The Shape of Things to Come- Maybe
As silly as it sounds, it's a difficult task to keep up with things that truly affect your life in a university as large as this. So much goes on behind the scenes, especially concerning technical matters, that it's just a logistical pain to keep track of just what's going on at all times.
Case in point: The journalism department just scored a $50,000 grant and is finally getting some computers that won't run like they're networked with wet noodle.
Now, I know about this is because I'm tuned into the technical development (or lack thereof) of my department, and I have a class with the professor who wrote the grant. I know there's a truckload of new computers headed for the journalism building this summer, but I doubt if many other journalism students do, simply because they have six million other things to think about right now.
What will happen, then, is those unsuspecting students will return in the fall to a brand new lab, unaware that the whole deal took months of wrangling, grant-writing, and waiting by staff in both the journalism department and the computer center. The transition will be instant for those students, but it will affect their schooling for years to come.
Campus technology developments tend to take place in the same manner. One semester you'll see a brief mention about campus networks in the newspaper, and then - BAM! - you return in the fall and there's a free Ethernet connection in every dorm. Finally, you end up addicted to the Internet and you're changed forever, but until you realize how vital that connection is, you had no idea it was coming.
With this in mind, I made a visit to the ISL2000 conference held this week in the Memorial Student Union. My mission: to find out what's in store for the campus computing scene in the coming years.
My primary interest lay in the conference's security discussion, as both common knowledge and personal experience have shown some of the UA computer security measures to be, (how do put this nicely) - lacking.
As I thought, there's all kinds of stuff cooking behind various campus doors. True, almost all of them are still in the incubation stages, but we can expect to see some of the possible ramifications in the future.
The first security discussion consisted of an in-depth look at University Medical Center's security setup, given by Ray Harwood, UMC's technical and networking services manager. The discussion itself was a good overview of the problems with managing a huge network's security. Had a non-geek sat through the discussion, though, they would have been died of boredom in minutes, as the technospeak flowed freely. One interesting detail, though, - it seems so many UMC users have hooked up to the Pointcast network that it's overtaxing the system. UMC network administrators apparently want to block PointCast transmissions from the entering UMC network, but no date or specifics were given.
The second topic, Gary Windham's presentation on the DCE security model, was ten times more acronym-laden than the UMC discussion but it was more of what I was looking for.
Basically, DCE (short for distributed computing environment) security makes it easier to eliminate security problems in a network based environment - like spoofing or subversive data modification or interception by network users. In a nutshell, DCE aims to secure all processes no matter what part of the network they're on.
While DCE would primarily benefit the university's business-related computing uses, the benefits would end up trickling down to us, the average users, through an overall increase in campus network security. Common use of DCE isn't coming any time soon, though, as the idea is still in the "let's examine this to the nth degree" phase. It sounds as if DCE's cost would be passed onto departments on a kind of subscription basis, but whether that cost would make its way back to the students - who knows.
And finally, CCIT's Viji Muralidharan explaned the Single Sign-On project, which has some interesting points.
Single Sign-On aims to eliminate the problem with multiple computer accounts by assigning participants a single login name and password. In other words, it would keep the frustration level down for someone who has several computer accounts by requiring only one name and password for every system they are on.
Single Sign-On could also work with the university's Caucus system, which lets professors use the Web in conjunction with their classes, by foolproofing the ID process and securing online tests. It would also give professors a better statistical look at how students use the Caucus system for class, tracking individual students to tell what sections they actually read, for example.
I'll admit, that last part makes me cringe - I don't want my professors knowing I was up until 4 a.m. doing online homework the night before it was due, but the rest of the ideas in the ISL security conference didn't sound half bad. Even though the chance of seeing immediate changes are probably slim for those of us who only have a year or so left, it's still nice to know what's in the works.