Enterprise Infrastructure

Enterprise Infrastructure

Partnering to provide reliable, sustainable IT infrastructure that’s vital to the institution’s operations

Putting ITF into production

Construction on the university’s new Information Technology Facility (ITF) wrapped up in 2011, and the Enterprise Infrastructure team devoted much of its time in 2012 to putting the new data center into production, including the migration of more than 500 servers from the Jessup Hall (JH) data center. 

The JH data center was decommissioned in 2013, and the mainframe powered down for the final time on April 1 of that year—50 years after the first mainframes brought high-performance computing to the UI.

The university was proud to see its new data center, the ITF, achieve LEED Platinum certification. This designation attracted awards and publicity on and beyond campus. EI staff also worked to prepare the IT infrastructure for a $1 billion construction boom at the UI. 

Responding to service growth

Throughout 2012-13, EI responded to the exponential growth in the use of wireless networks, storage of electronic information, and the number of fiber optic cables that provide high-speed electronic communication across the campus, making improvements to the UI’s wireless service (including joining the global network eduroam), adding more access points and Network Address Translation, and negotiating with the wireless provider to secure hardware to improve reliability. In late 2013, ITS introduced a new guest wireless service in partnership with AT&T and completed an upgrade of the university's regional optical network (BOREAS), adding capacity for 100 Gbps connections. 

The year ahead

In the coming year ITS will support the implementation of Unified Communications via Lync 2013. With campus partners, ITS will encourage units to move smaller data centers to more modern, secure, and efficient data centers like ITF. 

Planning for network enhancements

ITS will upgrade the core network routing infrastructure to increase the speed, capacity, and available features of the network.

Staff will also review the campus wireless network architecture and evaluate wireless equipment vendors in order to deploy the next wireless standard (802.11ac).

This will increase the stability, speed, and capacity of the UI wireless service across campus.

Farewell to an old friend

On April 1, 2013, the university’s mainframe was powered down for the final time, more than 50 years after the first campus mainframes brought high-performance computing to the UI.

Mainframes powered decades of UI academic and administrative functions. Sometimes called “big iron,” a mainframe is a large-scale computer that can support thousands of users simultaneously and run vital operations reliably and securely. The mainframe probably got its name from massive metal frames that once housed it, often occupying thousands of square feet.

Aiding research

Installing an IBM mainframe, 1961. Standing left to right are E.F. Lindquist, Harvey Davis (then UI provost), James Van Allen, and an IBM rep. Seated is John Dolch, then director of the university's computer center.

The university’s first computing center opened in 1958 with an IBM 650, the world’s first mass-produced computer.

Two of the center’s first customers were James Van Allen and E.F. Lindquist.  Van Allen, professor of physics and astronomy, needed to crunch data from orbiting satellites. Lindquist, professor of education, was looking to score tests taken by thousands of schoolchildren.

Gerard Weeg, who became the computer center’s director in 1964, saw plentiful opportunities for expansion, and countless other researchers utilized the system throughout the years.

Maybe even more than his predecessors, Weeg believed computing would be important to research and teaching in all disciplines,” says Bill Decker, former associate vice president for research and director of ITS.”

All business

"We supported a lot of things over the years—the University Libraries catalog, payroll and financial transactions, student records, and so on,” says Rich France, a senior systems administrator who recently retired from ITS. UI Hospitals and Clinics operated its own mainframe, so France and colleagues also built bridges to share data across campus systems.

University business processes were running off mainframes, too. Administrative Data Processing was the home for much of this work.

By 1989, shifts in technology and demand let system administrators combine academic and business functions into a single mainframe, the one located in Jessup. And there were signs of even greater change to come.

In the late 1970s, small personal machines—many of them hobby computers—had started to appear,” Decker recalls. “Those of us in the business saw a major impact coming, although no one could have predicted its extent.”

Faster, smaller, cheaper

As personal computers landed on desktops across campus, functions continued to shift away from the mainframe. Personnel data, library records, and more moved on to new platforms.

At the UI, new options provide the computing power required by today’s researchers. A high-performance computing cluster dubbed Helium debuted in early 2011, and another cluster—Neon—came online in late 2013. In the same timeframe, researchers with the computer science department expanded their Starexec Cluster by adding four high-density computing cabinets at the Information Technology Facility.

A couple of years ago, the academic side of the mainframe was shut down. Eventually, only student records remained on the administrative side. With the launch of MAUI in 2012, the time to retire the mainframe had come.

A full story on the mainframe history and retirement is available in Iowa Now.

UI Wireless transitions to eduroam network

In summer of 2012, ITS began shifting UI Wireless to eduroam (short for education roaming), an international wireless network available at participating educational and research institutions in 54 countries. Once devices are configured for the eduroam wireless network here, users can connect automatically to eduroam at other participating institutions by logging in with their UI credentials.

Originating in Europe, eduroam has gained momentum in the education and research communities. It offers a secure connection based on the top encryption and authentication standards in existence today. Having instant access to thousands of eduroam hotspots around the world eliminates hassles for users, and can save students and institutions money by eliminating data roaming charges.

Convenience for UI travelers and visitors

Since eduroam was launched at the UI, students and employees have used it more than 10,000 times at other participating institutions, and people have used it nearly 1,500 times while visiting the UI campus.

ITS is pleased to be able to offer eduroam to the University of Iowa,” says Associate Vice President and Chief Information Officer Steve Fleagle. “We believe students and employees will enjoy the convenience of logging in with their UI credentials when they travel to institutions that are part of eduroam. It’s also a nice amenity to offer guests from those schools when they visit our campus.”

List of eduroam institutions grows

Several Committee on Institutional Cooperation schools have deployed eduroam: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, University of Chicago, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Maryland (which joins the CIC this year). Michigan is testing eduroam, and Michigan State has expressed interest.

See a list of participating institutions in the United States or the  eduroam international map.

Visitors can now enjoy guest wireless service

Visitors to campus can now enjoy free guest wireless service without having to track down a guest ID. Courtesy of a partnership between ITS and AT&T, the university is now advertising the "attwifi" network across campus.

 ITS was pleased to begin offering this new service in late 2013 as a convenience to campus guests who want to quickly and easily access the Internet with their wireless devices. Using guest wireless requires just two simple steps: select the "attwifi" network from your wireless device, and use a web browser to agree to the terms and conditions.

Guests who need longer-term access to campus resources can get an eduroam guest ID. UI students and employees should use eduroam because it’s a secure wireless network that allows access to university resources, like file shares and printers.

ITF becomes UI’s first building with top LEED certification

The new University of Iowa Information Technology Facility (ITF) became the first building on campus to earn LEED Platinum certification—the ultimate standard for green design. 

The new data center houses and protects computing and network equipment that is vital to the operations of the university and its hospitals and clinics. Completed in late 2011 after three years of construction and seven years of planning, the 43,000-square-foot facility provides a secure and reliable home for the institution's IT systems. 

Its durable outer shell is built to withstand severe weather, and backup electrical and cooling systems are designed to keep essential technology up and running if primary utility systems were to fail. Two 7,200-square-foot data halls meet the electrical, ventilation, and air conditioning requirements for IT equipment and provide space for high-performance research computing.

Data centers are among the most energy-intensive facilities you’ll find on a campus. To build ours to LEED Platinum standards speaks volumes about the UI’s commitment to energy conservation and sustainability,” says UI President Sally Mason. “Our goals for a sustainable university are stated in our strategic plan and 2020 Vision sustainability targets, and this major accomplishment significantly helps to bring those aspirations to reality.”

Sustainable features

The ITF was built with green materials, and 86 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill. Other sustainable aspects include efficient fixtures to cut potable water usage, a bio-retention cell to retain and absorb runoff, a white roof and reflective materials to minimize the “heat island effect,” and ventilation and thermal comfort features that support indoor air quality.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system measures sustainability in site selection, water efficiency, energy sources and consumption, materials and resources, air quality, and other environmental considerations. The ITF is believed to be the first educational institution data center certified as LEED platinum.

Choosing the right equipment

Sustainability was a top priority in the design and construction of the new data center, but the UI took efficiency a step further with a combination of energy-efficient server purchases and server virtualization, which allows multiple systems to share a larger host.

Server virtualization reduces overhead costs and allows for higher utilization of systems. Older server models were replaced by new ones with highly efficient power supplies and Energy Star-rated processors. 

Cutting energy costs

There’s no doubt that building a new data center is a substantial investment at the outset, but we knew that building it with sustainable features was the right thing to do and that it would pay off in the long run,” said Jerry Protheroe, data center manager for ITS.

The UI is already seeing the benefits of these sustainability efforts. At its peak, in January of 2010, the Jessup Hall Data Center used an average of 102 kilowatts (kW) of electrical power. But even as the ITF came online and picked up the full workload of Jessup, including computational growth through the remainder of 2013, its current production power usage (minus research computing) is only 80 kW.

Projections by design consultants on the project indicated that the ITF would use 37% less energy than a building without energy-efficient upgrades, resulting in significant energy savings and contributing to the university’s 2020 energy conservation goals. That’s especially important, considering that ITF has significant capacity for and is the future home to energy-hungry research computing systems. In fact, in the last quarter of 2013, ten high-density research cabinets were installed at ITF with a designed capacity approaching 150 kW total (15 kW per cabinet).

$272,000 rebate from Alliant

In addition to energy savings, the UI earned a rebate from Alliant Energy in the amount of $271,854 for participating in the Commercial New Construction program, which involved collaborating with building designers right from the start to make sure all options for energy savings were analyzed.

The rebate money will help the university drive IT energy conservation efforts to the next level. IT leaders, working with Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability, have put together a data center optimization initiative to encourage units with less efficient data centers tucked in rooms and other data center spaces across campus to utilize the ITF. 

Cable TV Upgrade

ITS upgraded the entire campus from the old analog channel format to a new digital feed. This required extensive changes to the university’s cable TV plant and allows subscribers to receive a much greater variety of channels in a crystal-clear digital and HD format.

Cyber Attack on Domain Name Service

In 2012, UI servers providing domain name service (DNS) for campus came under a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Network Services worked with the ITS security office and server teams to mitigate attacks, then developed and implemented a long-term solution to protect campus DNS systems from future attacks.

Information Technology Facility (ITF) Migration

ITS implemented new network architecture focused on robust network availability and refreshed equipment, providing the foundation for data migrations to ITF. In addition, ITS implemented file virtualization for 125 network shares, enabling seamless migrations of departmental and research data to the new facility. ITS also moved over 500 systems from the Jessup Hall data center and 250 terabytes of storage to ITF while minimizing downtime for critical applications, migrated web servers to virtual servers, enhanced security, and standardized the production deployment environment.

IT Communities

ITS staff helped create an Iowa Linux User Group (ILUG), and restarted the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) Community for an upgrade to SCCM 2012. These and other IT communities help technologists across campus connect and collaborate around specific IT topics.

IT Services in New/Remodeled Buildings

Physical Infrastructure continued to design, install, and maintain a large amount of network infrastructure to new buildings and remodeled spaces, including: the new Football Operations Facility, the new West Campus Parking and Transportation Center, Bowen Science Building lab remodeling, remodeling on the fifth floor of the Main Library, and the new James M. Hoak Family Golf Complex.

Staff are also preparing for upcoming construction projects at: Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building (PBDB), the Football Operations Facility (Phase II), a new residence hall, the new Hancher, School of Music, and Visual Arts buildings, a Kirkwood STEM building, three additional TILE classrooms, the Bowen Science Building 2-400 remodel, remodeling at Med Labs, and the Pharmacy Building.

ITF Operational Procedures

At the new data center, ITS instituted and documented regular monthly exercise routines for the generator and air chiller, and instituted change and incident management as a collaborative effort among Health Care Information Systems (HCIS), Facilities Management, and ITS. The units established a joint on-call rotation for mechanical, electrical, or plumbing incident management at ITF, added electronic door access points, and established a door access review process that takes into account the special needs of health care audits. Also in 2012, three large projects were completed to get ITF production-ready: redundant air-cooled chiller pump installation, roll-up chiller electrical panel installation, and arc flash mitigation.

The new operational procedures at ITF carried over to ITS’ other enterprise data center, located at the Lindquist Center (LC), in 2013. The East Area Maintenance staff and Facilities Management also partnered with ITS to advance the reliability and availability of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing service in the LC14 space.

ITS Outside Infrastructure

ITS made substantial additions to the ITS Outside Plant, the largest being a new redundant fiber route to the  ITF. Another large project added a new duct bank to support copper and fiber from Lindquist Center up Court Street, to the future site of the new School of Music Building and other future projects in the area. Physical Infrastructure was also able to purchase a fiber optic splicing trailer, extending the services staff can provide to campus and minimizing the need to outsource this service.

Presidential Visits

Staff accommodated the IT needs of the President of the United States when he visited campus twice in 2012.

Supporting Next Generation Internet Communications

Most campus networks now support IPv6 communications for the clients. ITS is in the process of converting services to support the new protocol. About 40% of services now support IPv6.

System Center 2012

ITS deployed several Systems Center 2012 products for improved management: Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Service Manager, Data Protection Manager, and Endpoint Protection Manager.

TILE Classroom Support

Four new Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage (TILE) classrooms came online, bringing the total number of active-learning classrooms on campus to seven. Physical Infrastructure played a key role in these projects, assisting with design and technology installation.

Upgrades to Regional Fiber Optic Network

Network Services participated with Broadband Optical Research, Education, and Sciences Network (BOREAS) partners (Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin) to plan and implement an upgrade to increase both available bandwidth capacity and density. The upgrade to this regional fiber optic network added the capability for multiple 100 Gbps connections for the UI, a tenfold increase over the previous maximum of 10 Gbps. It also provides the capability of significantly more 100 Gb circuits, longer optical reach, and a higher-density and more robust switching fabric than the current system.

Wireless Enhancements

ITS developed a wireless vision and completed nine recommendations. Wireless network coverage was expanded by adding 446 access points in existing buildings and coverage to 20 underserved buildings. Staff designed a new network architecture to incorporate new equipment based on the new 802.11ac standard, continued mobile growth, increasing voice use, and the addition of the AT&T guest wireless service. They developed and implemented a Network Address Translation (NAT) solution for the wireless network; without this solution, wireless users were consuming IP addresses at a rate that was not sustainable. In addition, ITS worked with the equipment vendor to upgrade 20 controllers and replace 1,095 access points to resolve ongoing wireless problems, and partnered with Health Care Information Systems to coordinate wireless service for the ITF.

Wireless Growth

Wireless use on campus has grown tremendously, with the number of wireless users since 2009 almost doubling. Even more astounding, the number of devices connecting to the campus wireless network is nearly four times what it was four years ago. More than 75% of the total users are students.

Growth 2009-13

  • User growth: 88%
  • Device Growth: 290%
  • Devices Per User: 108%
  • Percentage of users who are students: 76.74%
CategoriesSpring 2009Fall 2009Spring 2010Fall 2010Spring 2011Fall 2011Spring 2012Fall 2012Spring 2013 Fall 2013
Total Users17,31220,60321,71525,91425,90129,36428,91931,82629,97432,488

Wireless Devices Per User

The average number of devices per user is now close to 2.5, and climbing—twice what it was in 2009.

CategoriesSpring 2009Fall 2009Spring 2010Fall 2010Spring 2011Fall 2011Spring 2012Fall 2012Spring 2013Fall 2013
Devices Per User1112222222

Maximum Concurrent Connections

The number of concurrent connections has increased 2.5 times over two years.

CategoriesFall 2011Spring 2012Fall 2012Spring 2013Fall 2013
Concurrent Devices Connected8,60010,14115,05916,19821,182

Total Wireless Access Points

As demand for wireless connections increases, ITS has installed thousands more wireless access points in buildings all across campus. The number of wireless access points continues to grow, and has quadrupled in the last five years.

Installed Access Points501683206741,1462,3152,7012,9703,147

Wired Data Ports

Although use of the wireless network has increased rapidly in recent years, demand for wired data ports also continues to rise. ITS provided approximately 30,500 ports in 2003 and more than 51,000 in 2013.

Wired Data Ports30,47932,32934,97637,81640,40941,37944,21943,41749,47850,72151,116

Servers Managed

The number of servers managed by ITS more than doubled in the last five years, but physical server counts have actually decreased since 2010. That’s because virtual servers (servers that run independently but share hardware for efficiency) now account for about 72% of total servers. In 2013 alone, ITS took 58 physical servers out of production. Results of this shift are energy savings and a reduction in the labor required to manage the servers.

Physical Servers74145225255280280324332329381422355297
Virtual Servers005192668121146206363450647773

ITS Storage Services - Disk Storage Growth

The storage capacity provided by ITS has approximately doubled every two years since 2005, but the cost per gigabyte of storage is less than half of what it was three years ago, due to increases in labor productivity and decreasing hardware costs.

Dell EqualLogic0000096,000192,000192,000288,000457,600
NetApp FAS000031,500158,600172,200327,854648,0001,676,000
EMC CLARiiON/VNX23,00027,50095,508118,998123,024128,320216,820301,300473,100503,600

ITS Storage Services Hardware/Software Cost Per Gigabyte

Average Annual Cost/GB11110

Additional Enterprise Infrastructure Metrics

  • Increased centrally managed storage by 61%, from 959 terabytes to 1.5 petabytes
  • Increased storage managed per full-time employee by 61%, from 260 terabytes per FTE to 420
  • Increased number of managed Fibre Channel fiber optic ports by 28% (from 320 ports to 408)
  • Wireless: Provided service for 80,512 unique devices and 32,488 unique users via 3,147 access points
  • Provided 19,401 telephones & 47,969 wired data services
  • Maintained 16,801 miles of singlemode fiber strands & 1,170 miles of multimode fiber strands
  • Maintained 118 maintenance holes, 358 handholes, & 18 splice cases for telecommunication
  • Identified and documented 371 fiber cables 
  • Provided 933 cable services to campus clients, & 3,462 to residence hall clients