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Northwestern University

Fall 2012 Weinberg IT Update

Dear Weinberg Faculty and Staff,

Welcome to the new academic year! I would like to take this opportunity to update you on Weinberg IT operations, recent improvements, and upcoming initiatives.

IT support in September and October

As you know, the period from Labor Day to mid-October is very busy for everyone within the College. To help ensure a successful start of the year, Weinberg IT will focus on addressing critical computing issues for continuing faculty/staff and assisting new faculty with all of their computing needs between Tuesday, September 4, and Friday, October 19. We will resume full support operations, including new computer setups for continuing faculty/staff, as of Monday, October 22.

General Computing and Support

Weinberg IT restructured in early 2012 to expand its ability to both support existing services and partner with faculty and staff on emerging projects. To that end, we adopted a "remote first" approach for computer support, using the Bomgar interactive support and remote deployment tools. Our student workers work with full-time staff to address issues that cannot be resolved remotely. We have received positive feedback on this approach, as it allows us to respond more quickly to many support requests.

We are finishing an upgrade of our computer management system to the Dell KACE software solution. KACE enables Weinberg IT to more effectively and efficiently set up computers and apply new programs and settings on request. The software also provides automatic security updates for common programs, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Flash, Java, and Firefox, which reduces our vulnerability to malicious software and the incidence of malware infections. I am pleased to report we have implemented this upgrade using our existing tools to minimize the impact to your computer use.

We have continued to roll out the CrashPlan PRO data backup service to College desktop and laptop computers. As of this writing, we are protecting 22 terabytes of faculty and staff data. Weinberg IT has invested further in this service, particularly in storage, to ensure critical research, teaching, and administrative data is protected from hardware failure or data corruption.

Many of you have taken the time to contact Dean Mangelsdorf or me to provide feedback on Weinberg IT over the past few years. I appreciate your thoughts and comments, which we use to review and update our services and practices. To that end, we will plan a more formal survey in the coming year to help us better understand our performance and continue to improve our service to the College.


Weinberg researchers have continued to make use of Northwestern computing resources in the past year. NUIT has collaborated with Weinberg faculty to expand the Quest high-performance computing cluster to further improve its processing capacity and add new capability in areas such as "big data" analysis in the coming year. Quest is available to researchers with no required fees; researchers may elect to invest in cluster nodes to gain priority access to compute time.

Weinberg, in conjunction with Kellogg, continued its investment in the Social Sciences Computing Cluster (SSCC), which increased by 124 processing cores this year. Weinberg also upgraded the Sheridan cluster's desktop instances to include the latest versions of software such as SAS, SPSS, Stata, Atlas.ti, Nvivo, and ArcGIS.

In the coming year, Weinberg IT will continue to explore ways to improve research data storage and management in support of current and emerging requirements from government and grant agencies. We are also participating in discussions across the Northwestern community to determine how to better make research software available more broadly, building on the success of the Sheridan cluster. We look forward to continuing our discussions with you over the coming year to further identify needs for computation and storage for research.

Teaching and Learning

Weinberg IT has continued to make improvements to College-managed seminar rooms in this past year. We have replaced projectors, podiums, and lamps in selected locations as older equipment has ceased to work, and we have worked closely with department administrators on service issues. We also coordinate with NUIT on major audio-visual implementations to ensure teaching needs are appropriately met. We will be continuing our efforts to enhance support for College-managed seminar rooms in the coming year.

We also advise and participate in projects granted through the Hewlett fund for curricular innovation. As such projects arise, we work to connect faculty members with expertise in academic technology, including Weinberg's Multimedia Learning Center (MMLC), the University Library, and NUIT Academic and Research Technologies. In the coming year, we will seek additional opportunities to identify ways that technology can benefit teaching and learning in concert with these groups.

Web Applications and Sites

Whenever possible, Weinberg seeks to leverage University resources to meet our needs for business software applications. However, sometimes needs arise that require College-specific solutions. In each project, Weinberg IT works closely with business owners to define process requirements and ensure the technical solution meets or exceed those needs.

Weinberg IT has engaged in several such projects in the past year. In particular, we worked with the Office of Undergraduate Studies and Advising to establish a "dossier" for incoming freshmen. The "dossier" contains information on student interests, possible areas of study, and class preferences for the coming quarter. In the short term, this information will help freshman advisers work with students to quickly arrive at class selection for Fall 2012; we are working with members of the Dean's Office to determine longer-term benefits for this application.

Other web applications released in the past year include a management system for short-term faculty appointments and a Weinberg-specific instance of McCormick's faculty recruiting system. Looking forward, we will look to enable more rapid application development and deployment through new tools and platforms.

I welcome your questions and feedback on our efforts as we work to provide high-quality services to Weinberg College.


Chris Comerford
Director of Information Technology
Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
Northwestern University
(o) 847-491-2746
(c) 773-968-8488

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