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June 13, 2013

Technology Corner


Pitt IT in 2013:

Building new services on a strong foundation

That was then

The 1995 Pitt yearbook noted that this was the year when many students first took “a trip to the strange new world of ‘The Net’: the Internet and … the increasingly important world of computers.”

At that time, Pitt managed technology services through several central administrative offices and a number of department-based support efforts. But as computers became less a “strange new world” and more an integral part of academic life, University faculty, staff and administrators looked more carefully at how information technology services and infrastructure were delivered.

As part of its long-range strategic planning efforts, the University determined that centrally supported enterprise services were key to strengthening Pitt’s technology infrastructure and to developing secure, responsive and reliable services.

CSSD — Computing Services and Systems Development — was established in 2000.

This is now

Pitt connections to that “strange new world of The Net” have gone from 50 megabits per second network speed in 2000 to 735 Mbps in 2010 and to 2,000 Mbps in 2013. And those connections no longer require a user to be sitting at a desktop in his or her office:  Pitt’s network infrastructure now includes a wireless network.

Spammers and hackers quickly recognized  the power inherent in network connections. By 2005, we were blocking 26 million spam and virus messages from Pitt accounts; by 2010, that number had grown to 724 million.

These changes have significant implications for the University’s technology infrastructure and services, especially as they relate to CSSD’s core mission of providing a secure, strong network and responsive IT services. We recognize that computing services are an integral part of your work at the University and want you to be aware of some of the things we have done this year.


Pitt has been recognized within the national IT community as a university that “gets security right.”  But getting it right involves a balance between security and accessibility.

There is no question that security threats are real and increasing. Cybercrime now exceeds drug trafficking as the most lucrative illegal activity and, because of their data-rich environment, universities are attractive targets for hackers. At the same time, it’s important that IT resources be as accessible as possible for legitimate users.

For an institution like Pitt, that balanced approach is particularly critical in order to support the diverse needs of its researchers.

Effective IT security requires both an enterprise-wide and individual approach. CSSD has established enterprise firewalls and research security zones in order to most effectively meet security and collaboration needs for Pitt researchers.

At the same time, we encourage everyone in the Pitt community to play a role in effective security by regularly changing passwords, installing antivirus software, protecting laptops with encryption and theft recovery software, and implementing other security measures as outlined in the Secure Your Data resource community at

This year, we’ve implemented password changes for faculty and staff to help in these security efforts. The average number of password changes made to faculty and staff accounts each month in the fall of 2012 was just 334; this spring, the average number of password changes each month had grown to 755.

Strong and stable network

When CSSD was established, Pitt’s 100 Mbps network backbone reached desktop computers at a maximum speed of 10 Mbps. Our pool of 800 modems provided a 56 kilobits per second remote connection for users.

Today, Pitt’s 10 gigabits per second network backbone supports desktop speeds up to 1 Gbps and more than 30,000 individuals use the wireless network on a monthly basis. The modem pool has been retired.

As Pitt’s dependence on the network for research, campus life and daily business has grown, and as Internet addressing standards develop, demands on the University network and calls for expansion have increased steadily. The network equipment that forms the core of PittNet is reaching the end of its life; to prevent deterioration of network service to the Pitt community, CSSD has undertaken a $6 million project to replace that equipment and the network switches.

This year, on the Pittsburgh campus alone, academic buildings are covered by 3,056 wireless access points. In an average month, the Pittsburgh campus logs about 18.2 million wireless sessions. People own and carry an increasing number of “connectable” devices; in response to the growing demand, CSSD also continues to strengthen and expand Pitt’s wireless network.

The University’s off-campus Network Operations Center (NOC) helps prevent service disruptions by proactively monitoring the network and enterprise applications. The NOC also securely hosts enterprise systems (e.g. email and web servers, student, library, course management, and financial systems) and department-based servers and applications.

Since May 2012, the number of devices monitored 24/7 by the NOC has grown from 6,375 to 8,538.

Responsive services

While security and infrastructure work often takes place out of sight, other computing services are very visible. Faculty and staff rely on computer accounts for email, CourseWeb, financial services, time records, library resources and more.

My Pitt provides secure access to those critical services. Rather than having to log in separately to multiple services, users can log in once at and then move safely between services.  We process two million- three million logins at My Pitt every month.

In response to the University’s international focus, we now are members of the global eduroam consortium, which allows faculty, staff and students from participating institutions to use their accounts to log in to other institutions’ wireless networks.

Mobile services are growing more important for people at Pitt. In addition to services like eduroam, campus-wide wireless, and the mobile Pitt site (, which works across mobile platforms), we now offer services such as mobile CourseWeb and Send to Mobile, which lets faculty and staff have calls seamlessly transferred from desk phones to cellphones.

This year, as part of our software distribution service, we are providing Windows 8, an operating system that tries to bridge the gap between the desktop and the mobile device, to faculty, staff and departments at a reduced cost.

Cloud services like Box allow you to store and access documents and files securely from desktop and mobile devices wherever you are, as long as you have an Internet connection. CSSD released Box for all Pitt primary account owners this year, providing a free account with up to 25 GB of storage. Adoption of the service is growing at a steady rate as faculty, staff and students find it an efficient and effective way to collaborate on files. This January, 242 members of the University community were using Box in the pilot phase of the project. By the end of the spring term, more than 7,000 people had activated Box accounts.

Jinx Walton is the University’s chief information officer.

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