Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

IT Infrastructure & Systems at F&M

 For many years Franklin & Marshall College has used Jenzabar-PX software with VMS operating systems to provide its core administrative systems (core fiscal components and student records). Custom web-interfaces to the data were built to display this information on our secure intranet called MyDiplomat, so that, with proper authentication, a member of the F&M Community could look up their budget, their advisees records, find available courses and register, issue and track purchase orders, issue an early academic alert to a student’s advisor, submit grades, look up grades, file a judicial report, track your degree audit, and many other administrative tasks one would associate with a commercial portal product. While capabilities of MyDiplomat have been added along the way, much of this functionality has been in place since the mid-1990s.

In recent years several administrative offices have adopted “best of breed” administrative packages to complete their work. Examples of this are BSR Advance (now SunGard) in the Advancement Office, Recruitment Plus in Admission and PowerFAIDS in Financial Aid. In these instances the proper data bridges have been established in and out of the Jenzabar system so as to improve business processes, but this is a manual ad-hoc process. Systems are stable but not seamlessly integrated as they would be within a single ERP system (e.g. Banner).

In 2011 the decision was made to replace the Jenzabar ERP system.  Details about the implementation of the new Banner system can be found be visiting the Project BOOST web site.

Franklin & Marshall has recommended incoming first year students bring a Macintosh computer to campus for over two decades. As a result, 80% of our student machines are Macs running OS-X as well as almost 90% of our faculty and professional staff. Our network is fully compatible with Windows machines and, due to requirements from their administrative systems, several departments use PCs in a centrally managed configuration. Supporting a single platform for all those years allowed Franklin & Marshall to provide effective user services and establish campus-wide solutions for authenticated file and web services (eDisk establishes file and web space on central servers for every member of the F&M community based on their role – e.g. course, office and individual folders), but put our Windows PC users at a disadvantage. F&M has used BlackBoard as its Learning Management System since 1999.

In 2005 the Presidential Commission on Information Technology and Resources (PCITR) Report recognized the network was vulnerable, the infrastructure was old and weak and windows users were disadvantaged. Much has been accomplished to change this as part of an IT Re-Investment Plan; details are found in the July 2007 Progress Report included in the materials sent to the Review Team. Significant improvements to the Network and Systems Infrastructure include:

Network Infrastructure: Fiber Optic enhancements to provide redundancy, extra capacity for video and a complete replacement of “core” and “edge” network electronics with “next generation” Foundry equipment to control data traffic and enhanced wireless connectivity. Original network was started in 1985 with fiber optic between buildings and “apple-talk” via copper within buildings and evolved to an IP-based “first generation” Foundry “core” equipment with Cisco “edge” equipment in 1999.

One of the projects for 2013 is to plan for the Network Core Redesign and Rebuild that will be necessary to replace the equipment installed in 2007 and 2008.

Central Server Robustness and Off-Site Redundancy: Since 2007 we have migrated away from single purpose servers and a heavy reliance on Apple X-Serves to establish both an enterprise-level Storage Area Network (SAN) and a set of Virtual Machine (VM) Servers to provide a more reliable, redundant and agile set of central systems to support the work of the College. The server backup system is NetVault, the SAN is Compellent and the VM is VMware running on IBM servers running Linux. We have also recently upgraded the VMS Alpha cluster to Itanium with a new HP-SAN. The second key component of this infrastructure is an off-site data center hosted by Distributed Systems Services (DSS) in Reading, PA. The off-site data center has duplicate SAN and VM equipment that is connected to the campus data center in a “trickle” back-up mode for redundancy and capable of ramping up as replacement service in the event of an extended outage on campus (disaster recovery).