted to make the effort.” He goes on to describe that “We provide servers and storage in a highly scalable way and we can leverage resources in the public cloud or on premises from our private cloud in the familiar way.” This is how we’re able to provide storage and computing power to researchers, colleges and departments around campus, “What we have, which is very unique, is infrastructure as a service (IAAS),” he tells me.

“We have to give it away for free”

Tory had the idea to virtualize the entire university onto a private cloud almost four years ago. Prior to that, all of our colleges and auxiliaries were still using the obsolete “rack and stack” model where every server was a physical server racked one on top of the other. One application on one physical rack mounted server is no longer the way it’s done. Although OIT managed about 90% of the network at the time, we only managed about 50% of the servers on campus. This meant most Colleges and auxiliaries were purchasing and running their own servers and data centers which meant the University wasn’t leveraging economies of scale. “We wanted to change all that,” Tory says.

OIT had already attempted the chargeback models for departments and researchers to utilize our network, storage and compute infrastructures, but, Tory says, “No one came.” That’s when he had the idea to move toward a converged architecture–a virtual private cloud that could scale in both compute and storage for years to come.

“We shouldn’t be innovative in everything we do, there just isn’t enough time in the day,” Tory says emphatically, “There are commodity concepts out there and we always look to leverage those efficiencies first. This allows us to focus our attention on innovation in areas that complement the direct education of students and furthering Boise State research interests. That’s why we’re here!”

Tory’s idea to converge and fully virtualize relied on a simple premise though and he told Max, “the only way this is going to work is if we give it away for free.”

“Of course it’s not actually free, it’s more like no cost to the colleges, but we’ll take those donations if you have somebody in mind,” Tory says. The idea is that OIT provides cloud services to anyone on campus and the University pays for these services once–through the OIT budget. “We’re too big to fail,” Tory explains, “If we run out of compute, or run out of storage, everybody runs out of compute and storage but it hasn’t happened yet, not even close.”

And it’s working. In the last three and one half years, Tory’s team took out nine data centers around the University and converged these into seven racks of virtualized platform in our data center here on campus. “Those racks run the entire University,” he says smiling. “When we absorbed all these colleges, not a single person was let go. We absorbed all those people. Somebody’s still needed to run the individual applications. We don’t have enough people to run 1,400 different applications! Using the economies of the cloud model, we want to provide the colleges and researchers with all the compute and storage resources they need so that they can spend their money on educating students or furthering their research.”

We also have a disaster recovery data center about five miles from campus, not in the Boise River floodplain. Everything on campus is backed up there every night. All of our tier 1 applications and data, like Blackboard and PeopleSoft, are backed up every 15 minutes. The idea is that if something happens to our primary data center, the disaster recovery center would take over. To emphasize how this works, Tory tells me, “It could be so smooth that you wouldn’t know our primary data center burned to the ground unless you were standing there watching it smoke.”

From a security standpoint, the data center is behind the University firewall so it’s protected. The entire Boise State cloud is monitored and managed by professional staff at Boise State.

Scalable, flexible, elastic…and fiscally responsible

“The thing about virtualization is that it’s scalable, flexible, elastic,” Max says. “In higher ed we are so diverse. Any one thing we do is not necessarily diverse, but then you look at everything we do, it’s pretty unique.” Tory puts some numbers to this for us, “We have about 1,400 virtual machines running around 1,200 different servers and applications.”

With over 95% of the campus virtualized, Boise State leads the way in higher education. “I haven’t talked to a single university that even comes close,” Tory says. “And when I go speak about this at conferences, representatives from other universities will come up to me and say, ‘Holy cow, we’ve been trying to do that for 20 years!’”

“[Virtualization] is cost effective because we buy at scale,” Max says. Tory explains that our hardware gets replaced every five years and that we’re using a new model he calls just-in-time purchasing, “Because the longer you wait [to purchase hardware], the more technology progresses and the less expensive it gets.”

“It’s far less expensive for us to do this ourselves. We couldn’t put 1,400 machines and 3.5 Petabytes of data in the public cloud,” Tory says. “It would cost something like $400,000 per month. We run the whole operation on $1.1 million per year.”

Running our own cloud saves us $3.5 million–annually.

We have storage and computing at your favorite price: free

Max explains that running our own cloud, “allows us, in the blink of an eye, when a faculty researcher says, ‘I need 10TB of storage,’ 30 minutes later it’s done.” “It takes me longer to ask who needs access to the data than it takes for me to set up the space,” Tory jokes. “Someone recently asked me for 125TB and we were like, ‘We got it.’”

“That’s what being in the cloud is all about–being able to provide stuff from a pool of infrastructure, to anybody, on demand,” Tory says.

“And, we have the R2 cluster coming online soon,” Max tells me. The R2 cluster will dramatically increase our computational power for research computing at Boise State.

Contact the Office of Research Computing for more information, or to request servers for storage or computational processing (or whatever you need), at researchcomputing@boisestate.edu.

Finally, you might want to check out the “Mad Max’s Crazy House of Research Computing” advertisement. Max wants to sell you some servers at your favorite price: free!

photo of Max Davis-Johnson as "Mad Max"

What Happened?

We Make a Mistake

We routinely run automated processes to ensure the right people have the right computer system roles and access at Boise State. Early this morning, one of those processes went awry.

A script that tells one of processes what to do was not interpreted correctly, for reasons we’re still trying to figure out. Whatever the cause, this resulted in a worst-case scenario that detached University accounts from their associated roles.

Put simply, people’s accounts lost rights to systems and services.

This incident triggered automated email notifications to send to all active Boise State students to inform them that, because their University status was erroneously defined as suspended, they had 30 days before their student email access was cut off.

We restored account rights and access within about 90 minutes of figuring out what happened.

But we couldn’t prevent students from seeing an email saying they were, essentially, no longer students. The confusion and stress this caused for many students was, understandably, heightened by the fact that the end of the semester is naturally a source of high anxiety. We just happened to compound it.

We sent 50,000 follow-up emails to our University community apologizing for the errors, and we mean it when we say we’re committed to ensuring this does not ever happen again.

We know that saying sorry may not be enough. We also know we work very, very hard to do great things for Boise State, and we will keep forging ahead in our efforts to advance Boise State educational and research experiences through high quality, innovative technology solutions.

We are sorry, and we’ll do better.

Support for macOS Sierra Now Available

mac o s sierra

The Office of Information Technology now supports macOS Sierra on University-owned Mac computers. Details about macOS Sierra features are available on Apple’s website.

Requirements

macOS Sierra may be installed on the following devices:

  • iMac: Late 2009 or newer.
  • MacBook: Late 2009 or newer.
  • MacBook Pro: Mid 2010 or newer.
  • MacBook Air: Late 2010 or newer.
  • Mac Mini: Mid 2010 or newer.
  • Mac Pro: Mid 2010 or newer.

How to Upgrade

To schedule an upgrade for an OIT-supported computer, contact the Help Desk at (208) 426-4357, or email helpdesk@boisestate.edu.

OS X Support

In addition to macOS Sierra, OIT now officially supports Mac OS X 10.10 and 10.11.

If you have a Mac with OS X 10.9 or below, contact the Help Desk to get your computer up to date with security and support standards. If your computer is not supported by OIT, please contact your local area or network administrator for upgrade information.

New Google Sites

Introducting the new Google Sites

Google has redesigned and updated Google Sites to improve ease of use, and provide better integration with other G Suite (Google Apps) applications. With Google Sites, you can create your own websites without prior coding knowledge or training.

Google Sites is not intended for Boise State department or college websites (WordPress is our external-facing web solution). However, for internal-facing content, team and project sites, Google Sites may be a terrific solution.

Access Through Google Drive

New Sites are created through Google Drive by selecting New > Google Sites.

New Sites are also accessed through Google Drive.

Access Google Sites through Google Drive

Legacy Sites continue to be accessed as before, by selecting Sites from the Google Apps menu:

Google Sites

Access “classic” Google Sites through the Apps menu in G Suite.

Features

The new Google Sites makes it easier to implement content, plugins, and media for users, or collaborative teams, to manage their websites.

Creation and editing is primarily performed through drag and drop, and design is arranged with a grid layout. Everything is simple to move, resize or rearrange.

Content is responsive and looks great in all modern browsers on desktop, tablet and mobile.

The new Google Sites is designed to be simpler to use than the legacy version. Currently, the ability to comment on pages, change URLs, and set up page-level permissions is not available in the new Google Sites. Also, you can only nest pages one level deep. Google will continue to add features over time.

As of November 2016, new Google Sites can only be created and edited using Google Chrome and Firefox browsers, but are viewable in all modern web browsers. As is standard for modern G Suite applications, the latest version of the Google Chrome browser is most compatible with the new Google Sites.

Legacy Site Support

Google will likely end support for legacy Google Sites as early as late-2017. Right now, there is no migration feature available to convert a legacy Google Site to a new Google Site, or to copy over pages. However, Google expects to release a migration tool early next year.

Resources

Learn how to use the new Google Sites at https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/products/sites/.

Max’s Minute: Future-Proofing Technology at Boise State University

Future Skyline representing future-proofing technology

This week Max talks about how we’re future-proofing technology at Boise State. By moving our core systems to the Cloud, we can avoid costly large-scale upgrades every few years and continue to sustain our technologies over time:

Transcript

Hi, this is Max Davis Johnson, Boise State University, Office of Information Technology.

Today I want to talk a little bit about future-proofing technology. That’s one of the core tenets, one of our core drivers, as we look to the future when we think strategically about where we want to be.

From a University perspective, we have a lot of strategic overarching things that we have to deal with. And that can be things like funding, it can be the changing nature of research, it can be the changing nature of our student population. And there are social pressures. Political pressures.

And another big pressure we have is the fact that technology is constantly changing. Boise State invests a lot of money in technology. So, we have to make sure we’re investing in the right technology, and we have to think in terms of how can we sustain this technology?

How can we make this technology last? We want to future-proof our technology as much as we can.

Moving to the Cloud with our core systems means that our systems stay current. Every six months or so in the Cloud you get a new release, and bingo! When the time comes you accept the changes and you’re current on your core system. And that’s the way it should be.

And granted, we’ll have to understand what those changes are, we may have to modify some processes, but in general terms we’ll just accept these new changes and we’ll adapt and we’ll move on.

And this, as we move forward, will not just be for Finance, it will be for our HCM, eventually it will be for our student system too as that moves to the Cloud. But there’s other things we look at to future-proof our technology.

We embrace very heavily the Concept of One. And the idea there is that we have basically the same technology available to us doing the same thing. For instance, we’ve standardized on technology in the classroom. So, as technology changes there, which we know it will, we’ll be able to adapt more seamlessly because we will only have one way to move as those types of changes go in place.

We’re a very virtualized infrastructure, which means we’re very scalable, very flexible, but it’s all the same. And it’s the same infrastructure that is used in the Cloud. And so over time as we move things to the Cloud, it’s going to be the same thing as what we’re doing now here on premises.

So again, we’re looking to future-proof our infrastructure there.

When we hire people we’re very deliberate about hiring people that maybe have the current technical skills we have, but we’re very deliberate about making sure that they can change and adapt as technology changes. Because we all know, and we have to accept, that technically is going to change. And so we have to set up our culture, and that starts with hiring the people that understand that, yes, we’re going to have to learn new things two or three years from now.

But as we adopt new technology, we have to make sure that it’s going to be…I don’t want to say ‘the winner’…but we have to give it a chance that this new technology is getting broad support, that it is going to have a future as we move forward.

There’s new technology coming all the time, and even though sometimes it’s attractive to be on the bleeding edge, we want to make sure that as we move in a new direction with technology that it does have some mass behind it, other people are adopting it, and we feel confident that it will be an emerging standard, an emerging technology, an emerging direction.

So, like I said, at the end of the day we try to think very strategically as we move forward, as we look at new things…we invest as Boise State…we invest a lot of time, energy, money, not only OIT but the University…in technology, new processes, new methods, and we have to make sure that we future-proof this as best we can.

So, anyway, thank you for listening, and until next time. Bye.

Contact Max

Feedback is welcome and encouraged. Email max@boisestate.edu.

New G Suite Features: Action Items, Badges, Forms and Voice Typing

Google Apps is now called G Suite

Google has recently released some great new G Suite (formerly Google Apps) features of benefit to the Boise State community.

These new features can add value by taking the guess work out of who is doing what in a group project, creating forms and documents, or simply talking to your computer or mobile device to quickly get ideas out of your head before they’re gone.

Action Items

Action Items are assigned to fellow group members when working in Google Docs, Slides, or Sheets. This feature appoints specific assignments to one group member.

The Action Item, once assigned, will send notifications and updates to the assignee. The assignee will receive a confirmation message when the group member opens up their assigned file.

This item could be extremely useful for group projects; just think about how this could help you stay connected with the group. By knowing which responsibilities are assigned to each member, you’ll know who is taking care of what, and when.

Learn more about Action Items on Google’s website.

Follow-Up Badges

Google has come up with an easier way to search for files when sharing information with group members, especially documents that are a priority. Once action items are assigned to members, a numbered follow-up badge in the top-right corner of a Google Doc will appear detailing the requested actions with all unresolved issues or tasks in the file.

Can’t find the email that you were searching for? Or not sure what assignment you were supposed to go over? The follow-up badge can help you find the file information so you don’t have to dig for the information or assigned task, saving you time and energy looking for priority emails.

Learn more about follow-up badges on Google’s website.

Forms

Creating a Google Form for an event, survey, or other request for information? Google has taken the next step and now implements a prediction-aspect to the form being created.

Forms will now preemptively associate and generate an applicable response to questions, such as “What days of the week will you be available?,” and the program will automatically provide the days of the week in checkboxes for easy response feedback.

Also included in Forms is the option to upload files to the Forms, and post the documents in Google Drive.

Looking to conduct a survey for research? Or perhaps a signup sheet for fundraising? Forms can help you create this document in less time.

Learn more about new predictive Form response options on Google’s website.

Voice Commands

Google has added additional voice command prompts to Google Docs; now you can voice type ideas and edit hands-free. By learning a few basic voice commands, you can type, delete words, add links, change text color, and add comments.

More information about voice typing for G Suite is available on Google’s website.

Need Assistance?

Learn more about G Suite apps and features through self-paced online learning at the G Suite Learning Center.

For additional information about G Suite at Boise State, contact the Help Desk at helpdesk@boisestate.edu, or call (208) 426-4357.

Max’s Minute: Future-Proofing Our Core Systems

Max Davis-JohnsonThis is the fourth in a series of posts discussing continuing improvements for Taleo Recruiting and Oracle Financials Cloud. View the previous entries at max.boisestate.edu.

Future-Proofing Our Core Systems

Globalization, changing demographics, economics, shifting political priorities, and accelerating technology innovation are pressuring higher education to reconsider existing models of delivering educational services and supporting research.

Mission-critical solutions, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), human capital management (HCM), and student information systems (SIS) play a critical role in addressing these challenges.

It is increasingly difficult for Boise State (and other institutions) to keep pace with accelerating innovations in technology. Security, mobility, scalability, and performance are particularly challenging issues.

Ensuring technology efforts we undertake today will not require a complete overhaul within the next few years is a more complex endeavor than ever before. We want systems that won’t need significant updates as technology advances.

This is the concept of future-proofing.

Moving mission-critical solutions to the cloud is one of our core strategies for future-proofing. Oracle Financials Cloud (OFC) and Taleo Recruiting represent the beginning of our journey to future-proof Boise State’s core systems.

Oracle Financials Cloud

A prime example of future-proofing is the planned update to Oracle Financials Cloud (“OFC Release 11”) scheduled for November 7. Bingo!

About every six months, Boise State will receive improvements and enhancements for OFC. We’ll always be able to ensure we are on the current release of the product. Continuous improvements and being on the current release – what a novel idea!

Granted, there will be changes we’ll need to review, some of which will require us to adapt (we have the ability to do that). Over time, we will fall into a rhythm with regular cloud updates, and this will become a part of our culture.

Sponsored Projects is continuing to reconcile data since July 1. We anticipate completing this in time for OFC Release 11. We’ve reviewed delivered PI reports and dashboards with select PIs, and have received a big thumbs-up. These will be available to all PIs upon implementation of OFC Release 11.

Once all the data is reconciled, we will focus on PI training, processes, and additional reports and dashboards.

Two different views of Budget vs. Expense reporting for all account types have been released by University Financial Services. Budget transfers will also be available soon in the campus transaction dashboards.

We are continuing to evaluate and enhance security, access, cross-validation rules, and other system controls as we learn and understand more about OFC.

As a reminder, you can find job aids, documentation, tutorials, FAQs, and class schedules for all things OFC at the University Financial Services Training Portal (including new reports as they are released). University Financial Services experts will even come to you…all you have to do is ask!

We are also beginning development of the new approved travel pre-authorization concept, and the new BPAR form and process should be ready by the end of next week.  We will do a limited BPAR release during the first part of November, with a planned enterprise-wide release after that.

Taleo Recruiting

We have started work on implementing the approved streamlined hiring process for faculty in Taleo Recruiting. We anticipate reviewing the new process by November 4th, and releasing shortly thereafter.

Once the improved faculty hiring process is in place, we will begin work on improvements to the professional staff hiring process.

University Financial Services, Sponsored Projects, Human Resource Services, OIT, and Oracle remain committed to doing everything we can to make these systems work better for you.

– Max Davis-Johnson

Questions and feedback are encouraged. Email max@boisestate.edu.

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