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Notes from August 22, 2006 ITPAC Meeting:

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    notes by Steve Lasley

    Streaming Audio from the meeting.

    The meeting was run by ITPAC chairman, Pete Vergot, District Extension Director of the NW District. Marc Hoit, UF's Associate Provost for IT, was a guest at the invitation of Dan Cromer. Jim Syvertsen joined us from the Citrus REC via Polycom.

    ICC Updates

    ICC Recommendations for IT Budget Funding

    Steve Lasley presented recommendations which he had drafted on behalf of the ICC and which the ICC had voted unanimously to accept for presentation to ITPAC. Steve distributed copies of that and briefly outlined its contents. Steve mentioned that the ICC attempts to work from consensus, something which is often made possible by the fact that we are all committed to a common overall purpose. While the group offers many differing perspectives, this recommendation certainly expresses the overall feeling of the majority of participants.

    Steve offered his own perspective, as the IT support person for the Entomology and Nematology department, stating that nothing is more important to his ability to meet the overall IT needs of his department than those services supplied by Chris Leopold's IT/SA group. Insomuch as those services are working well, IT within Steve's department works well. While all units have had to endure various funding cutbacks, it is Steve's feeling that the IT/SA group has already been pared back beyond what is needed.

    Steve was not asking for any particular action on this from ITPAC, but rather hoped to use this as a forum for raising the issue from the ICC to IFAS administration. Steve explained that the goal was not for the ICC to specify which services were or were not core--as that is Dan Cromer's call in conjunction with administration--but rather to call attention to the bare-bones status of IT/SA, which inarguably supplies many of our core IT services.

    Regarding the budget, Dan Cromer had supplied the ICC with his request for this year (see VPBudgetExpenseReport.xls at \\ad.ufl.edu\IFAS\IT\Public\Budget). This shows what we actually spent 05-06 and what was projected for 06-07. Our budget for 05-06 was for $519,200, and we needed to spend $603,074; we made up the shortfall from salary savings (lapsed salary -- money funded for positions that were unfilled). Effective this year, any lapsed salary for all central service units reverts to the VP's office however. This year our allocation is $539,065, as per the document "ITallocation2006.TIF" at the aforementioned location. The VP does not fund or deny at the line item level, but rather provides an overall allocation which Dan must manage at his discretion. In any case, the allocation leaves an almost $87,000 shortfall for what was essentially just a continuation of existing services; consequently we'll need to figure out where to cut from our projection. The file "ITbudget06-07.xls", also at the above mentioned location, represents a revised budget which Dan has created to fit the VP's allocation. Expected computer purchases were eliminated along with significant OPS support.

    Joe Joyce stated that he intended to fund costs for continuation of current services and that the $87,000 shortfall was due to removal of one-time expenses that were included in last year's budget, but which were not required this year. Dr. Joyce indicated that an initial budget isn't the final word, but that additional funds could likely be available if and when the need should arise. Joe said that Dan Cromer has made him abundantly clear on the status of the IT organizational chart, that there are currently four vacant positions and that it has been squeezed pretty hard over the last several years. Dr. Joyce stated that administration is definitely aware of the criticality of IT to the IFAS mission.

    Steve mentioned that IT budgets are strained at many RECs as well. If we are going to attract people to central as opposed to distributed services, we must have a level of service which they can have some confidence in--and that is difficult to do under current circumstances. Dale McPherson, Coordinator of Administrative Services for the Dean for Extension, was very supportive of the recommendations, commenting that it is difficult to make plans when operating under a scheme whereby units are granted a minimal initial budget and then "bailed-out" when they get in trouble. Dale believed the ICC recommendation to be a good one and he encouraged forwarding it on to the VP's office. He stated that inasmuch as administration feels IT is important, they should give some priority to providing the resources required. Joe Joyce said that he appreciated Dale's comment and that this is exactly what he intends should happen with this recommendation.

    As an indication of administration's commitment to IT funding, Joe Joyce mentioned that IFAS has submitted six items for legislative priority to the president's office . The IT component thereof (see page 106), requests $2.7 million for "Climate and Weather Decision Tools and Statewide Distance Education System", was given third priority right behind the "Development of Citrus Plants Resistant to citrus canker, greening and other diseases that challenge sustainable citrus production in Florida" (as opposed to last priority among those submitted last year). Unlike last year's unsuccessful request, the request has been approved by the Board of Trustees--which is promising. Pete Vergot mentioned that, to be successful with this request, IFAS will need support from our constituency to lobby this onward to the state legislature. We all need to take advantage of any opportunities which arise to make the case for improved client services as a result of this request.

    Jim Selph, County Extension Director, DeSoto County spoke to how crucial IT and our communications network is to the extension programs. County extension groups will need to unite behind this initiative and promote it to our clients so that they in turn may lobby this to the legislature. Joe Joyce mentioned that when we have gotten such requests funded in the past, it is because we have had some strong and organized clientele base to lobby on our behalf. He added that there is no clientele group out there which wakes up each morning saying our business is supporting IFAS IT. On the other hand, Joe did mention that, at every one of their five regional advisory council meetings (attended by people nominated from the counties and centers), folks had mentioned our communication needs. In particular, a farmer from the panhandle had attended a Polycom-enabled field day and thought it was fantastic. That person's comment was that IFAS "needs to do more of that".

    Joe concluded the topic by telling Steve he mentioned the funding initiative in the context of the ICC recommendations only to emphasize that he is aware of the needs, and he intends to use our input to try to get better funding for Chris Leopold's group. Steve pointed out that Chris has definitely been asked to trim things with this current budget and that some of the first to go are things like educational opportunities for his staff. Not having those definitely affects his ability to attract and retain excellent staff. Joe Joyce said that he thought something could be done about that and also mentioned that moving to a lease basis for our core servers has been one way in which the commitment of administration to his needs has been demonstrated. Joe reiterated his support for continuing that model.

    IFAS Video Committee

    Steve also raised the matter of the IFAS Video Committee. We had a committee for this in the past which met only two times and then just faded away. Steve feels that there is a continuing need there that should be addressed and asked if anything was being discussed about reinstituting such a committee. Pete Vergot and Joe Joyce said that they had a conversation about this matter not 30 minutes ago.

    Marc Hoit mentioned that there is a UF Video Committee that has languished. Marc proposed that, since IFAS is the largest user of this service, he would like to assign someone from here as chair of that committee to rejuvenate its efforts. Joe Joyce told Marc that IFAS definitely needs to discuss this, because IFAS amounts to 75% of the video usage and service is suffering. Joe Joyce mentioned having asked Pete and Dan Cromer for a list of issues revolving around our videoconferencing system.

    Steve mentioned that the issue which most commonly arises is the Radvision--how it is configured and its lack of current interoperability with the People+Content features supported by the majority our Polycom units. Michelle Quire, Administrative Assistant with the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, said that reliable Polycom usage is critical to her unit and to their programs. She mentioned that communications among the local office, with faculty at Ruskin and Ft. Pierce are poor due to "incompatible equipment". Michelle thinks this is a huge problem; her department has acquired a new faculty position that will be teaching a course via the Polycom and she is terrified that it won't work sufficiently to do the job. Steve pointed out that, even if all the equipment worked well with the Radvision, there is a lot of "plumbing" missing with regards to making conference easy to schedule and manage: things like submitting requests and keeping everyone involved in contact about the events.

    Dan Cromer said that Ft. Pierce is a known problem and that this is the source of the difficulties which Michelle mentioned. Dan mentioned that a remedy is being investigated there--part of that being related to power issues at their facility.

    Pete Vergot then led a discussion on assistance for the replacement and new purchase of Polycom equipment. He and others believe it would be wise for IT to be more proactive there in advertising current recommendations and purchase details. Lack of those leads both to inefficiencies (due to not taking advantage of volume discounts and the like) as well as possible incompatibilities due to the purchase of models that might not best suit our needs at specific locations. Jim Selph mentioned that having timely information available, in May for the units (whose budget year ends June 30th) and August for the counties (whose budget year ends September 30th), would be highly appreciated. Those are the times when folks have monies to spend on such things. Chris Hughes asked if leases had been considered. Pete mentioned that we haven't had the money to set aside for that, but we might want to consider it should our legislative funding proposal prove successful.

    Steve mentioned that Tom Hintz has been very helpful for him, along with his http://video.ifas.ufl.edu site. Michelle said that, while Tom has been very helpful, there are too many equipment options listed on the website and that list is not kept current--and Pete Vergot agreed. Dale McPherson commented that it is more than a matter of updating the site; we need someone to advertise and promote such purchase recommendations throughout IFAS, especially at those times when folks are making purchasing decisions. Pete added that negotiations with vendors should be done prior to that so participants know they are getting a good price. This would provide an opportunity, as well, to provide end-user-friendly education about the various models, their costs and the options available with them (MCUs, People+Content, maintenance contracts, etc.)

    Dan said that he would have Tom update the site and then send out a note to county offices detailing his recommendations. Pete suggested that it go to the Directors and Department Heads as well.

    Allen Wysocki, Assistant Professor with Food and Resource Economics relayed a concern of one of his constituents that is involved in distance education. They had mentioned that the lack of someone to contact when problems arise during evening courses was a concern. Dan noted that there is an after-hours support number for Video and Collaboration Services (352.392.2533). Steve noted that he had gotten an answering machine message a number of times when calling there--even during regular hours. Steve also noted that he has in turn gotten an answering machine via the emergency number which the prior message mentions.

    In summing up this discussion, Pete Vergot said that we will indeed look to appointing folks to a committee that will address these issues. The time and travel savings which this technology affords cannot be overlooked, and we need to continue to address ways of utilizing that successfully.

    ListServ Configurations

    Dan Cromer briefed the committee on the discussion held previously by the ICC regarding the filtering of HTML e-mails on the IFAS listserv and the handling of e-mail attachments. Dan mentioned that the consensus at the ICC was that we need to keep the standard configuration as it is in this regard. Dan also mentioned that IT is working on a web-based file share access method that will better support e-mailing of links to files placed on our servers as a replacement for the practice of e-mailing attachments. The advantage of WebDAV here over using UNC links is that it will provide access by agents even in county offices which are not part of UFAD and which have their own network systems. Steve is not convinced that there won't be a large user training component need there, however, and Dan did mention that this is in testing currently and will not be announced until its use is properly documented.

    Allen mentioned that he had recently used http://www.yousendit.com as a workaround for distributing a file too large to attach via an e-mail. He also mentioned a desire to allow HTML e-mails. Steve and Dwight both explained the concerns regarding reliability and readability with those which makes them a bad choice--particularly for large lists where you may have folks reading messages via mobile devices, or where using configurations for which HTML formatting is disabled.

    Dwight informed the committee members that this WebDAV access is available right now for testing at https://files.ifas.ufl.edu with two caveats:

    1. One is that you need to run Internet Explorer and use the "File, Open" command, checking the "Open as Web Folder" option--entering the address in the text box there.
    2. The other caveat is opening the root folder is not a rapid process and one needs to either have patience or specify a path that points deeper into our file structure such as https://files.ifas.ufl.edu/Public

    When accessing the fileserver in this fashion you will need to enter your Gatorlink credentials, framing your username in the format "ufad\GLusername". Dan briefly described the IFAS DFS file structure mentioning the folders for each department and their corresponding Public, Private and User folders.

    IT Updates

    Centralizing the IFAS Exchange service

    Dan mentioned that he had invited Marc Hoit so that he might observe and participate in the IFAS IT Governance process. There is a major IT Reorganization process ongoing at UF. Pete had forwarded the ITPAC the latest action plan on that prior to our meeting. Marc spoke briefly about that document saying that he thought it was pretty self-explanatory. The next steps in the reorganization process will involve the creation of some committees, especially that one related to IT Governance. Marc hopes that will be announced very shortly. Dan then announced a change that has happened very quickly and for which we haven't had the time for a great deal of discussion concerning. Marc has proposed that we centralize the e-mail services. Subject to the approval of this committee, Dan proposed that IFAS join with UF in consolidating our Exchange e-mail services. This would entail the transfer of Dwight and his position to Marc's office. Dan stated that we would get the same level service from Dwight under this new arrangement and that he strongly recommends we approve this plan.

    Dale said that it seemed to him that IFAS would lose out in such a plan by having Dwight less available solely for our needs. Marc responded by saying the plan is to offer UF-wide Exchange (on an opt-in basis) via three FTE and lots more equipment. Full backup, including offsite backup at the LambdaRail POP facility in Atlanta will be provided for emergency situations. Marc conceded that the advantage to IFAS, because we have already centralized, is not as great as it may be for other smaller units throughout UF. Service level agreements will be written, however, that will clearly specify the levels of service which IFAS can and should expect. Marc guaranteed that the service will be the same or better than it is currently.

    Allen stated that if this is run anything like the UF Help Desk, that he would definitely be in favor of it. Marc responded by mentioning the Remedy model which has been expanded to IFAS is being planned for expansion through UF to meet the wider needs there.

    Steve mentioned having no qualms about moving e-mail service centrally; he did, however, express concerns that Dwight provides IFAS a whole lot more than just e-mail support. Steve said that there will definitely be a void as a consequence. Chris Leopold concurred, identifying 12 responsibilities which Dwight currently handles, with Exchange being just one of those. While Chris supported the move, he wanted everyone to realize that his unit would take a further hit in FTE as a result.

    Michelle asked if we would be losing Dwight's rate or if he could be replaced. Dan indicated that the former was the case. Michelle saw this as a major concern, again due to the wide range of services which Dwight has supplied. She also mentioned that Allen's comment about the Help Desk was exactly opposite to her experience. Marc then tried another example, asking if we were happy with the Active Directory service. Michelle and Pete both responded in the negative. Pete said that Active Directory has tremendously slowed down the startup and shutdown of every single machine we have. Chris Hughes said that he would have appreciated hearing this complaint and that it should not be the case; Chris said he would love to work with Pete to help resolve that as it should not take "minutes" for a machine to startup.

    Dan Cromer mentioned that one main advantage of UFAD was it allows people to logon to various machines and still have the same level of access and service. Elaine Turner, the Associate Dean for CALS, mentioned that she greatly appreciated that feature, being able to walk into any facility and get on a machine. Marc Hoit mentioned that the library and the computer labs are moving to this system as well.

    Dale asked Dan if the move of Dwight was a "done deal". Dan responded by saying he had assumed he would get the support of this committee. Others mentioned that he had now heard concerns regarding the other services which Dwight provides us and asked what he plans were about that aspect. Dan said that he is addressing that issue with Joe Joyce. Chris Leopold added that, if Dwight does not wish to stay with IFAS, we are better off having him still available to us via this move than to have him take a position elsewhere. Marc also mentioned that there are other changes regarding IT in the works which should provide real savings for IFAS in this move to a more centralized management scheme. Marc said that IFAS was a pioneer in this and that we always have been--to which Dale responded congenially, "you are laying it on thick".

    Pete asked if we would still have weekend shutdowns at inopportune times. Marc cautioned that our Exchange system will continue to be maintained where and as it is while plans are made to transition to centrally-based hardware. Whatever is going on now may have to continue for a while longer. Eventually, the new system will be 24/7 with at least 99.9% reliability.

    Marc was asked how all this affected the counties. He replied that there will be little effect initially. Marc hopes that the LambdaRail can be leveraged in the future to provide better connectivity across the state, however. Access to remote sites will still have to involve FIRN, contracts through Southern Bell and others, but plans are slowly being formulated to deal with those issues.

    Discussion concluded with unanimous support for Dan's motion that ITPAC approve this centralization of the IFAS e-mail system.

    Staff Changes at IT

    Dan announced the resignation of Marshall Pierce, whose position is now being advertised for replacement. Chris Hughes has accepted a position with the College of Medicine and his last day with IFAS will be September 7th. Dan expressed his appreciation for what Chris has done for us with regards to UFAD in the time he has been with us. Obviously, Chris Leopold's group will be in a pinch, especially in the short term, until we can get these folks replaced. Dan mentioned that there is another vacant position of three years standing which he has been asking get filled--the position formerly held by Jenny Brewer.

    Administrative Oversight for IT Project Prioritization

    Dan began by discussing our various enterprise-level software projects, which include EDIS, DDIS, FAWN, Florida SART, FACTSim, UNIFAS and others. Dan asked for assistance from ITPAC in addressing a long-standing problem regarding the prioritization among various IT projects that are raised to his attention. He would very much like to be able to meet the needs of the various requests, but he does not feel that it is appropriate for IT to decide which of those to do or how to prioritize those. Dan asked that some process be created, possibly a sub-committee of ITPAC, that would review requests and make the decision as to how to prioritize the handling of those within the means of his limited resources.

    Dale McPherson believed that ITPAC is not the correct level for handling such a thing as it just adds another unnecessary layer to the process. He believes that this responsibility should be handled by the deans directly. From there it could be forwarded down, perhaps, for further investigation, but system-wide projects should be decided at the highest levels. There was discussion about handling it the other way and doing screening for the deans, but Dale stressed that if we want to pull attention towards the examination of IT funding, it would be much better for the deans to deal with such requests directly. Dale thought any proposal from ITPAC should be to that effect; he further related that he feels we should have an assistant VP for Informational Resources.

    Dan reiterated that our various IT programs are currently not managed in a sustainable fashion. Without oversight, people wonder what it is that other IT Software project staff do: people like Petraq, Xin, Daniel Halsey, Richard Lee as well as Bill Cope, Donna McCraw and Scott Owens in the business group. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes--Donna for example works practically full time to see to it that IFAS receives its indirect costs. Dan feels that there has to be a better understanding at the highest levels as to what projects they are and should be doing, because those project require funding and support. Steve pointed out that the process needed dovetails very nicely with the ICC recommendation concerning identifying core services, seeing that new projects are begun at their expense, and bringing administration more directly into the IT budget handling processes.

    Elaine Turner asked for clarification regarding the scope of projects being considered. Dan said those ran the gamut from projects with IFAS-wide use to individual projects for a specific faculty members. Dan further explained that while the latter are often funded mostly by the faculty, there are other costs to his group which must be accounted for. Dr. Turner commented that it sounds like we need administration to give thought to which current IT projects are an IFAS priority. Once we have that list, then there needs to be a secondary mechanism for new projects--including a means for specifying those project costs and the overhead they might involve.

    Jim Selph proposed that Dan put some sort of more detailed proposal into writing for consideration at our next ITPAC meeting as a recommendation to the VP. Dan agreed to do so.

    IT Taskforce Status

    Pete reported that Joe Joyce was meeting with the deans as we speak and that the Taskforce Report was the third item on the agenda. Pete mentioned that he has been asking them continuously for some progress on that and that he hoped something would come from the session today.

    Note from future: Dr. Cheek released an electronic memo on Wednesday afternoon detailing planned efforts to implement the "top five recommendations of the task force".:

    TO:  IFAS Administrative Council
    FROM:  Jimmy G. Cheek
    SUBJECT:  UF/IFAS Information Technology 2005 Task Force Report
    The subject task force, Chaired by Dr. Pete Vergot, completed the report and the 
    Deans and I have reviewed it (top 5 recommendations attached). The entire report 
    can be accessed at (website). This report was a update of the 1997 Infostructure 
    Task Force Report and addressed those issues that would increase the effectiveness 
    and efficiency of the IFAS communication network and software development and 
    maintenance efforts.  The report has also been reviewed and endorsed by the IFAS 
    IT Policy and Advisory Committee.  
    The following represents on-going and planned efforts to implement the top five 
    recommendations of the task force:
    1. Software development support for “Content Management” development and current and 
       future enterprise systems.   
          Concur - Will move forward to reorganize the software development efforts and 
          restructure the current enterprise systems into a unified Content Management 
          System.  Also, a process for the prioritization of enterprise and program 
          support software development will be developed. 
    2. Implementation of Interactive Video IFAS-wide.  
          Concur – Legislative Budget Request (LBR) for the 2007 Legislature has been 
          submitted to upgrade the interactive video hardware and software needed to make 
          the system more useful and effective.  The LBR also includes funds for increased 
          district computer support personnel. 
    3. Bandwidth for Interactive Video expansion and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).
          Concur – The LBR also contains a request for funds to increase bandwidth at most 
          sites.  VOIP technology will be evaluated for cost of implementation, actual 
          savings, and implementation plan, if and where applicable. 
    4. Online Certificate programs for non-formal education.
          Concur – Will evaluate most appropriate and efficient software systems to allow 
          for faculty and clientele based access and utilization.  This will be done in 
          conjunction with the “Solutions for Your Life” web delivery effort. 
    5. Restructure and refocus IFAS IT.
          Concur – Will evaluate and modify IT organizational structure to provide proper 
          leadership and organizational structure to both the software development group 
          and the network/helpdesk support group based upon IFAS needs and the UF IT 
          restructuring efforts. 
    The efforts of the Task Force, particularly those of the Chair, Dr. Pete Vergot, are 
    greatly appreciated and should serve as a roadmap well into the future.
    The Top 5 recommendations are outlined in the attached document.

    IFAS-ALL-L Feedback on IT issues

    Pete reported that he only had 12 responses from his feedback request to IFAS-ALL concerning IT. Pete concluded that we must be doing a great job--particularly when two of the responses said just that. Pete has passed that feedback onto Dan so he may address any issues raised therein.

    Next Meeting

    Our next ITPAC meeting will be scheduled in November prior to Thanksgiving.

last edited 24 August 2006 by Steve Lasley