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Merit Celebrates Tenth Member Conference

ANN ARBOR – For the tenth consecutive year, Merit Network hosted individuals from its Member organizations and from around Michigan at the two-day Merit Member Conference (MMC) on June 12 and 13 in Ann Arbor.

Advanced networking, “green computing,” information technology management, and leading-edge Internet applications were general themes for this year’s event, which included numerous presentations and round-table discussions.

Reducing CO2 Emissions

Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer for CANARIE, Inc., began the conference with an enlightening presentation on how data centers and IT departments can affect global warming.

Research facilities, particulary ones with large computer facilities, are the greatest producers of CO2 and the greatest consumers of power on a university’s campus, according to St. Arnaud. To spur the reduction of CO2, many universities across Canada are moving their data centers into zero-carbon facilities, which are powered by renewable energy and utilize high-speed networking to relay data and applications back to users.

“Through distributed computing and virtualization, by putting servers and computer facilities in remote locations and zero-carbon facilities, universities can use the optical network to access servers and still lower CO2 output,” according to St. Arnaud.

“Our industry can be the most important tool to reduce carbon consumption,” he said. “IT and networking can provide leadership to reduce power consumption and carbon emissions.”

MMC photos

Rewarding Researchers

As part of the Advanced Networking Symposium, the Merit Member Conference provided academic researchers with a platform to discuss their projects.

Jon Oberheide, graduate student research assistant at the University of Michigan, discussed new methods to protect users from viruses and malware using CloudAV, a system that detects malware in the network cloud before it reaches a user’s computer.

Jawwad Shamsi, a Ph.D. Candidate at Wayne State University, described how latency can effect applications, such as collaborative environments and gaming, used across a network and how quality of service can be improved. He provided details on PSON (Predictable Service Overlay Network), which he is developing with Dr. Monica Brockmeyer.

Enhancing Education

Many universities are now using advanced network applications to enhance the learning experiences of their students. Catheryn Cheal from Oakland University (OU) and Lisa Caringer from Southern Illinois University (SIU) provided a glimpse of their effective programs.

Catheryn Cheal, assistant vice president of e-learning and instructional support, demonstrated how Oakland is using Second Life to engage students and spur their creativity. She gave a brief overview of OU’s “island,” the virtual world accessed by students and Second Life users, and outlined the positives and negatives associated with virtual worlds.

Cheal said that OU pays $1,600 a year to rent space for their island and that users do not need to pay a fee to create an avatar, a Second Life persona, or to visit areas in Second Life. She described how her students have created their own virtual environments in Second Life and incorporated these projects into research papers and presentations.

Lisa Caringer, senior interpreter and distance interpreting coordinator at SIU, showed how interactive video conferencing can be used to teach deaf students and talked about its benefits and disadvantages. Caringer told attendees how SIU’s distance interpreting program has helped a student at North Central Michigan College and described how distance interpreting can save colleges thousands of dollars by eliminating mileage costs for schools in remote areas.

Demand for distance interpreting at higher education institutions could soon increase, Caringer suggested. State schools for deaf students are beginning to use interactive videoconferencing, which means deaf students who arrive on college campuses will be accustomed to using the technology and may begin to request the service from distance learning departments.

60 Minutes of Slashdot

Rob Malda, creator and editor in chief of, lightened the mood with a humorous and informative history of the “News for Nerds” web site, describing its ascent from a tiny site operated out of a closet to a multiserver megasite that attracts millions of page views.

Malda said that although the web site is tech-centered that many of its greatest moments have been tied to breaking news, including the events of September 11 and the Columbine school shootings.

Malda described the editorial process and submission preferences (no press releases, keep stories short, and attract interest in the first sentence) of the web site and his goal to have a fresh news item appear every 45 minutes. Malda also outlined how the commenting portion of the web site works and provided attendees with some advice on web security.

Portfolio Management

Managing information technology projects across a large university can create many obstacles and challenges, but Walter Weir, chief information officer at University of Nebraska, and others at the University have tried to create a better IT management environment by using portfolio management tools.

On the second day of the Merit Member Conference, Weir described the process for setting up Nebraska’s portfolio management software and configuring it to meet the needs of multiple audiences. Weir believes a project should not take longer than 90 days to complete, and the monthly reports and scorecards produced by the software has allowed for better reporting and generated better feedback from individuals.

MMC photos

On The Network

Over the two-day event, there were numerous presentations related to using and managing networks.

Mark Strandskov, associate director of network services at Central Michigan University (CMU), informed attendees of CMU’s approach to restricting bandwidth usage and allocating campus network resources.

Merit’s Paul Amaranth provided information about Nmap and Nessus, programs that can be used to determine the vulnerabilities of computer systems and to detect compromised machines connected to a network.

Matt McMahon from Gratiot-Isabella RESD and Chuck Madden from Lapeer Intermediate School District described the challenges related to owning, operating, and maintaining a fiber optic network.

Roy Hockett from the University of Michigan, Dan Eklund from Wayne State University, and Doug Nelson from Michigan State University examined the management of campus backbone networks and the process of upgrading to 10G networks.

Pete Hoffswell and Steven Tharp from Davenport University discussed their institution’s enterprise-wide backup methodology, which involves 18 locations around Michigan.

Critical Communication

Gretchen Grey, academic continuity and disaster readiness director for the University of Michigan, discussed the factors and challenges involved with implementing a mass notification system, which can be used to alert a campus about a tornado or a crime situation.

Grey said the objective should be to have as many communication options as possible with the goal of contacting a lot of people as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there are many things out of the control of the message sender that can inhibit a message from being received.

Phone carrier message handling and low student enrollment rate are two of the biggest challenges a university can face when using a mass notification system, and unfortunately, no system can reach 100 percent of the targeted audience when an emergency message is sent out.

Annual Merit Awards

Prior to the end of the conference, Merit Network President and CEO Don Welch presented the first annual Merit Awards, which recognize individuals and organizations that have provided leadership in computer networking and assisted the Merit Network community.

2008 recipients of Meritorious Service Award
• Eric Grandstaff, North Central Michigan College
• Jim Lundberg, Bay College
• Mark Strandskov, Central Michigan University

2008 recipient of Merit Network’s Award for Community Building
• Vicky Kropp, Alpena Community College

Merit Network’s Award for Innovation in Networking and Information Technology
• Jeff Gray and Cathy Green, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

To conclude the conference, Welch made a presentation about recent developments at Merit, from advances in backbone networking to the introduction of new services in email, VoIP and NOC monitoring.

Andy Rosenzweig, Merit’s manager of professional learning, said conference attendance was up significantly and attendees were pleased with the event. “We received many positive comments about the quality of the presentations and of the interaction during the conference. People enjoyed the variety of activities and the interesting conversations going on in the halls.”

Next year’s Merit Member Conference is planned for Thursday and Friday, June 11-12, 2009, with pre-conference workshops on June 10.