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UNH InterOperability Lab expands IPv6 testing amid SDN growth

The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab updated its IPv6 testing program to comply with new government requirements specified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. UNH-IOL, a technology testing facility in Durham, N.H., also added support for SDN protocols in its updated program.

The testing program applies specifically to U.S. government agencies, such as NASA, that procure networking equipment and need independent certification that the products meet regulation, according to Timothy Winters, senior IP manager at UNH-IOL. The new requirements come as IPv6 adoption continues to grow globally, as indicated by Google, which said over 20% of its users now have IPv6 addresses, Winters added.

Agencies and product vendors that are UNH-IOL members send devices that need certification to the lab, where UNH students and staff test the products for a month to ensure they support IPv6 and comply.

UNH-IOL tests a range of products, including routers, switches, phones, printers and security cameras. Increasingly, however, agencies and service providers have requested UNH-IOL’s help with SDN and IoT devices, Winters said.

“We’re encountering more devices we haven’t seen,” he said. “Some of this is because of IoT, where things are actually being networked and put on a network. They’re not sitting on a proprietary link anymore.”

IPv6 testing ramps up

Timothy Winters, UNH-IOL senior IP managerTimothy Winters

As operators and service providers realize IPv4 address space is decreasing, they’ve started moving to IPv6-only networks, Winters said. This transition caused UNH-IOL to update its IPv6 testing program accordingly.

“UNH-IOL is trying to push that support, so people building applications and services — or even routers and switches — can know which things work or don’t work in an IPv6-only network,” he said. These changes look at the requirements for building, installing and updating applications — processes that sometimes sound simple, but can actually be quite complicated, he added.

UNH-IOL also patched security loopholes in the IPv6 testing program and made the overall testing more generic, so governments outside the U.S. and other user groups could adopt it, Winters said.

Equipment suppliers have two years to comply with the new IPv6 testing specification. As a result, UNH-IOL will likely see 200 to 300 devices return to the lab to undergo the updated testing, according to Winters.

“I’m sure there are companies that have made some products legacy or don’t sell them anymore, so those won’t come back in,” Winters said. “But that’s a challenge: We have to get everybody back through the program.”

USGv6 testing program flow chart
This flow chart relays the process vendors undergo for IPv6 testing on their products.

IPv6 complements SDN

For us, the exciting part is getting students involved in learning a technology like this. It gives students the ability to build tools, see devices and test them.
Timothy Winterssenior IP manager, UNH-IOL

Additionally, he said the lab now regularly receives routers without a command-line interface to test. This change comes as more service providers and equipment providers find value in SDN — and discover how IPv6 complements SDN deployments, Winters said.

“For SDN, the ability to address multiple services is helpful when you’re trying to get into networks that are so complex they have to be programmed,” he said. Service providers, for example, can use IPv6, along with disaggregation, network slicing and segment routing. The IPv6 address helps identify to which service any particular packet is going.

Along with the other testing updates, UNH-IOL added support for SDN protocols, such as NETCONF and YANG, as well as specs for IoT capabilities. By doing so, Winters said he hopes the lab will help push IPv6 deployments. And, as another plus, UNH-IOL students tackle “the latest and greatest stuff” in networking.

“For us, the exciting part is getting students involved in learning a technology like this,” he said. “It gives students the ability to build tools, see devices and test them.”

Transformational leadership needed to pursue data-driven ethos

Brendan Aldrich, chief data officer at California State University, isn’t just a data governance or data quality leader. He also leads the university system’s business intelligence and data warehousing programs. And he’s a prime example of how the role of the chief data officer is changing.

According to Gartner’s most recent survey of high-ranking data professionals, 85% of respondents said they are defining the organization’s data and analytics strategy, tackling responsibilities such as data management and even data science.

Prior to being hired by CSU, Aldrich was the chief data officer at Ivy Tech, where he transformed how Indiana’s community college system accessed and interacted with data. There, he helped spearhead data-driven initiatives such as Project Early Success, which uses data to find students at risk of failing their courses early enough to intervene. Now as the chief data officer at the largest four-year education system in the country, he’s hoping to pursue a similar mission and develop data-driven initiatives that help students succeed.

A featured speaker at the Real Business Intelligence conference, Aldrich sat down with SearchCIO to talk about what transformational leadership is and how he’s found ways to bring about change.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

At the Real Business Intelligence conference, you’re talking about transformational leadership. Can you define what that phrase means and why we need that kind of leadership today?

Brendan Aldrich, CDO, California State UniversityBrendan Aldrich

Brendan Aldrich: Transformational leadership is about being a game changer — being that person who, rather than do your job, is going to redesign your job both for the benefit of your organization as well as, potentially, for your industry.

There are three things that I tend to say: We need to make data intuitive, relevant and interactive. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve been in IT 20 some-odd years, I began to realize that for much of the last 30 to 35 years, across all industries, we’re using data the same way today that we did 35 years ago, which seems silly because in so many areas our technologies are advancing and evolving.

In my work, especially in the last six years in higher education, what I’ve been focused on is how do we change the rules of the game? How can we start to leverage advances in technologies to be able to advance our capabilities around information? How do we do things that are better than what we’ve done for 35 years — and do them less expensively and with less people to either build or support it?

A lot of that comes down to asking some initial questions: Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is there a better way to do this? How do we start to address some of these challenges with data that we’ve accepted for 30 years rather than solved?

There’s so much to unpack in that response, specifically this idea of transforming how companies use data. You’ve been a champion of making data available to the masses at Ivy Tech and now at CSU. Why is this so critical?

Aldrich: The three words I mentioned earlier — intuitive, relevant and interactive. If you can do those three things well, then you can open up data to thousands of employees across your organization for them to use intelligently and accurately to test an idea or prove out a theory, which could revolutionize the way your organization operates.

Your job description, which includes developing a big data strategy and building a data lake, is a pretty tall order. Where do you get started when taking on such an expansive role?

Aldrich: As a chief data officer, I often say that my job comes in two phases. Phase one is getting my arms around what exists and what we’re doing today. The tools I need to help the organization capitalize on data typically don’t exist when I first arrive. So the first phase of my job is figuring out what we have and what tools we need so that we can start to bring our data together to capitalize on it. That’s what I’m doing now.

What is such an interesting challenge here at CSU, because we have 23 independent campuses, is my approach has to not only ensure statewide consistency on a variety of metrics, but it also has to support and enhance local campus diversity — the ability for individual campuses to iterate on this data, to create new measures and dimensions that maybe aren’t in use at the chancellor’s office but are critical to a campus.

Once we do that, and that’s usually the first year of the role, then I switch to becoming much more consultative. I’ll be spending time with different teams — the registrars, the advisers, the faculty members — and asking what they need.

At Ivy Tech, that’s where some of the initiatives such as Project Early Success came from. With 77% accuracy, Project Early Success predicted which students were likely to fail which courses and why in the first two weeks of the term using behavior-based models.

Let’s dig into Project Early Success a little. How did it work and what did you learn?

Aldrich: Project Early Success utilized technology and data to find students who were just starting to struggle early enough that you could intervene with the right piece of advice and change that trajectory.

When we did Project Early Success at Ivy Tech, we captured a lot of information. The first term we did it, we had about 60,000 enrolled students, and we predicted 16,247 of them were likely to fail one or more classes.

During weeks three and four of the term, I helped to coordinate over 100 faculty, staff and administrators to make 20,053 phone calls to those students. We eventually reached 31.5% of them, and we captured information about those conversations so that we could study them later.

In 11 cases, we found the reason the student’s behavior changed was because their heat had been turned off. Now, when your heat is turned off, you don’t call your college. You might call your parents, you might call your friends, you might sell your television set, but you don’t call your school.

As it turned out, Ivy Tech had an emergency funds program to do things like help students get their heat turned back on so that they could focus on studying. And I think a lot of colleges in this country have a whole range of services for students that they don’t know about. Being able to use data is sometimes just a matter of helping to find students who need those programs and make that connection between the two.

I think for us here at CSU, as we get our data together and we start putting these platforms into place, that will be one of our first focuses: how we help ensure that our students are able to succeed.

What do you see as the biggest data challenge at CSU and how are you planning to tackle it?

Aldrich: This is not just CSU, it’s not even higher education, but I’d say the biggest problem facing companies today when it comes to data is addressing the cult of opinion. There are things that sound logical and reasonable, so we all believe them. When we started to do Project Early Success at Ivy Tech, one of the things we heard over and over again is that students don’t want us to call them, that we call them too much, that they hate hearing from us.

So what we did is when we called students, every caller filled out a form about the call. One of the things we asked callers to measure was did the student seem happy to hear from you. Overwhelmingly, responses to the calls were in the neutral to very positive range — almost 98% of the data captured.

In fact, that very first term we kept hearing over and over, ‘I can’t believe Ivy Tech called me. I mean, Ivy Tech is such a large organization, but yet they called me to see how my term started.’ That’s the kind of power that, when you’re utilizing data correctly, can make a difference.

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Laptop for College work, internet browsing, and Netflix

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I am looking for an inexpensive laptop which is in good condition for my granddaughter to use at University next term. It would prefer it to have an I5 processor, a decent SSD drive, and a good screen for watching Netflix as they will not have a television. I was thinking that a 14″ screen would be best. She would not be gaming on this.

Location: Glasgow

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This message is automatically inserted in all…

Laptop for College work, internet browsing, and Netflix

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I am looking for an inexpensive laptop which is in good condition for my granddaughter to use at University next term. It would prefer it to have an I5 processor, a decent SSD drive, and a good screen for watching Netflix as they will not have a television. I was thinking that a 14″ screen would be best. She would not be gaming on this.

Location: Glasgow

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This message is automatically inserted in all…

Laptop for College work, internet browsing, and Netflix

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I am looking for an inexpensive laptop which is in good condition for my granddaughter to use at University next term. It would prefer it to have an I5 processor, a decent SSD drive, and a good screen for watching Netflix as they will not have a television. I was thinking that a 14″ screen would be best. She would not be gaming on this.

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This message is automatically inserted in all…

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Dell EMC VDI helps university expand application access

By 2016, computer labs at the University of Arkansas had become so high maintenance that they took up an inordinate amount of the IT staff’s time.

It was difficult to repair hardware, update software and protect against malware on about 400 physical desktops in about eight labs. Plus, some applications were only available on certain computers in specific labs, which limited student access.

To solve these problems, the university deployed a combination of Dell EMC and VMware products to provide virtual desktops and a revamped infrastructure to support them.

“VDI greatly reduces the cost and the need for maintenance … so this frees up the IT resources across campus to do more important things,” said Stephen Herzig, director of enterprise systems for the university in Fayetteville, Ark. “And this ‘any device, anytime, anywhere’ concept that we have frees the student from geography to get the application that they need.”

The university began the Dell EMC VDI project in December 2016 and, by March 2017, had delivered virtual desktops to thin clients in several labs. Herzig’s team chose a mix of rack servers, thin clients and virtualization software (see sidebar, “Hardware and software”) for its VDI deployment.

Had we just done a plain, vanilla VDI, we wouldn’t be talking.
Stephen Herzigdirector of enterprise systems, University of Arkansas

The combination of these technologies allowing scalable, flexible VDI was what made the approach so innovative. The university essentially developed its own type of hyper-converged infrastructure, and the vendors collaborated on that infrastructure’s delivery, before a similar bundle was commercially available. Dell EMC and its subsidiary, VMware, now offer VDI Complete, a package of hyper-converged infrastructure appliances, software and thin clients from the two vendors.

“Had we just done a plain, vanilla VDI, we wouldn’t be talking,” Herzig said. “It was the way we went about it and making all of these technologies work in concert with each other.”

‘A vision we were aligned with’

The university chose Dell R630 servers for their high density; one rack hosts 1,000 desktops and up to 2,000 applications. And for students in the schools of architecture and engineering that needed graphics-heavy apps, for example, the R730 servers allowed the virtual desktops to support GPUs. (Plus, at the same time as the Dell EMC VDI project, the university moved many of its devices from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which tends to require more graphics processing on basic applications.)

“We wanted to have the most rich experience and allow everyone on campus to be able to use [VDI], so that meant we needed to cover everybody,” said Jon C. Kelley, associate director of enterprise systems at the university. “Having a GPU for literally every desktop helped with even the base-level stuff on Windows 10.”

Before choosing Dell EMC VDI services, the team had looked at Hewlett Packard Enterprise for infrastructure and Citrix for VDI software. But IT staff members were already familiar with Dell, and they felt more attracted to Dell EMC’s philosophy, which pushed the commoditization of hardware and the value of software abstraction, Kelley said.

In addition, VMware’s vision of simplified desktop delivery with major end-user visibility, using its NSX and vRealize Suite products for cloud infrastructure management, resonated with IT, he said.

“An individual having data and needing to manipulate that data using applications — while wanting to have access to both, wherever you are — was a vision we were aligned with,” he added.

Users work in a computer lab at the university.
Users work in a computer lab at the university.

A bundled approach to desktop virtualization and its back-end infrastructure can help organizations reduce complexity, said Rhett Dillingham, vice president and senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

“VDI has been one of the more complicated technologies to plan for and deliver at scale,” he said. “To have a single vendor not just deliver but support that is key. The ability to call a single vendor and have them run triage and manage resolution of all issues … is a drastic simplification.”

Teamwork made the dream work

To ensure that the Dell EMC VDI project went smoothly from planning to implementation, members of the university’s communications, desktop support and IT infrastructure teams formed a group that met regularly.

“That was really crucial because we needed buy-in from desktop support,” Kelley said. “A lot of those people were pretty resistant to the VDI concept. Getting them to understand, ‘Oh, it frees up my time to do other things, and I also still have control over the imaging and things like that,’ was really key.”

The IT staff nailed down the overall architecture first, then deployed the thin clients, created a management cluster and used contractor services to help them deploy NSX. Lastly, they built the compute nodes, which store and run the memory, processing and other resources for the deployment’s virtual machines, and added them to VMware Horizon to enable virtual desktop provisioning.

“The university IT team was really strong,” said Andrew McDaniel, director of VDI Ready Solutions at Dell EMC. “They got deep into the deployment and took on responsibility for doing quite a bit of the work themselves.”

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to organize billing for the on-demand access to software and services, because the university has a central IT department and several additional, distributed IT groups that support specific colleges and departments.

“When you’re using Workspace One and deploying apps, there is no static number,” Herzig said. “How do you bill for that?”

The university is experimenting with two models. With one, a group pays a specific fee per year per endpoint, and the central IT department provides and maintains the thin client and monitor, as well as covers back-end infrastructure and licensing costs. In the second, the group buys its own thin clients and monitors, which it is responsible for maintaining, and pays a reduced yearly fee per endpoint to cover infrastructure and licensing.

The Dell EMC VDI deployment was so successful that within only a couple months of deploying the first virtual desktops, the IT department amassed a long list of other groups at the university that wanted to implement them too. Herzig’s team continuously works to deliver virtual desktops to more groups and plans to implement VDI for faculty desktops and student and faculty mobile devices.

“From day one in the labs, we have had virtually no complaints,” Herzig said. “And typically if you’ve got 30 machines, you’ve got a couple that are down for one reason or another. Well, that problem is gone. The support people spend a lot less time fiddling with lab machines trying to bring them back up or solve problems or help users deal with connectivity issues or application issues.”

As more organizations see how this type of bundled approach to VDI can be successful, they may be more willing to adopt the technology, Dillingham said.