July 2020 CIO Update

As we approach the beginning of what will be a very different academic year, I thought I would highlight some major changes that we’ve been involved with over the summer in Technology Services.

Construction on Campus 

Below touches on progress made in a few of the many network expansion projects we are working on, but what it really highlights is VCU’s commitment to making progress towards our core goals and objectives in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the last few months. Construction projects that were underway prior to COVID-19 and that have continued to go on include:

Engineering Research Building (https://egr.vcu.edu/giving/engineering-research-building/)

For TS, this has involved network installation of over 1,500 wired network connections and complete wireless coverage throughout the facility is well under way. The network is live in the building with over 200 monitoring and control devices associated with building environmental controls are on line. Anticipated completion is Fall 2020.

 Rice Rivers Center – Research Laboratory Building   (https://ricerivers.vcu.edu/)

Construction on this 14,000 s.f. research facility has broken ground, and we have started installation of a fiber pathway to the new building. We anticipate starting the inside cabling and electronics placement in October 2020. Supporting a rural facility presents different challenges than bringing a building onto the network on the main campus. One of the larger challenges has been providing adequate bandwidth to the Rice Rivers Center as there are no broadband carriers in the area. However, late last fall we were able to negotiate a cost effective circuit speed increase from 10Mbs to 100Mbs in anticipation of supporting the new facility.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology (STEM) Building (https://chs.vcu.edu/about/annual-report/stem-building-announcement/)

Technology Services support for the new STEM Building has included two distinct efforts to date: The hands-on portion required us to remove any useful equipment and disconnect the fiber optic cable feed to the Franklin Street Gymnasium prior to the start of demolition (which is now complete). The planning portion for the new building is still underway – finalizing building entry for the network cable and approximately 1000 wired connections and wireless coverage throughout – is expected to continue until late summer 2020.      

A conceptual rendering of the future STEM teaching facility. Credit: Ballinger/Quinn Evans Archit...

A conceptual rendering of the future STEM teaching facility. Credit: Ballinger/Quinn Evans Architects.

In-patient Children’s Hospital (https://masterplan.vcu.edu/implementation/current-projects/inpatient-childrens-hospital/)

Adult Outpatient Facility (https://masterplan.vcu.edu/implementation/current-projects/adult-outpatient-pavilion/)

Although these two large buildings are VCU Health System projects, VCU Technology Services has been involved in planning for connection into the MCV campus network fiber optic facilities. When complete, VCU will have a network presence in each building to support telephony needs provided by VCU Telecommunications.

And here are a few projects that have been initiated more recently:

 I-Lot Deck https://masterplan.vcu.edu/implementation/planning-phase-projects/i-lot-deck/

This new 6-story parking deck will be erected on the site of the current I-Lot. Planning has started, with construction expected beginning December 2020. Completion date is spring 2022.

 Honors College

The residence hall portion of the Honors College at 701 W. Grace Street was converted to patient care rooms in April and May in case the overflow space was needed by the Health System. Fortunately the space has not been needed, but the space will remain a backup health care facility for the time being. Activity now is focused on moving the non-residential offices and classrooms to other buildings.   

Other Significant Projects

  • The VCU daVinci Center is expanding to a storefront at 1235 W Broad St to create a showplace for student interaction.
  • Kontos Medical Sciences Building Mezzanine renovation is in the planning stages.
  • Sanger Hall 9th Floor renovation is underway.
  • Many other smaller projects have been completed recently, and others are underway.

Firewall Conversion Project

Advances in stealth attacks, exploitations of web services, and the increasing vulnerabilities seen in legacy operating systems have culminated in the need to provide a comprehensive intrusion prevention system combined with the power of a full feature network firewall. This is being achieved with the move to Palo Alto Networks’ industry leading security appliance solution – the PA-5200 series next generation security firewall. VCU has already deployed this solution to the border connections (UCC and Harris Hall data centers) to provide interactive threat mitigation using cloud based analytics and to augment current security solutions. For the remainder of 2020, a second set of firewalls is being deployed internally to secure the data centers and remaining internal networks consisting of student, administrative and researcher equipment and systems. As of this writing, all of the internal and public facing servers located in the Pocahontas and Harris Hall data centers have been moved and protected by the new PA-5200 firewalls. Further expansion will be occurring to secure campus networks in mid-August for the VRFs such as Medianet, Academicnet, and Researchnet to prepare for the return of an on-site student presence. Following the start of the fall 2020 school semester, the remaining firewalls used to protect VCUCard, wireless, medical access, and other internal non-public systems will be migrated with a completion date goal of December 1st, 2020. During this time, insights into the interplay between applications and systems, cloud connections and threat vectors will be enhanced and expanded to allow for a more stable security posture to be maintained as the security and monitoring teams will have visibility to traffic patterns usually removed from easy accessibility.

Best wishes for the remainder of summer, and while I know it will be different and challenging, I am excited for the start of a new academic year!

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