DUKE ITAC - September 25, 1997 Minutes

ITAC Minutes

September 25, 1997

211 Tel-Com

Attending: Betty Le Compagnon, Robert Wolpert, Rafael Rodriguez, Paula Loendorf, Jim Dronsfield, Bill Auld, Landen Bain, Bob Courier, Kyle Johnson (for Caroline Nisbet), John Kent (for Nevin Fouts), Alvin Lebeck, Donna Hewitt, Pakis Bessias, Ken Hirsh, Michael Blum, Alex Reutter, David Jamesion-Drake, Matthew Kotler, Jonathan A. Luebbers, Leslie Saper, Jim Coble (for David Ferriero), Rex McCallum, Mike Gower, John Sigmon, Melissa Mills, Angel Marlowe

Call to Order

Review of Minutes and Announcements

Minutes approved as is.

Welcome to new members.

Decision Drivers for Clusters

There has been increasing concern, spearheaded in part by David Jamesion-Drake, about making cluster decisions in a panic. Would like to determine what are the decision drivers that should be kept in mind (e.g. balance of Macintosh/PC/UNIX machines, the total number of machines, and the general structure of the clusters). Duke is now committed to keeping the clusters reasonably up to date with technology thus a 1/3 replacement of machines each year. However, there has never been deep thought about the future of the clusters, specifically the benefits and drawbacks of the existing architecture. Although calls for OS/2 workstations have died down they have been replaced with others, such as calls for linux.

It was noted that clusters should not be considered only in their current form but also in new and novel ways such as mini-clusters or printers in residence halls and e-mail appliances spread across campus.

The list of proposed decision drivers was as follows:

  • Accessibility
  • Usage rates
  • Faculty required courseware
  • Process for surveying computer needs (for now and in the future)
  • Changes in the way information is available (e.g. the library is finding more ways to present text to its users)
  • Vendor relations (especially timing of new technologies)
  • Support
  • Cost
  • Students familiarity with hardware and software (including what students use as their personal computer)
  • Notions of peak load (e.g. the current clusters may not be effective under the heaviest load but fine otherwise)
  • Geographical usage (i.e. campus geography)
  • Interoperability
  • New technologies

Communications: Current and Future Modem Pool; IGN; ADSL; Cable Modems; DCS; UUNET and Sprint

The discussion that followed concentrated on what the modem pool looks like today and future possibilities for improvement as well as higher speed alternatives and telephony issues. Paula Loendorf (Director of Tele/Video Communications), Bob Courier (Director of Data Communications), Angel Marlowe (Director of Finance and Administration) were invited as guests to the meeting to speak about these different areas.

Bob Courier spoke about the modem pool

The modem pool has been getting busy signals so we need to go to the next step. Statistics of modem usage were passed around (and graphs will soon be up on Datacom's web page). The peak usage rate is 8pm-1am and thus is when the users encounter the most busy signals. At any given time there are about 252 modems available (with 2 or 3 down). Datacom is currently testing internally a new code release that will allow them to upgrade all modems to 33.6 (from the 28.8) so this is coming soon. Connection speeds, additionally, depend on connection, location, wiring, and the age of modems. Looking toward the future - we cannot perform a firmware upgrade to X2 so for the next major step it would make sense to upgrade hardware. However, to just add additional modems a one-time cost of $1000 per line would be incurred (for modem and terminal services) along with a monthly charge of $40 per line (note that amounts are a year old). It was noted that these numbers do not factor in help desk support. In fact, 40% of their calls are regarding remote access.

Alternatives for remote access include (1) increasing the modem pool which would be a short term fix since current growth is exponential or (2) more ideally, going with an alternate method of access (ADSL, cable modems, etc?).

Raphael Rodriguez continued the discussion with information on IGN

IGN stands for the IBM Global Network. Fuqua already has a contract already that is used in the MBA program. IGN offers 1000 numbers worldwide and has 99+% of all calls getting through (i.e. no busy signals). IBM is offering three tiers of services: unlimited use for $17.95, $12.95 for 50 hours of use and ninety-five cents per hour after that, and $4.95 for 3 hours plus another per hour charge. In addition, IBM is dedicated to upgrade IGN to X2. Everything will be ready for use by the Duke community within 6-8 weeks. In the interim (specifically within 2 weeks) information will be prepared for how to connect, etc? Each user gets 5 ids (one plus four "child" accounts); if the user has the unlimited tier of service then all users cannot be on at the same time. In addition, some services are currently unavailable (specifically any services available only for the duke.edu subnet - Encyclopedia Britannica, newsgroups, ftp, etc . . .). Workarounds are being sought for each of these problems. It was noted that IGN is great for traveling but again that this could only serve as an interim solution.

Then Dave Kirby spoke on ADSL and cable modems

First, he mentioned one possibility for the modem pool. There has been a fear that people log on and then do not log off so one option would be to force users off (e.g. 15 minute accounts for e-mail, 45 minute accounts for everything else). It was mentioned that the major problem with this is for a user who is downloading a long file. Also, usage statistics show that this would not change the amount of time people are on (in general 6-12 people stay on-line for 8 hours or more but the majority are in and out).

ADSL: Duke (along with Microsoft, Intel, and a few others) has been a test bed for access. The trial has shown that ADSL is stable and reliable. The service is being provided by GTE (which as a side note is now split into three companies with the new element, commercial local exchange carrier, handling ADSL). GTE wants to make Durham one of the first centers of ADSL setting up 4 central office initially and expanding to 7 by the first quarter of next year. Service is supported for up to 18000 ft. from the central office (round trip). This coverage would provide 60-70% coverage, 700 megabits down and 260 up at a cost of $50-100 per month (plus a $250 install fee). GTE is committed to roll out ADSL nationwide and is well positioned to provide the service. Betty Le Compagnon suggested that Duke should be a pioneer in ADSL but that it is definitely not a viable short-term plan. The same problems as mentioned above for access with IGN will also be problems with ADSL (in general it is like being connected to an ISP but there is some option for setting up static IPs). Another big advantage for ADSL, in addition to those previously mentioned, is that it provides a constant connectivity model.

Cable modems: It is expected that cable modems will be available at around the same time but nothing has been shown as of yet.

Satellite based: Hughes Networks provides Direct PC (and Direct Duo - Internet + entertainment). The biggest advantage of this technology is that it worked 9 months ago. The cost is $400 for install plus usage time. The two interesting plans are $150 per month for unlimited usage and $20 per month for usage from 6pm-6am Monday-Friday, Weekends, and holidays (but 50 cents per megabyte at all other times).

David Jamesion-Drake noted that ADSL is a great telecommuting option and could possibly offset installation of networking in offices. It seems clear, however, that GTE does not want to kill T1 or ISDN revenues with this service.

Next Paula Loendorf spoke on DCS

DCS: Bell South's answer to personal communications services (D=digital). Duke has been doing trials with DCS. It provides digital wireless including voice and data, short text messaging, and encrypted paging. Dave Kirby has been using DCS for the past 6 months and commented that on the med. center side it provides a very credible security solution. Data rates are 9600 baud and the product can interoperate with any GSN phone (supported in 150 countries). Another major advantage within the hospital is that DCS provides no power problems (i.e. interference with equipment).

Finally, Bob Courier provided a brief update on UUNET and Sprint. After negotiating with MCNC a new path (UUNET) over a DS3 45MB per second line was turned on a week and a half ago. Routing is done using the best-cost path. UUNET, at least initially, has proved to be far more robust than Sprint. Case in point, last Monday-Tuesday the Sprint link went down for 14 hours. All traffic was routed through UUNET without any problems or loss of service.

John Sigmon requested information on the best option for remote access from outside Durham (where 35-40% of employees of the university live). He suggested that they need a point of contact (even for example a web page) to make an educated decision. One possibility for business outside of Durham was mentioned - the med. center has a leased line with spokes that could be used for networking these locations.

Betty Le Compagnon then provided a web site for network statistics: http://techno.ncren.net/ncren.

Framework for Architecture

Rafael Rodriguez spoke on the draft "Proposed Information Systems Architecture Framework." Duke needs to understand the context and not just the abstract for an architectural framework. The paper provides a "table of contents" for elements of this framework. Betty Le Compagnon stressed that we need a conceptual framework as we move forward so that everyone is communicating the same thing. This draft is the cornerstone. The student information systems and services (SISS) is just one example that will place a demand on a technical architecture. Everyone should fit into this picture; it should be a living document and a way for ITAC to pull together a lot of information. As the list of ideas at the beginning of the meeting was for clusters, this draft provides another list for the infrastructure.

Comments or any issues that are missing from this draft were requested by (and should be directed to) Rafael Rodriguez.

The meeting was adjourned on time.