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2005-06 Administrative Reports

September 2005

(print version)

Administrative Computing

PeopleSoft Student System

The new PeopleSoft Student System was successfully implemented on time, and within budget, in August. This completes the implementation of the University's PeopleSoft administrative software systems. The Undergraduate Admission Office will use the new student system to manage their prospect, and applicant, pools. A new Princeton-specific web application, developed by the University, enhances the PeopleSoft functionality. Together, these new systems are now the primary point-of-entry for undergraduate application information. A significant portion of this year’s applicants used the new, online system to enter and submit their application for admission to the University.

Precept Scheduling Too

Last year, OIT developed a web-based tool that allowed faculty members to assign students to precept sections. This year, OIT has enhanced the tool with a new component that permits students to indicate their precept preferences. The tool can now automatically assign students to precepts and other sections, including labs, based on these preferences and the student’s current schedule. The tool will be used by a number of departments for the fall semester and, over time, will become the primary mechanism by which precept assignments are made.

Infrastructure Improvements

Wireless

Nearly 90% of Princeton’s undergraduate students have wireless laptops purchased through the University’s Student Computer Initiative (SCI). This summer, responding to the growing demand from students for expanded wireless coverage on campus, OIT deployed a ubiquitous wireless infrastructure throughout the dormitories and residential colleges. By placing the wireless infrastructure in student living spaces, which house the highest concentration of wireless-capable computers, the University is maximizing its investment in this technology.

Blocking SPAM

More than 70% of the e-mail messages destined for Princeton are rejected as SPAM at the University’s border. OIT has recently implemented the second phase of the University’s defense against SPAM e-mail. Of the remaining mail that passes through, another 30% is now tagged as possible SPAM and kept in quarantine. Members of the University community can inspect the suspect e-mail, request that the sender be added to a "safe" or "blocked" list, or simply let it expire. As a result, the University’s e-mail infrastructure no longer processes or stores much of the unsolicited e-mail sent to the campus, and users no longer have to deal with it in their inboxes.

High Performance Computing (HPC)

In FY04, OIT implemented a “Beowulf” high-performance computing cluster to provide HPC services to faculty in a number of departments. This summer, OIT has enhanced this central resource and made machine-room facilities available for researchers who need a place to house and run their own HPC equipment. OIT is also working with faculty to explore grant-funding opportunities to help expand the University’s HPC facilities.

“Early Bird” Classes

In an effort to provide more IT training opportunities to members of the University community, OIT has begun to offer “Early Bird” classes. Starting at 7:30 a.m., these classes are designed for staff members who work a night, or morning, shift or for those who want to get an early start on the day. Available only since late July, the Early Bird sessions have already attracted 88 attendees and have filled to 90% capacity.


October 2005

(print version)

University Acquires IBM Supercomputer

On September 29, OIT contracted with IBM to acquire a “Blue Gene/L” high-performance computing system. Made up of a cluster of 1024 small computers, each containing two processors (for a total of 2048 processors), this system is capable of executing nearly 5.6 trillion floating-point operations per second (tera-flops). With the acquisition of the Blue Gene computer, Princeton will be among the top 100 on the “Top 500” list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers (http://www.top500.org/).

The new Blue Gene computer will be made available to Princeton faculty and graduate students conducting research requiring high-performance computing capacity. It has been installed in the 87 Prospect machine room and should be operational and running jobs by November. The machine will be managed by OIT’s Computational Science and Engineering Support group.

Having easy access to significant computing power at Princeton will help faculty advance their research more quickly. In addition, the Blue Gene computer will provide a testbed for researchers seeking access to larger machines at national supercomputer centers and a platform for graduate students and researchers who lack sufficient funding to purchase their own equipment.

The acquisition of the Blue Gene supercomputer represents the culmination of an extraordinary partnership among OIT, PICSIE (Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering), SEAS (School of Engineering and Applied Science), and a number of individual faculty members from across the institution. The machine will provide new possibilities for collaborative research among faculty and open up new possibilities to researchers who may not have thought about how they might use such a resource previously. We will make a public announcement about the acquisition of the Blue Gene on November 10.

Retirement of the Mainframe

As a result of the successful implementation of PeopleSoft Student Administration for the Registrar’s Office, Undergraduate College, and Undergraduate Admissions in August 2005, the University will be able to meet the scheduled October 31 shutdown of its IBM mainframe computer and the retirement of the last remaining “legacy” software.


January 2006

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Campus Cell Phone Coverage

OIT is actively engaged with Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Cingular to improve cell phone coverage significantly for the campus and for the surrounding Princeton area.

All necessary contracts, permits, and modifications are now in place for Verizon to place needed equipment on the roof of New South. The installation of the equipment will begin on January 4, 2006 and is expected to be completed by mid-January. Following acceptance testing, the service should be available by early February.

T-Mobile, Sprint, and Cingular are negotiating with the University to install equipment on the roof of Fine Hall. The three vendors have already agreed to share the resources required to make their services available. All three have reached general agreement with the University on the design of the installation and they are preparing applications for necessary municipal permits for submission early in 2006.

In the interim, T-Mobile will be placing a temporary installation, dubbed a "Cell On Wheels," or COW, on the top level of the parking garage adjacent to the Engineering Quad. The COW will be operational the first week in January 2006 and will remain operational until T-Mobile's permanent installation is in place.

Also in early 2006, a new OIT pilot program will increase cell phone reception in interior spaces. The pilot will investigate the use of wireless data coverage to provide a cell phone signal. The installation of the wireless data network in all dormitories on campus this past summer provides wireless data coverage in approximately 20% of the academic and administrative spaces on campus.

Academic Productivity 501

OIT, Firestone Library, and the Department of Politics are sponsoring a new series of one-hour lecture/demonstrations for faculty and students called “Academic Productivity 501.”

The sessions focus on the effective use of everyday, readily available computer tools. During the fall there were sessions on using Microsoft Word to produce academic papers and manuscripts; using EndNote or RefWorks to eliminate manual typing/formatting of bibliographies; using online search tools efficiently; and using analytical tools like Matlab and Stata to speed quantitative research. The sessions have been extremely popular with both faculty and students.

The full schedule is available at www.princeton.edu/ap501.


March 2006

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Another Supercomputer for Princeton!

OIT has again partnered with PICSciE (the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering) and a number of Princeton faculty members to acquire an additional, significant new high-performance supercomputer for the University. The new system, to be known as “Della,” is a Dell high-performance “cluster” made up of many individual, small computers. Once operational, Della will join the University’s two other supercomputers, Orangena and Hecate, to provide Princeton with computational research capabilities that are at the forefront of higher education institutions worldwide.

Each of the three high-performance machines, Della, Orangena, and Hecate, has a different performance profile suitable for handling different kinds of computational tasks. Orangena will be used primarily for computations that can take advantage of its large number of processors (2048), but do not require considerable per-processor memory. Hecate will be used for computations that require large amounts of per-processor memory, but few processors. Della falls in-between in terms of both number of processors and per-processor memory. Together these three machines will provide Princeton faculty a world-class computational research environment.

Safe & Secure: Hardening the IT Infrastructure

Over the past several months, OIT has enhanced the security and reliability of campus IT services. By completing the process of encrypting all user passwords for e-mail access, OIT has closed the largest, and one of the last remaining, security vulnerabilities. User education about good password practices and other on-going improvements in reducing system vulnerabilities will continue to be essential as new systems and services are deployed.

In addition, on January 31st, OIT tested its alternate data center located at New South. After disconnecting the computing center at 87 Prospect Avenue from the Internet, an alternate Internet connection at New South was activated, along with a handful of redundant servers at that location. During the test, Princeton’s web presence was restored via the New South Internet connection. Staff members were able to gain access to Princeton’s web site and other resources at New South from off campus. They were also able to connect to these resources from one of several designated "critical buildings" on campus over a redundant campus network connection.

With backup e-mail and web servers, copies of administrative data, and redundant network connections, New South now functions as a mini disaster recovery site. In order to further reduce the recovery time in case of a disaster at 87 Prospect Avenue, OIT is investigating how the University might expand the New South site to include additional servers and systems.


May 2006

(print version)

Additional power: the first step in meeting burgeoning computing needs

The University’s 35-year old computing center reached maximum electrical capacity this year. In June, a new 750-kVA transformer will be added to provide additional power, bringing the center’s capacity to nearly 1.5 megawatts. Growth in infrastructure services, administrative computing and, especially, research computing has put tremendous strains on space, cooling, electrical, and UPS systems in the center.

Plans are underway to deal with environmental health and safety issues (fire suppression and asbestos abatement) and to replace aging electrical and mechanical systems supporting the machine room. This project will include the addition of a diesel generator to prevent data and equipment damage during any sustained power outage. It will also take into account projected additional demands for power, space, and cooling.

Increased networking capacity

Princeton has network connections to the Internet, as well as Internet2. Our connection to the Internet provides general connectivity, while the connection to Internet2 provides a direct link to other research institutions. During the summer, the University will increase its connection to the Internet to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) and raise its Internet2 connection speed to 500 megabits per second (Mbps). This total represents a five-fold increase in bandwidth that will facilitate such activities as transferring large data sets, conducting interactive or remote research projects, and sending, or receiving, live lectures or classes over the network. The increased capacity will also position Princeton well among our peer institutions.

Computing securely

In April, OIT eliminated a potential security vulnerability by removing “FTP,” an older, insecure file transfer program and the last major OIT service that permitted passwords to travel over the network without encryption. Doing so required substantial coordination and communication, since many users were required to make changes to their desktop applications. Beginning this summer, to further strengthen campus security, OIT will kick off a password education campaign to urge users to follow “best practices” in creating, and using, passwords.