Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

November 9, 2000

Assembly told Pitt continues work on networking problems

The provost-ordered analysis of Pitt's troubled computer network services is finished, Faculty Assembly was told this week. But the University still is trying to resolve its network problems.

"Our analysis has been completed and now we're looking at ways to improve our network services, including adding more redundancy to our systems to improve performance," Jinx Walton told the assembly Nov. 7.

Walton is director of Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), which oversees the newly consolidated division that includes CSSD and Network Services. (See Oct. 26 University Times.) Walton said the three priorities established by the administration were to improve external access to Pitt systems, add enough bandwidth (network capability) to avoid overloads and delays and improve CourseInfo, the popular instructional-aid software program that has suffered problems throughout the fall.

"At the [Faculty Assembly Oct. 3] meeting in particular there were a lot of issues relating to CourseInfo," Walton said. "Since then, we've been closely monitoring the system and we've made some improvements in the software and have not heard further [complaints]," Walton said. The one exception, she said, was a Nov. 1 over-subscription of concurrent users, which was rectified in less than an hour.

On that day, the CourseInfo system reached its maximum level of concurrent users, which formerly was 256, she said. "At that point, anyone trying to get access was denied access," she said. "This past weekend we raised our capacity to 500 and we can go higher if need be."

Additionally, her staff, working in tandem with Blackboard, Inc., has upgraded the CourseInfo database indexes, which store, sort and control the flow of information among users.

Blackboard, Inc. is the software vendor that owns the CourseInfo copyright. Walton said, "We don't really anticipate any CourseInfo performance problems" from now on.

She added that the University probably will implement the newest CourseInfo software package, Blackboard 5, in time for next fall term. "We also have established a technical team, which is looking at improvements in CourseInfo for the spring term and we will continue to monitor it closely," she said.

Regarding the purchase of much-needed bandwidth, Wal-ton said she hoped the ongoing negotiations with an internet service provider (ISP) would be concluded soon. In the meanwhile, Pitt is trying to increase its bandwidth through an agreement with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. "We're putting together a strategic plan with the supercomputing center so that we have access to additional bandwidth as we need it," she said.

Also in negotiation with the ISP is an agreement to allow University employees the option of paying a monthly fee for better remote access to their e-mail, the web and other services available through Pitt's network. Faculty have complained about delays in remote access availability.

Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resource management, told the University Times that the ISP agreements for remote access and bandwidth purchase are under final review. "We think we've worked out everything in the agreements, including the pricing, and it's now in the legal counsel's office for final approval," Pack said. He declined to name the internet service provider pending a final agreement.

The University plans to mail out information to employees' homes on ISP subscriber options once the deal is set.

Walton said that Pitt's overall information technology (IT) plan included a strategy to maintain the computer modem pool at 800. "Some of the problems we've had are a result of our neglect of the technology infrastructure," she said. "I think, having examined that, we're re-arranging our priorities within the plan, but not [deviating from the overall plan]. In the IT plan we said we were going to keep up with the latest technology in the modem pool, and we're doing that."

There are 176 analog modems due to be replaced, she added. "Those older modems are monitored and replaced as we need to and it's cost-effective. One issue with them is it is difficult to diagnose problems and so we're looking at replacing them and upgrading our diagnostic tools," which should help alleviate modem problems.

Walton cited a number of other recent improvements in network services, including increasing the amount of software available through the faculty desktop program; replacing and streamlining the 15-year-old information management system; adding 20 e-mail and web-access kiosks around campus (bringing the total to 28, with plans to add another 72 by academic year's end) and replacing 260 computers in labs across campus.

She said the University also will continue its free software and Microsoft product distribution to students. "We've given out about 10,000 software CDs, and about 16,000 Microsoft products free of charge over the last two months," she said.

University Senate President Nathan Hershey asked Walton if she was going to prepare a written report on computer network issues to be distributed around campus.

Walton replied that the strategy was to update all network information on Pitt's technology web site (, which would ensure that the latest information was available. "For example, the change to indexes for CourseInfo was announced prior to that change. We're going to post all the plans that have to do with our network," Walton said.

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

* Assembly member Deane Root suggested establishing a new University Senate standing committee to evaluate recent issues in scholarly communication. Some of those issues include the effects of purchasing decisions on library holdings, the control of intellectual property, how electronic publication affects the evaluation and vetting of research and the pressures on younger scholars.

Hershey pointed out that Faculty Assembly could recommend a number of ways to approach the issue, including establishing a standing committee, an ad hoc committee that University Senate officers could appoint, or a joint committee of faculty, administration and others.

Hershey agreed to discuss the options with administration officials and raise the issue again at the next Faculty Assembly Nov. 28.

* Anne Medsger, chair of the Senate's anti-discriminatory policies committee, reported that she had written a follow-up letter to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg in October asking him to respond formally to a resolution passed by Faculty Assembly last June. (See University Times June 5.)

The resolution called for the chancellor to set up a committee to study whether Pitt should offer health benefits to same-sex partners of its employees. Medsger said the chancellor had not replied to the resolution or her follow-up letter.

Pitt spokesperson Ken Service told the University Times that the chancellor had responded at the June Senate Council meeting.

"The chancellor stated last June when this issue came up that while there may be value in that approach [to name a committee to study the issue], it is limited in this instance by the ongoing litigation that Pitt is involved in."

Service was referring to the civil lawsuit against the University filed by seven current and former employees who allege that Pitt violates its own anti-discrimination policy as well as the city's anti-discrimination law in denying health benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

* Hershey said an additional University Senate plenary session has been scheduled for Feb. 15. The session's topic will be openness at the University. (See Senate Matters column, page 2.)

The regularly scheduled spring plenary session is expected to be held March 21.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 6

Leave a Reply