|dc.description||Monday, October 8, 2007
The opening speaker for the conference was very good. His speech was called “The Future is So Bright, We Have to Wear Shades.” He talked about emerging technologies in the education industry, and different technologies that we should be watching for in the near future. He talked about the younger generation and how they see information technologies differently than most IT workers. Overall, he was a very passionate speaker and presented lots of great ideas and trends.
Session 5a – Decentralized and Centralized IT Support at Tulane University – A Case Study From a Hybrid Model
This was a very good session. The whole focus of their presentation was on a project for deploying Microsoft Exchange on their campus. Their project was unique in the sense that they have two different levels of IT at their school: Decentralized IT and Centralized IT. Decentralized IT is the department that deals with the user level support. (Helpdesk, PC Support, etc.) Centralized IT is the department that deals with the global IT projects over many Decentralized units. This presentation really hit home, because I have worked in this sort of setup in my previous employment at the Federal Government. I worked in regional IT, which is the same as decentralized IT. We actually worked on an Exchange deployment collaboratively with Corporate IT as well, so many of the things they spoke about I could relate to. It was great to see the differences and similarities with their project as we had with ours. I learned some things that I could have done differently in our situation. It would have been nice to see this presentation prior to our project.
Session 5b – TAG – You’re It!
Again, this was a great session. The speaker talked in detail about how in their organization, they had a bunch of computing services “Silos”, or independent units basically all doing their own thing with a lack of communication and collaboration. She was frustrated with this situation, and developed something called a TAG team. TAG stands for Technical Action Group. Basically, people from various IT units assemble once a month or more and discuss problems, solutions, projects, etc. They have the means of discussing topics that may affect other units and getting both positive and negative feedback. It sounds like their situation is much like the one we are currently experiencing in Computing Services at AU. There are many units in CS that essentially see the other units as impeding progress. I think that assembling a sort of TAG team here at AU would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved.
Session 10a – American ITIL
The presentation on ITIL was a fairly high level overview of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library. ITIL is basically a set of best practices in IT service management. One of the presenters was actually the CIO at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, so he explained how the whole approach to IT has changed since he has been there. It was really nice to see a CIO doing a presentation, and he also had one of his employees with him to show the collaboration between everyone at their school. I did see some of the advantages of implementing an ITIL structure in an IT organization, but I felt that this approach is not best for all situations. The presentation also felt a little like a sales pitch, which made me a little uncomfortable. Overall, it was a generally informative presentation.
Session 10b – The Magical World of An Information Commons
This session was a little strange. I didn’t really see how it fit in with the rest of the sessions. It was about how the Oberlin College renovated their library. It was an interesting space that they developed, but I didn’t really find it relevant to IT in any way.
Session 11a – Vista Preparedness at Indiana University
This was a session that Travis and myself were really looking forward to. There is a need to get prepared for Vista here at Athabasca University, and we are currently in a testing phase. We thought that they would have shared a little about how they decided to go to Vista, but it was lacking in content or upgrade justification. The only problem they talked about was that some of their hardware could not run Vista, so they had to negotiate with Dell for good pricing on new computers. They did not talk about the testing process much, or why they were forced to go to Vista. They didn’t really identify any software issues, which is the main concern here at AU and it would have been nice to see how other people dealt with it. The presentation didn’t really provide us with any additional information that we didn’t know already.
Session 11b – Windows Vista: Implementation Challenges
This session, as well as the previous Vista session was packed. It was interesting that there is this many people having trouble and fears with rolling out Vista to their clients. This presentation was very informative, because their situation was very similar to ours. They talked about different roadblocks that are being encountered in their testing and deployment. They also talked about their mandate to deploy full disk encryption which Vista addressed to a certain extent. I got a great deal of very relevant information from this presentation, and their paper that went with the presentation is full of detailed information that we can definitely use in the future.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Session 18a – Open Source – A Practical Solution
This session was interesting in the fact that they implemented an open source solution for their call tracking software. Even though they were a small group of IT workers, the implementation of a call tracking system seemed like it worked perfectly for them. Even though an open source “free” solution might not work for larger IT organizations such as Athabasca University, it was interesting to see how much could be accomplished using a free program. They have many of the same features (and some nice new ones) that HEAT has with no cost.
Session 18b – Ursula or Ariel? Is Your Help Desk Application Evil or Good in the Eyes of Your Support Staff?
This session had to do with transitioning to a new Call Tracking System. The call tracking system that they used was HEAT, and they were unhappy with it. This may have been because they didn’t have a nicely customized one like the one in AU, or that it didn’t fit their business process properly. One of the important things that I got out of the presentation was to document your current process thoroughly. Another was to examine your process and see if you are doing things that way because of a limitation of the old program. The new program may have a more streamlined way of doing things. I found this session particularly useful because there was a lengthy question period where many people asked about the different products they evaluated.
Session 18c – Overhaul Your Helpdesk Ticketing System
This was another session about replacing a call tracking software package. This one was a little different though, because the software that they chose was completely web-based and customers could submit their own tickets and classify them accordingly. I was a little skeptical about people submitting their own tickets and classifying themselves, but from what they say it works pretty well. The one thing that I found amazing is that they have had pretty much full acceptance from the entire organization, not just the IT staff. This is because it is web-based, has an easy to use interface, and has little to no learning curve associated with it. I know that we cannot say that about our call tracking software here at AU because HEAT is a fairly cumbersome program to learn. Hopefully when the web-based HEAT product is released, we can see this sort of impact.
Session 24a – Who’s Really in Your Top 8: Network Security in the Age of Social Networking
I found this session very interesting and very informative. The session was based on social engineering, and the evolution of internet communications. They did a number of surveys to gauge the students knowledge about social engineering scams and privacy settings on popular social networking websites. I found it very interesting to see how many people actually are aware of these threats. This shows the great digital divide, and how the younger generations are raised with a sense of paranoia, even on the internet. It was actually the younger people that were more proactive about security. Overall, it was a presentation that was very informative and gives me a different outlook on personal security as a whole.
Session 24b – Virtualization’s Next Frontier: Security
This presentation was about them using virtual machines as test computers. They would create a virtual machine and test its security by hammering it with different attacks, etc. We have always discussed doing testing in a virtual environment, but have never really seen it done in practice. It is nice to see that they are having good results doing it this way, and I am sure that this is the approach we will take in the future when it comes to testing.
Session 25a – Is Your Support Services Train Derailing? How One Integrated Software Package Got Us Back on Track
This session dealt with a software product that they deployed called LANDesk. LANDesk is basically a complete Helpdesk/PC Support solution for internal clients. It allows inventory management, software deployment, and remote desktop capabilities. In their case, it worked quite well because they had not previously had anything in place. They were mostly impressed with the remote desktop capabilities. In our case here at AU, this would not work. Our remote desktop software is capable of going through home router firewalls, as well as our firewalls. This is a big thing for us because of our distributed workforce. It would be nice to have a fully integrated solution such as the one that they implemented, but it is not practical in our situation.
Session 25b – Desktop Imaging to Achieve Standardization and Application Delivery
This was probably my favorite session out of the whole conference. They used a product called ZENworks to do their imaging. The approach to imaging was very different from most. You start with a base “package”, which would be windows xp fully patched. You then add on “application packages”. This would save many problems with setup time, as you would just choose the packages that you wish to install, and it would automate the process. There would be little setup time after the fact. I would really like to explore using this process in the future. I would need a great deal of project time to do so, but it may be worth it.
Session 25c – Image Baby, Image! Making PC Cloning More Efficient
This was another session that was interesting. They had a fully automated imaging procedure using Windows PE (Pre-boot environment). They used this primarily on lab machines. They would reimage the computers periodically, and would do this remotely. It is automated, and all they have to do is check the computers after the fact to see if it was successful. I think that our procedure of putting deepfreeze on our lab computers is more efficient although, and better for our purposes.
There were a couple poster sessions that I found of interest. One of them was called “Implementing Preinstallation Environment Media for Use in User Support”. I found it neat that they had a fully functional bootable windows os with all the support tools that they needed. This is the same concept as Session 25c but not network bootable. This would be easy to make network bootable, and is worth looking at in some aspects. At least for testing. Another interesting on was called “Inspiring Collaboration through the Use of Videoconferencing Technology”. It was relevant just because of what is going on here at AU. They had mostly positive things to say, but when I asked them about technical problems they gave the look of “OH YEAH!” and said that it was hard to categorize any specific problems because it was always something else. Hopefully things go more smoothly here at AU.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Session 32a – Encryption Technologies: Testing and Identifying Campus Needs
This was a very worthwhile session where they explained different encryption technologies and techniques. They had some great data from their testing of the different products, and this is going to help us a lot as we move forward with the decision on an encryption technique for AU. Travis received their testing data after the conference, and this is going to be great reference material for us to us in the near future. They even included pricing information, which is going to give us a good idea of how much everything costs.
Session 32b – IS3PACE – Casting the Information Security Spell for Cultural Change
It was interesting what they did in this project. It was about promoting security and being aware of threats, etc. Although it was a fun presentation to attend, it didn’t really give me any information that I did not know already. Maybe just some techniques that could be used to promote security, which isn’t the PC unit’s primary concerns.
Session 32c – Desktop Security in an Academic Environment: How to Herd Cats Successfully
This was a great session where they spoke about the security advantages of having an actively managed security system. They actively manage their workstations’ antivirus, antispyware, antimalware, windows updates, and firewalls. This is an ideal system for a closed computing environment. By closed, I mean that they are all on an internal network. I wish that we could do this here at AU, and we are definitely working in this direction. I am hoping that we can get McAfee working outside of AU. Once that happens, we will have a great managed system in place. We already have Altiris working outside on the internet, so we are moving in the right direction.
Overall Conference Impression
Even though this was my first year ever attending this conference, I felt that it was a great learning experience. It gave me insight on what other universities are doing in their Computing Services departments. It provided me with different ways of thinking and doing things. Most importantly though, it allowed some of the members of the PC unit and helpdesk to have some time not at AU to collaborate and think of great ideas that could be implemented once we return. I really enjoyed it and I hope to attend it every year or every couple years if possible.||en