Emory Report
November 12, 2007
Volume 60, Number 11

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November 12, 2007
Communication efforts yield significant benefits

Paul Petersen is director of architecture & engineering, Network Communications Services, and Donna Price is coordinator of communications and marketing services, University Technology Services.

Over the past two years, the Office of Information Technology has undertaken a variety of foundation initiatives to improve the information technology landscape at Emory. While much of the work on these efforts goes on behind the scenes, as each objective is met, the benefits to the Emory community are becoming tangible.

A significant milestone for the unification of e-mail and calendaring will be met on Dec. 7, when all 13,000 Emory Healthcare and School of Medicine clinical faculty and staff who use GroupWise for e-mail and calendaring will have their accounts moved from GroupWise to the Microsoft Exchange platform. GroupWise users who have Eagle e-mail accounts will also have their accounts migrated at this time.

The approach used to migrate the accounts offers significant benefits. Instead of having to conduct business with co-workers during a segmented migration that could extend over a three-month window, all employees in the EHC enterprise will immediately have common access to their new Exchange e-mail and calendaring accounts. It is the most commonly used strategy worldwide for efforts of this kind, leverages the experience of other institutions, and is expected to cut deployment costs by $200,000.

Another active foundation initiative is the Single Voice Platform project. The technology for Emory’s two voice systems is being consolidated in a way that allows for the integration of telephone and network communications into a single platform. The new system supports Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony and unified messaging, which brings e-mail, calendaring, voice mail, inbound faxes and instant messaging into one common e-mail inbox or phone interface. The single voice platform technology has been installed in The Emory Clinic and the new School of Medicine and 1599 Clifton buildings and is planned for all new building construction.

To keep costs, labor and implementation time to a minimum, these projects required the reconfiguration of Emory’s core network architecture, a major project that was essentially completed this fall. The new architecture is scalable, highly available, and has increased throughput speed and stability.

It employs “virtualization,” a model that maximizes the functionality of existing network components. Virtualization for core routers ­— the technology that provides connectivity for the exchange of information along network pathways – allows for geographic expansion of the network without increases in power, hardware or space. For example, extending the academic network to Emory Crawford Long Hospital for the new predictive health strategic initiative became a matter of configuring the software; no additional hardware was necessary. Designing the network core with this flexibility prepared Emory for future Campus Master Plan initiatives like those that call for the expansion of ECLH into the Midtown campus.

Firewalls are the secure gateways into Emory’s network. All information passes through a firewall, or multiple virtual firewalls depending on the level of protection required. For example, information that falls under federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy and security standards requires stringent firewall rules that are not necessary for other kinds of information that passes through the network pipeline. Virtualization allows firewalls to be added relatively quickly because new hardware isn’t required. In the past, creating a separate core like that for HIPAA-protected information would have required purchasing and installing an entirely separate network infrastructure.

As part of the network upgrade and reconfiguration, the core network, firewalls and Emory’s connection to Internet2 have all been upgraded to 10 gigabits, which represents a tenfold increase from what was previously in place. The increased network speed allows Emory to be a full participant in important national initiatives like the Biomedical Informatics Research Network and lays the groundwork for continued expansion in diagnostic imaging and other services that require high-speed connections. Already a number of buildings have been upgraded to connect to the new network core at 10Gb, including the new School of Medicine building, the Whitehead Biomedical Research Center, the O. Wayne Rollins Research building, the Grace Crum Rollins School of Public Health, the Atwood Chemistry Center and the Robert W. Woodruff Library.

Many of these areas are also benefiting as connections to individual desktops are being upgraded to 1Gb.
As these local networks are renewed, in line with budget and planning cycles, it won’t be long before all members of the Emory community start to see a positive impact on their own computing experiences.