University of Pittsburgh

Council on Academic Computing

2004-2005 Activities Report


THE PROVOST’S CHARGE

Provost Maher delivered the Council’s charge on October 21.  He asked the Council to

  • Provide advice to CSSD on campus computer security issues and the campus security plan.
  • Work with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to develop a program that funds network computing projects and examine other, relevant funding opportunities. 
  • Help develop a series of half-day thematic events on relevant topics, e.g., computational biology.
  • Help develop an ongoing speaker series that highlights trends in academic computing. 

Members of the Council periodically met with representatives of CSSD to discuss security issues.  Jynx Walton, Director of CSSD, attends Council meetings and frequently discussed these issues with the entire Council.  Taieb Znati, a member of the Council, is involved in a campus network computing project.  He and his collaborators frequently reported to the Council (see discussion below).  The Council has discussed whether to sponsor a program on modeling and simulation.  Work on this event and other, possible thematic events and speaking series, is ongoing.

COUNCIL RESPONSIBILITIES

Members of the Council discussed the role of the Council at the September meeting.  The Council on Academic Computing was designed as a forum in which representatives of the University’s campuses and schools could exchange information about academic computing.  Members of the Council should facilitate the university-wide exchange of information by disseminating the substance of the Council’s discussions to members of their campus or school.

COUNCIL RETREAT

Members of the Council met on July 26 to create an agenda for the upcoming academic year.  Issues of interest included:

  • Web-based courses
  • Grid computing
  • Speaker series
  • Seminars and mini courses
  • Software licensing
  • CSSD advising
  • Modeling and simulation event

COMPUTING SERVICES AND SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT

Jinx Walton frequently reported on the activities of CSSD.  Computing milestones and achievements often were announced.  The following is a breakdown by area.

Communications

CSSD upgraded the University’s voice messaging system, Audix, and the University’s e-mail software over the last year.  A new, on-demand teleconferencing service and a secure VPN service were established as well.  The portals soon will be upgraded to support browsers other than Internet Explorer and document sharing.

Copyright Infringement

The University has received several copyright infringement notices from the recording industry.  When it receives a notice, CSSD identifies the relevant IP address and its owner, supplies the information to the company involved, and notifies General Counsel of its actions.  Any remaining issues are then resolved between the named individual and the recording industry.

Firewalls

Identity theft is an institutional concern at many universities due to the increasing number of hacking attempts.  Hackers target university servers to obtain the information stored on them.  CSSD is devoting more resources to security in order to combat these problems.  It currently installs firewalls for departments that request them and soon will offer security audits to members of the University community.  

Spam and Virus Filters

Spam and virus filtering has been available since June 2004.  All e-mail messages are automatically scanned for viruses.  The University’s virus filtering system removes approximately 400,000 viruses per month.  The spam filtering system must be activated by individual users and is utilized by 10 percent of the University population.  The latter system catches approximately 1.5 million messages per month.  CSSD offers its spam and virus e-mail filtering service to departments as well as individuals.

Wireless Networks

Wireless networks are funded by the student activity fee and are available in limited areas and only to students.  A university-wide wireless network would require a significant financial investment in order to coordinate effectively the University’s different computer systems.  CSSD is currently studying how wireless access can be provided to the entire University community.

Miscellaneous

Several additional issues were addressed:

  • CSSD is searching for an individual with the appropriate skills to help develop PittGrid (see discussion below).
  • CSSD recommends that computer users install either Adaware or Spybot Search and Destroy to protect their computers.
  • CSSD has established a residential computer consulting program for students that live in the residence halls.

PITTGRID: CAMPUS-WIDE COMPUTING ENVIRONMENT

Hassan Karimi, Ralph Roskies, and Taieb Znati discussed PittGrid with the Council.  PittGrid is an initiative that is designed to link the University’s computing resources.  Professors Karimi, Roskies, and Znati have developed an activity plan for the project and are working with CSSD to implement it.  Current project partners include the School of Information Sciences, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, CSSD, the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, and the Departments of Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Physics.

Grid computing began as a mechanism to link supercomputers, enabling them to share unused resources.  PittGrid will link the University’s personal computers.  The University’s computing processors and storage are underutilized because they are disconnected.  They are available only to individuals who are located where the resources reside.  PittGrid will harness all available computing resources to enhance the processing and storage capacity that they normally possess.  PittGrid will create an infrastructure and include a set of tools that permit researchers across the campus to collaborate on research activities and to share computing resources.

HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING INITIATIVE

The Council sponsored the High Performance Computing Initiative in 2003.  The purpose of the initiative was to promote the application of high-performance computing in novel areas and to increase awareness of the potential uses of high-speed computing at the University.  The project funded through the Initiative was expected to provide a competitive advantage to the University and faculty in their teaching and research.  Andrew Connolly, from the Physics and Astronomy Department, discussed his project. 

Professor Connolly studies how the physical properties of galaxies change as a function of the universe’s age and how galaxies cluster in the sky.  Large, multi-frequency imaging surveys, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (www.sdss.org), form the foundation of Professor Connolly’s research.  These surveys permit astronomers to study hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies, but this research is data intensive and presents many computational challenges.  It can take hours, weeks, or even years to process these data.  Professor Connolly used the funds for his project to test how grid computing can be applied to his research. 

INFORMATION SESSIONS

CSSD Operational Headquarters

The December meeting of the Council was held at the RIDC park operational headquarters of CSSD.  Jinx Walton and CSSD staff discussed the history and functions of the facility.  The facility was built in 1970 to accommodate the University’s computer facilities.  For the next three decades, machine room operators were the only operations staff who worked at the site.  CSSD re-examined its use of the RIDC park facility when it decided to create a centralized location for enterprise operations and equipment.

CSSD has now built a network operations center at the site and relocated the computer helpdesk to the site.  The network operations center monitors all traffic on the University’s network, which includes internet links within the Pittsburgh campus and between the Pittsburgh campus and the regional campuses, UPMC, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, AT&T, and Stargate.  CSSD uses Netcool software to monitor and coordinate traffic on the University’s network.  CSSD moved its helpdesk to the RIDC park facility in July of 2004.

Cyberinfrastructure

Professor Znati worked at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the past several years.  He discussed the NSF’s Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure.  The panel recommended that NSF create a large-scale, interagency program that supports the broad development and application of cyberinfrastructure.  The program would integrate resources from industry, government, academia, and international sources.  The panel estimated the annual financial costs of such a program to be $1 billion.  The panel’s report is located at: Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure.

Pennsylvania Cyber Security Commercialization Initiative

Ray Hoare, from the Department of Electrical Engineering, discussed his participation in the Pennsylvania Cyber Security Commercialization Initiative (PaCSCI).  The PaCSCI program was designed to support university student teams as they commercialize their products and ideas. Participating students are supported financially from the conceptual phase to the research and development phase.  If the product or idea is successful, the program helps the students form a Pennsylvania-based company.  Professor Hoare leads a team of students at the University whose project focuses upon virus protection and “network immunization.”  His group is searching for cost-effective and efficient solutions to this problem that can be embedded within switches and routers.

Department of Computational Biology

Hagai Meirovitch discussed the School of Medicine’s newly created Department of Computational Biology.  The department, one of the first of its kind in the country, was built around the School’s Center for Computational Biology.  Ivet Bahar chairs the department, and Professor Meirovitch is one of the seven members of its faculty.  Professor Bahar was recruited to the University four years ago to head the aforementioned center.  The mission of the department is to create computational models that enhance our understanding of human biology and disease processes and that lead to the development of new therapies.  The department will focus upon computational structural biology, computational genomics, and systems biology. 

MEMBERS

Chair

 

George E. Klinzing

Office of the Provost

 

 

Arts and Sciences

 

Rob Coalson

Chemistry

Daniel Mosse

Computer Science

Taieb Znati

Computer Science

 

 

Health Sciences

 

Julius Kitutu

Nursing

J.B. McGee

Medicine

Bambang Parmanto

SHRS

Michael Zemaitis

Pharmacy

 

 

Professional Schools

 

Angela Foster

GSPIA

Christopher James Earls

Engineering

Laurie Kirsch

KGSB

Arthur Hellman

Law

David Robins

SIS

Dan Dewey

Education

 

 

Regional Campuses

 

Melanie Anderson

Titusville/Natural Sciences

Gregory Dick

Johnstown/Engineering

Clara Vana

Greensburg/Library

 

 

Senate Computer Usage Committee

 

John Close

Dental Medicine

 

 

Staff Liason

 

Jinx Walton

Computing Services and Systems Development