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Recap of the 2012 Merit Member Conference

ANN ARBOR – The Merit Member Conference brought IT executives, networking professionals, and others to Ypsilanti for two days of presentations and discussions focused on networking, collaboration, mobile technologies, security, and other relevant topics. For the first time, the event was held at the Eagle Crest Conference Center, a beautiful facility on the banks of the Huron River.

The fourteenth annual event hosted 300 attendees from around Michigan and beyond.

Featured Speakers

“After the End of the Beginning”
Brad Wheeler, Indiana University

Adapting to future trends and adopting new methodologies was the theme of Brad Wheeler’s keynote address.

“If we are going to continue, we have to become what is needed in the future… I don’t think the footprint of higher education is going to look the same in 2020,” Wheeler stated.

He focused on three fundamental shifts that universities need to make in order to remain viable in the future.

1. “We designed for digital scarcity… now we need to design for digital abundance”

He noted how printers were once a scarcity and cost significantly, but now printers are very cheap and abundant. He also observed how the network connectedness of regional networks is now becoming abundant. Wheeler said that Indiana University (IU) recently upgraded to a 100 gigabits-per-second (Gbps) connection to Internet2 and that they are using the connection to access cloud services.

2. We designed for autonomy… now we need to design for intentional interdependence

“Higher education is a lot like a bunch of islands that are leading and lagging behind one another,” Wheeler said. Universities are continually upgrading their campuses and comparing their infrastructure to other schools. “There is a lot of cost for upgrading one university campus at a time.”

To lower costs and improve services, universities must now work with each other. Intentional interdependence is where organizations develop trust by working together.

“Interdependence is hard, and it is economically essential. Universities can no longer be islands,” Wheeler said.

To develop better services and reduce costs, universities need to collaborate and become independent. He described how Indiana University worked with the University of Michigan and others to develop Sakai—a learning management system, research collaboration system and ePortfolio solution. He also explained how IU worked with Michigan State University and others to create a financial system.

3. We aggregated after the buy… now we need to aggregate to make the buy—and buy at scale

He described how networks are now being used to deliver services and make services more affordable. Internet2 is negotiating with companies to acquire services that can benefit its community and is calling them Internet2 Net+ Services. These services then are available to Internet2 members at lower costs.

Jason Scott, TEXTFILES.COM and Archive Team

After lunch on the first day of the Merit Member Conference, Jason Scott described his affinity for collecting and preserving all sorts of things from the past. He has been an avid collector of CD-ROMs, old magazines, and since the early 1980s, he’s been an obsessive collector of web sites and bulletin boards.

Scott has been working with Archive Team ( to archive endangered web sites before they vanish from the Internet. Archive Team worked to backup GeoCities and Tabblo before the web sites were taken down and recently took on the efforts to backup the 249 terabytes of data from Apple’s MobileMe since the service will be ending soon.

“Network Virtualization Changes Everything”
Glenn Ricart, US Ignite

Network virtualization is going to change everything, Ricart believes. As mobility and cloud-based applications continue to grow, network traffic and speeds are also growing. It won’t be long before the amount of traffic that Internet carriers have on their networks surpasses the profitability of networks, and as a result, more carriers are instituting ways to manage traffic, such as caps on usage, network slowdowns, limiting traffic based on the data type, and usage-based pricing.

Ricart showed a graph of how much the average user in Australia needs for bandwidth, showing how the demand for bandwidth has grown substantially. In 1990, the average user needed 2.4 megabits of bandwidth. By 2015, the average user is projected to need 100 megabits and by 2020, 16 gigabits of bandwidth.

While the data rate is growing, the largest physical packet size that a network can transmit, the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU), hasn’t changed since the 1200 baud modem, Ricart said. There are about 400 Request for Comments (RFC) pages, which are used as part of the Internet headers of IP data transmissions that routers use. Ricart said that the IP header processing could be the economic factor that determines how fast networks can be changed in the future.

The average hop count for an Internet pack is 30, which is the number of times that a router on the Internet handles a packet. Ricart believes that it is now time to think in terms of flows and not packets, where traffic is routed based on flows and not by packet. He explained that flow routing can be accomplished with network virtualization and software-defined networks. He said that OpenFlow is the first widely accepted of a software-defined network control protocol and that OpenFlow technology can dramatically lower the cost of operating a network. According to Ricart, Google uses OpenFlow for its internal network, and Georgia Tech University has four dormitories with OpenFlow networks. The technology is also being used by regional networks.

Ricart closed his presentation with an overview of how OpenFlow technology works.

Brad Wheeler from Indiana University and Glen Ricart from US Ignite speak at the 2012 MMC

Brief Highlights of Breakout Sessions

“Wireless Wars: The Battle for Spectrum and You”
Patrick Gossman, Wayne State University

Demand for wireless connectivity has exploded as more and more mobile devices, tablets and other wireless devices are bought by end users. To cope with the increased demand for wireless, providers are using different techniques to free up wireless space:

Providers are offloading traffic from mobile networks to WiFi networks or to microcells in a building. AT&T has nearly 30,000 WiFi hotspots in the United States, and a recently formed cable consortium has 50,0000 hot spots.

Providers are limiting service for wireless customers, with reduced speeds, data caps, and by raising the prices for mobile devices.

Providers are increasing the efficiency of wireless networks through better technology and by providing more wireless cells.

Gossman said that more wireless spectrum is needed. The cumulative growth rate for wireless adoption in Asia is over 30 percent and is over 16 percent in the United States. The national broadband plan calls for 500 megahertz (MHz) of wireless spectrum to be freed up, but the process is very slow and messy, Gossman said.

Educational organizations should expect more traffic on their WiFi networks, Gossman said.

The Educational Broadband Service (EBS) has 20 channels in the 2.5 to 2.7 gigahertz (GHz) portion of the spectrum. This is the only spectrum that has been allocated for educational use only, and it is currently allocated in 70-mile diameter circles. There is plenty of available EBS space in rural and unpopulated areas of the country. Gossman said that educational organizations may soon have an opportunity to apply for EBS licenses, especially in rural areas. Gossman recommended that attendees visit the National EBS Association web site for more details.

“Reaching for the Clouds: Challenges for K12 Institutions”
Doug Murphy and Robin Cook, Bath Community Schools

K-12 schools face a growing need for technology while receiving less funding. Each district must deal its own unique challenges in providing computer resources to students.

Doug Murphy and Robin Cook offered ideas for how schools could acquire the needed technology to provide more computers time for each student and work towards a one computer per student ratio. Solutions included using cloud resources, thin client classrooms, cheap computers from college surplus stores, and classroom computing centers. Bath Community Schools has accomplished this for an approximate cost of $150 per workstation.

The fifth grade classes at Bath Community Schools have one machine per student. Teachers have witnessed students taking pride in ownership of their own computer for the school year.

Patrick Gossman and Doug Murphy

“Data Centers: Case Studies in Building and Moving”
Steven Tharp and Pete Hoffswell, Davenport University; Dick Boyd, University of Michigan (U-M)

Dick Boyd talked about the University of Michigan’s need for a modular data center and the selection process. He said that U-M has 160 server rooms across its campus and wanted to consolidate its resources while finding cost-effective, research space at the same time. After considering data center choices from HP, Oracle, IBM, and Silicon Graphics, the university ended up choosing the HP Eco Pad, which has double 40-foot units connected by a shared hot aisle. The facility uses up to 24 kilowatts (kW) per rack and uses the outside air, primarily during the winter months, for cooling.

Steven Tharp and Pete Hoffswell described Davenport University’s recent data center moves. They offered suggestions that others could use when moving a data center:

Important to document and label everything related to cables and machines.

Move the racks with the servers in place.

Use a moving company with experience in moving data centers—they do exist.

They also recommended that an organization consider what it no longer needs when moving a data center. Davenport eliminated an old IBM SAN and IBM tape library that were no longer needed.

“Mobility: For the Students by the Students”
Viola Sprague, Kettering University

Kettering University created a project where students could determine what mobile applications would be available through an online interface. The project is based on the Android operating system, and students could choose applications for social interaction, educational tools, or other uses. The Kettering Radio Beta for the student radio station is one of the tools that was developed.

“Disintegrating the Integrated Library System”
Eli Neiburger, Ann Arbor District Library

Integrated Library Systems (ILS) are large, costly computer systems, and Eli Neiburger described ways that libraries can save money and provide the same types of services using alternative methods. He recommended Drupal, an open-source content management system, for maintaining news and events. For library catalogs, he recommended Apache CouchDB, which is a flexible database solution that can be modified as needed, such as adding the movie rating or 3D-format to a database record. For downloadable media, he said the library needs to become Netflix, and Ann Arbor District Library has negotiated streaming deals with Magnitude Records and the documentary Grown in Detroit for downloadables and streaming. The drawbacks of breaking away from the Integrated Library System are that it requires the library staff to put in a lot of work and for library staff to be experts. The benefit of taking control of library processes is that it enables a library to be more responsive to patrons.

Eli Neiburger from Ann Arbor District Library and Jason Scott from speak at the 2012 MMC

“Internet2’s Innovation Platform”
Linda Roos, Internet2

The research and education community plays a critical role in the development of new technologies and applications. Internet2 provides the community with the necessary bandwidth, and researchers have the freedom to try innovative techniques and experiments. Internet2’s innovation platform features abundant bandwidth, software-defined networking, and a science DMZ for high-performance applications.

“Making an Impact! Collaboration Through Technology Leads to Economic Development”
Carol Souchock, Adrian Public Library; Catherine Abad, Michigan Small Business Technology & Development Center, South Central Michigan Works; Ashley Hutchinson, TC3NET; Tim Robinson, Lenawee Economic Development Center; Jack Townsley, South Central Michigan Works

The Regional Entrepreneurial Collaborative (REC) database was created through grant funding. The main goal of the collaborative database is to help local entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Resources are available for business funding, education, and help to create business and marketing plans. Business owners could tap into the databases to find customers, analyze trade areas, evaluate markets, find patterns, and develop targeted marking campaigns. Entrepreneurs can access the service for free from libraries in Hillsdale, Jackson and Lenawee Counties.

“MeritVoice at Jackson District Library”
Jim Moran, Merit Network; Gary Ameye, TelNet Worldwide; Kathy Schoening, Jackson District Library

Merit and TelNet Worldwide have installed MeritVoice at the main Jackson District Library branch and 12 other branches in the library system. Merit worked with Jackson Intermediate School District to get 1 gigabit-per-second fiber connectivity to all 13 Jackson District Library branches. The hosted PBX phone system has saved the library approximately 25 percent in monthly phone charges and enabled the library to have 4-digit dialing between the branches.

“The Expansion of 21st Century Learning Environments with BYOD”
Dave Mexicotte, Cisco Systems

By 2015, there will be 7 billion mobile devices on the planet, and video will be 66 percent of all mobile traffic, Mexicotte said.

During his presentation, Mexicotte offered some insights related to wireless networks. He recommended that administrators shut off 802.11b wireless connectivity since it is rarely used and is very noisy. He said that guest access accounts can create vulnerabilities on a network.

Mexicotte noted some things that can interfere with a wireless network, including cordless phones, a cheap video camera, a busy neighbor’s WiFi network, microwave ovens, bluetooth, and Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phones.

He recommended that identity management be incorporated into an organization’s wireless network setup.

“The Adventures of VDI in Student Computer Labs: A Case Study”
Scott Arnst and Adam Robinson, University of Michigan-Flint (U-M Flint)

U-M Flint implemented virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in a computer lab with VMware View Premier and Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop Access. The university ran several pilot trials and encountered many issues. Staff disliked the VDI computers, and students perceived them as being slower than desktops. They were finally able to create a VDI environment that worked well after creating their own solid state disk (SSD) storage area network (SAN). They said that the software licensing is an issue to be aware of when implementing VDI.

“Disruptive Innovation: Online Learning, Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) and One-to-One Devices…Are Your Systems Ready for This?”
Fred Sharpsteen, Unionville-Sebewaing Area Sebewaing Area Schools

To begin, Fred Sharpsteen gave the statistics of Apple sales to show how mobile devices have proliferated.

“In 20 years, Apple sold 120 million Apple computers. In two years, they have sold 75 million iPod Touch units. In three years, they have sold 170 million iPhones, and in one year, they have sold 70 million iPads,” Sharpsteen said.

During his presentation, Sharpsteen used video interviews of Clayton Christensen from Harvard University and Elliot Soloway from the University of Michigan to reinforce the notion that schools must adapt to changing technologies to better serve students. He also used online videos from Meru Networks and others to show how wireless networks and education are changing.

“Successful Interagency Collaboration Techniques”
Dan Rainey, City of Ann Arbor; Andy Brush, Washtenaw County; Jan Hallberg, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA)

In 2008, Washtenaw County, the City of Ann Arbor, and AATA began collaborating with each other. The county moved its data center resources into the city’s data center, and the move saved the county $1 million since it didn’t need to build its own data center. Rather than buy its own document management system, the city agreed to share the county’s system, which provided $500,000 in savings. The county and city also share a GIS mapping system and an infrastructure manager, who oversees staff at both organizations. AATA has benefited by using the city’s hosting services and Internet services.

To protect each organization from unexpected future changes, they created a formal interagency agreement, where each participant has equal rights and has the option to be a service provider and/or subscriber.

They said that collaborating organizations should look for win-win situations, where all of the participating parties can benefit. They also said that organizations should keep “score” and determine how much savings has been achieved through a collaboration, so that others can be educated on the benefits and savings of the collaboration.

Staff members at the organizations have enjoyed the collaborations because they now have others who can back them up when they go on vacation or are sick.

Future collaboration opportunities for the three agencies may include sharing disaster recovery processes, providing cloud services, and attracting more participants to collaborate.

“Collaboration Instead of Competition: Developing and Implementing an Institution-Wide Mobile Strategy”
Daren Hubbard, Wayne State University

In 2006, Wayne State University created a broadcast messaging service, which has 32,000 users. The text-only system had 1 million messages sent in 2011. The keys to success for the project were: common tools across platforms and finding the highest value tool to use.

Between 2009-10, applications became a major development, spurred by increased adoption of smart phones. Wayne State needed to adapt and create mobile applications. The effort brought together all parts of the campus community to collaborate with the library and marketing department on the project. They wanted to create a high-value user experience and focused on student class schedules, grades, parking, campus maps, and others. Version 1 of the mobile application was based on the Rhomobile platform, which was slow.

For version 2 of the mobile application, they focused on keeping the apps simple and developed them for the Android and iOS platforms only. The campus collaborated with the library and marketing area to develop the new application, which was very successful.

Tim Robinson from Lenawee EDC and Daren Hubbard from Wayne State University speak at the 2012 MMC

“Implementing Enterprise Disk Arrays Using Open Source Software”
Marc Smith, Mott Community College

Mott Community College developed their own enterprise storage OS (ESOS), a quasi-Linux solution. If there is an issue, the system can easily be booted off of a USB drive. The ESOS system has two operator modes, production mode and debug mode, and can create disk arrays for a Fibre Channel/iSCSI/InfiniBand SAN using commodity server hardware.

“Downloadable Media: A Practical Look at the Industry”
Angie Michelini, The Library Network; Kathy Petlewski, Plymouth District Library

Angie Michelini stated that the demand for eBooks doubled from 2010 to 2011, but only four percent of library budgets are spent on eBooks. She said that 40 percent of public libraries do not offer downloadables, partly because of budget constraints.

Kathy Petlewski provided a thorough overview of eBook library providers. OverDrive is the largest digital media provider to public libraries and is the only provider to support the Amazon Kindle. OverDrive eBooks can only be downloaded at a library via WiFi, which puts a burden on a library’s network. NetLibrary provides downloadable reference books for K-12 with a variety of eBook subject sets and audiobooks for children. Freegal and 3M Cloud Library are also content providers. She said that libraries can currently only get eBooks from two of the six major book publishers and that publishers put restrictions on downloads and licensing.

Petlewski provided attendees with an overview of the available e-readers, including the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Apple iPad.

During the question and answer session, an audience member asked how Plymouth District Library helps patrons with eBooks. Petlewski said that the library has demonstration devices that staff can use to show patrons how to download content. She said that the library offers eBook classes each month and provides handouts and videos to assist patrons.

“Collapsing the Core: Virtual Networking Virtually Takes Over a Campus”
Doug Nelson and Jeffrey Goeke-Smith, Michigan State University

Michigan State University implemented wirless virtualization in 2006, upgrading its backbone connection to 10 gigabits-per-second and implementing seven virtual routers. The network was upgraded with Juniper Network devices to create a layer 2 VLAN, and the network security was improved with gear from Extreme Networks. There were some issues with the layer 2 deployment. Future changes for the network may included virtual firewalls, multiple data centers, and isolated network changes.

“Application Chaos: What’s Really Happening on Educational Networks”
Matt Keil, Palo Alto Networks

Palo Alto Networks creates next-generation firewalls with smart features to filter out unwanted applications and traffic. Matt Keil shared some survey data involving student Internet traffic on networks.

On a typical university network, there are an average 18 browser-built file-sharing applications; on a K-12 network, there are an average of 11 file-sharing applications in use.

Peer-to-peer traffic is 29 percent of a university’s bandwidth traffic; it is 7.8 percent of total bandwidth on a K-12 network.

The percentage of applications on a university’s network that use port 80 is 25 percent; on a K-12 network, it is 26 percent.

The percentage of applications on a university’s network that are not using port 80 is 35 percent, and it is 31 percent for K-12 networks.

Palo Alto Networks’ firewalls can filter out Facebook applications, chat, and other unwanted applications. The firewall can also detect which users are using peer-to-peer services and then block a user’s access to the network for a designated period of time.

“Lecture Capture and Simulation Recording: A Case Study in Selection, Implementation and User Benefits”
Jane Boyden, Jackson Community College

In 2011, Jackson Community College added a new health care building on its campus. To help with lab exercises, lecture capture and simulation recording were implemented at the new facility. Camtasia Relay was used to capture lectures for future viewing by students. AXIS cameras and software were used to recorded health care simulations for later use. The film coordinator used the AXIS software to schedule events, manage recorded videos, and to record live events for future use.

“Welcome to the Merit Support Center”
Riva Milliken, Merit Network

The Merit Support Center (MSC) assists Merit Members, Merit providers, internal teams, and others with questions and issues related to Merit’s services. The MSC provides help with service issues, prices quotes, and post-sale support.

To improve support, the MSC has divided issues into seven levels of priorty, ranging from level 1 (catastrophic) to level 7 (standard service request). The support center has also improved and consolidated service documentation and added new tiers of support. The MSC is continually looking for ways to improve support for Merit’s Members, and future goals include additional tools for users in the Member Portal.

Merit Awards

After lunch on the second day, Don Welch presented the 2012 Merit Awards, which recognize individuals and organizations that have provided leadership in technology and assisted the Merit community. The five winners were introduced during the ceremony.

Merit Network’s Award for Innovation in Networking and Information Technology
Randy Schapel, Mott Community College

Merit Network’s Award for Community Building
Chuck Madden, Lapeer ISD

Meritorious Service Award
Chris Christensen, Charlevoix County
Suzanne Dees, Superiorland Library Cooperative
Liz Fagel, Northeast Michigan Consortium

Merit Awards

2013 Merit Member Conference

The next Merit Member Conference is scheduled to occur on May 15-16, 2013, at Eagle Crest Conference Center in Ypsilanti.