July 2019 CIO Update

I’m sometimes asked by people who work outside higher education what we do with all that “downtime” in the summer.  Well, we certainly don’t stop working and in fact, summer gets extremely busy as we complete projects and other work that’s harder to accomplish during the regular academic year.  Below are three examples of what our teams have recently accomplished this summer.

Next-Generation Firewall Protection in Place

As of July 1st, 2019 VCU is now connected to the Internet utilizing new firewall technology from Palo Alto Networks, which provides full application awareness regardless of how the applications are transmitted. This allows for the identification of malicious spyware, malware, botnets, and other nefarious activities. The firewall is a combination of high-end security analytical software, cloud-based machine learning, deep packet investigators and traditional network command and control filters. Palo Alto combines a subscription “Wild-Fire” analytical Cloud solution to push heuristically machine-learned malicious signatures for real-time deployment on the border firewall, thus eliminating issues prior to their transmission into the VCU environment. This combination of advanced machine learning tied with “dashboard” visibility allows the Technology Services Network and Security teams to monitor in real-time hundreds of thousands of data points while at the same time avoid overwhelming staff with “false positive” alerts. VCU is already benefiting from a much stronger and comprehensive security platform in the form of: URL blocking, threat prevention, application identification, full network packet captures, traffic identification to mitigate attacks, DNS reputation to avoid illegal and harmful sites, and the comprehensive in-depth real-time alerting and automated blocking of malicious software. The new firewalls are connected at 40 gigabits per second and will be moving to 100 gigabits per second in the near future. Phase 2 of this project, scheduled for later this fall, will see the internal firewalls replaced.

Optimized High-Speed Campus Network Now Active

The campus core network, which interconnects all buildings and locations using VCU owned fiber optic cables, has been optimized and upgraded to 40 gigabits per second speeds with the intention of a further upgrade to 100 gigabits per second speeds in the coming year.  As part of the optimization to provide for higher speed connections, four legacy core routers have been removed from service, which has resulted in reduced cost and complexity. The functionality of these legacy campus routers has been moved to the four Cisco Nexus data center core routers and thereby leverages the 40-gigabit backbone “mesh” internetwork to provide for the integration of research, server, internet, and campus traffic loads. This places VCU in the unique position of having low latency connections between data centers, campus, and the internet while maintaining high environmental quality at the state-of-the-art renovated University Computer Center and live backup site located in Harris Hall’s 4th-floor data center. Researchers, faculty, staff, and students will see the benefits of the increased speeds and frictionless access when working with large downloads, live video streaming, data set transfers and high bandwidth campus events such as conferences, sporting events, and other large gatherings.

VCU Hosts Inaugural ACCS Desktop Support Summit 

VCU hosted the Inaugural ACCS Desktop Support Summit on July 23rd with approximately 50 desktop managers and technicians representing nine public and private higher education institutions from Virginia including Bridgewater College, Christopher Newport University, Eastern Mennonite University, George Mason University, James Madison University, Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, and Washington & Lee University. Vendors and participants covered topics such as new operating systems from Apple, the Dell hardware roadmap, supporting macOS with Jamf Pro, Windows 7 to Windows 10 migration strategies, and meeting higher performance computing needs. 

Desktop Services was well represented with Daniel Reiner and Jordan Burnette presenting Jamf/macOS Support at VCU as well as Warren Mays and Frank Pitchford (pictured) presenting Proactive IT in the Reactive Desktop World. Ryan Davis co-hosted the event with his ACCS Desktop Support SIG co-chair Brian Klotz of Old Dominion University. Logistics and catering support was provided by Hope Adams of the IT Service Management Office. 

The Desktop SIG co-chairs intend for the event to rotate hosting throughout the state in the coming years seeking to expose desktop support technicians to new technologies, processes, and service delivery concepts. They are also looking to continue to build and grow interest in the SIG through a possible pre-conference day/session before the upcoming ACCS 2020 conference in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Thanks to all for the great work and best wishes for an excellent rest of the summer!

Alex

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