When Indiana University Southeast (IUS) recognized that its technology was starting to lag behind that of other schools, it put together a task force to develop a strategic plan for upgrading its dated technology infrastructure. Since its formation in 1996, the task force has successfully implemented a major overhaul, enabling the school to better serve students, faculty, and staff with centralized data management, enhanced network performance and reliability, and improved information access.
Along with its updated infrastructure, the university now boasts an upgrade plan that will allow it to keep pace with other universities in its use of technology to improve education. A key part of this effort is a revamped network that has opened up new avenues for the university to provide needed services to its community.
IUS’s experience serves as a model for how organizations with multiple locations can improve integration and provide better tools for their communities to the benefit of all involved. To find out how the task force approached its upgrade and set its priorities for the future, I recently spoke with Dr. Larry Mand, vice chancellor of information technology at IUS.
Indiana University Southeast (IUS), located in New Albany, IN, is an Indiana University campus with an enrollment of roughly 6,500 students.
In 1996, there really wasn’t an IT department at IUS—just a computer services department that reported to both the business affairs office and to an associate vice chancellor in academics. The fragmentation of the IT functions led to a lack of communication and collaboration that prevented the university from making any real improvements in its technology infrastructure. So the university decided it was time to put together a task force to design a better technology structure. It tapped Mand to lead the effort.
“They came up with this idea of a unified technology organization, which they called integrated technology at that time, and they recommended that there be a vice chancellor-level person to whom all of these units reported.”
Thus, Mand, who has served on the IUS faculty since 1976, was named interim executive director for IT. In 1999, he became executive director, and his title was changed to vice chancellor last year.
Mand faced a rather daunting task, not only in integrating the school’s technology programs but also in updating its aging infrastructure.
“We were plagued at that point with failing servers, inadequate infrastructure—lots and lots of problems—old desktops that were failing. We started the process of overhauling—starting from the servers through the wire plant all the way out to the desktop with the funds we had at the time, which were very limited.”
One of the most significant changes implemented at IUS, in addition to the network infrastructure overhaul, was the switch from Novell to Windows.
“We were a Novell shop,” Mand said. “We had Novell doing our basic file and print sharing services on campus. Last summer, we converted all of our servers to Windows 2000 and removed Novell entirely.”
The network at IUS runs entirely on Windows 2000 now, from the servers to the desktops, with the desktops having been switched the previous year.
Mand said the conversion to Windows 2000 was actually performed as part of a universitywide project to better integrate all of the Indiana University campuses. Prior to the implementation of Win2K, Novell directory services (NDS) were installed on the servers and described the individual campuses at which they were used. The AD structure describes the entire university.
“We now have all 100,000 students [from all IU campuses] and the roughly 10 or 15 thousand faculty and staff in one Active Directory structure running across the entire network.”
Although there was some apprehension about the move, Mand said the implementation of the single ADS structure went smoothly. The IU campuses were somewhat reluctant to give up their individual campus-based architectures and were concerned about the fact that all network authentication would be performed in Indianapolis, which is located 115 miles northwest of New Albany.
One of the benefits of the move to the single ADS is that students at all IU campuses now have centrally located data. This means that whenever they travel to any IU campuses, they can log on to the network just as they would at the campus they attend and have access to the same information.
Another crucial part of the technology revamp was upgrading the university’s aging infrastructure. IUS completely overhauled its network, replacing the servers, the wiring, and the desktops.
“[From] our server farm…up through the wire plant,” Mand said, “we’re now running Gigabit Ethernet on fiber between buildings, and we have switched 10/100 Ethernet to every machine on campus. We have about 1,200 switched ports that are in use currently.”
These changes translate into much-improved performance, allowing the network to better handle the traffic generated by the 1,000-plus users who log in on a daily basis. IUS is now on a three-year upgrade cycle that includes the network servers. Mand said that they are currently at the end of that cycle and will be upgrading both desktops and servers in the summer of 2002.
The school’s network upgrade also included the implementation of wireless networking technology. Students with laptops can log on to the network from anywhere on campus if they have the necessary wireless network cards. In addition, IUS has set up a cyber cafe of sorts with a wireless network where students can relax, check e-mail, and even do homework. The workstations are located in an open area, so it was preferable to use the wireless technology because of the issues with running the wiring through the area.
Another wireless network area resides in the lobby of IUS’s main classroom building, Knobview Hall. Students can use the terminals in the lobby to read e-mail, surf the Internet, or finish homework before going to class.
The need for speed—and reliability
In conjunction with the move to a single ADS with centralized authentication in Indianapolis, IUS needed to upgrade its connection to the data center. The centralization of authentication made the need for reliable access to the servers in Indianapolis that much more critical.
“Indianapolis is a point of aggregation for the entire IU network, and from Indianapolis, we have commodity Internet access through Chicago. We have to be able to get to Indianapolis to do anything at this point. So we need uninterrupted 24/7 access to those servers. Without it, you can’t get to your C: drive. You can’t use your desktop unless you can authenticate to those servers.”
To accomplish the goal of improving the performance and reliability of that link to the data center, IUS upgraded its taxed T1 connection to a T3.
But that wasn’t the complete solution Mand was looking for. The T3 connection improved the link to the data center in Indianapolis, but it was also vulnerable to being cut, which would mean downtime for all of the users on the IUS campus—the very thing Mand wanted to prevent.
The answer to the problem was to link to the IU campus in Richmond, IN, via a T1 line and then connect to Indianapolis via that campus’ T3.
“So we have two independent pathways that provide us access to the authentication servers in Indianapolis and of course to all the IU resources that reside in Indianapolis.”
The benefactors of IUS’s infrastructure upgrade are ultimately the students the university serves, but faculty and staff also enjoy the technology improvements. By updating its aging infrastructure, IUS was able to provide better tools to enhance learning.
IUS’s technology improvements include the following:
- Single ADS for centralized data management
- Improved network performance, reliability, and uptime
- Improved student access to universitywide information resources
- Wireless links to campus network to improve information availability
All of this adds up to a better learning environment for students, thus putting IUS in a better position to stay competitive with other schools that are using technology to improve education.