Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services is coordinating batch migrations of about 50,000 member accounts to the Express E-mail and NetFiles systems, which are replacing the student/staff cluster systems that have been in use since 1994. Many students and staff members have voluntarily migrated their accounts during the past few months. "That's an amazingly positive sign to me because almost everybody normally takes the path of least resistance," said Allan Tuchman, a principal research programmer at CITES.
Photo by Bill Wiegand
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The age of 10 might seem preternaturally young for retirement, but in the rapidly evolving world of computer technology a 10-year-old system can seem archaic alongside the current generation.
During the next few months, Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services is culminating the retirement of the student and staff clusters, a system of computers that supports e-mail, file storage and Web publishing for many campus units. The cluster system, which went into service in 1994, has become increasingly time consuming and cost prohibitive to maintain and is being replaced by state-of-the-art technology, said Randy Cetin, director of CITES’ Systems Technology and Services Division.
“A good part of the service we’re providing with the cluster is somewhat antiquated in the sense that there are more modern services that people are accustomed to, particularly our incoming students. They have expectations that there will be a good Web interface that will allow them to manage their e-mail accounts, and those types of features don’t exist or are not integrated with the old cluster,” Cetin said.
On the new system, e-mail service is provided by CITES Express E-mail while general-purpose file storage and Web publishing are supported by CITES NetFiles on a separate server. Users must establish accounts on each server to utilize both components.
Both Express E-mail and NetFiles offer Web interfaces, and their structure and operation should be relatively intuitive for most users, even those who are not particularly computer savvy, said Allan Tuchman, a principal research programmer at CITES.
For example, the Web interface in Express allows users to configure message forwarding and vacation auto-replies more easily than the cluster system, which required users to enter arcane Unix commands.
“On our old cluster, we had file storage, e-mail, Unix accounts and were actually running many services on one system, and any disruption to one service could affect the others. We should have better reliability with Express E-mail,” Tuchman said.
E-mail security also will be enhanced because Express requires secure socket layers, also known as encrypted connections, of all browsers and e-mail clients that access it. Express users will be able to access their e-mail accounts from any computer with a secure Internet connection and a Web browser, and users of current versions of e-mail clients such as Eudora and Outlook Express that support secure connections can continue to access their e-mail through those programs, although they will need to reconfigure some of the settings. Unix users who read their e-mail through PC Pine and mutt will be able to use those clients on Windows systems and Unix/Linux machines respectively that are compiled with both SSL and IMAP protocols.
However, travelers to several foreign countries where SSL technology is not allowed or where use is restricted may have difficulty or be unable to access their Express E-mail accounts from those locations, which include Cuba, Russia, China and several countries in the Middle East.
While nearly all Web browsers and e-mail clients can interface with Express, CITES reports compatibility problems with several programs, such as Netscape 4, Netscape 7.0 and Mozilla 1.0 as well as Mac OS 10.0-10.3 when used in conjunction with Eudora, Apple E-Mail and other IMAP e-mail clients. Users may have to update older browsers and e-mail clients to current versions to obtain service.
On the Express server, faculty and staff members are allotted 50 megabytes of space and students 15 MB for their e-mail and attachments, the same quota as on the cluster for staff and 5 MB more for students; however, the Express quota comprises only e-mail service exclusive of Web publishing and file storage space, giving staff as well as students more space for e-mail services. A Quota Manager in Express monitors users’ accounts and e-mails alerts when their accounts near capacity. Recipients must promptly bring their accounts back under quota or risk the system’s temporarily suspending their incoming e-mail delivery until they do so. Express enables users to easily monitor their account capacities with the “check quota” mechanism on the Web interface.
Express also imposes a 10 MB limit on e-mail attachments; thus, users are encouraged to advise their e-mail contacts to use file compression software and coordinate file sharing with them by means of NetFiles or other file servers. In the future, users or units who need additional space for their e-mail accounts will be able to purchase it.
In addition to providing a secure space for file storage and backup, NetFiles enables users to work collaboratively with others and share files, granting permission for appropriate people to access the data without making it publicly available. Faculty members, for example, can establish drop-boxes for students to submit homework assignments.
In addition, NetFiles offers one-step Web publishing capabilities, including a cluster files migration tool for users to move non-e-mail files such as their personal Web pages to the NetFiles server.
CITES offers an Express E-mail Conversion Tool, which will transfer cluster e-mail folders and files, configurations and e-mail preferences such as forwarding, signature, filters and address books to the Express server, a process that may take from a few minutes up to several hours, depending on the amount of data and the number of account conversions that are occurring simultaneously.
After using the conversion tool, it will take at least an hour for the changes to be propagated through the systems, establishing the Express E-mail account, copying e-mail files from the cluster and then removing them from the cluster. An application also is provided for users to permanently delete their cluster accounts if they are certain they will no longer need them.
Users are responsible for moving any non-e-mail documents, files or Web pages from their cluster accounts to the new system before June 30, after which time the files will no longer be accessible.
Before switching, users should purge old or unwanted e-mail messages and duplicate file folders from their e-mail accounts. They should also examine configuration-related files such as forwarding and signatures for example, .forward and .signature, respectively, to decide if they want to carry those over into the new system.
If Webmail users make changes to their address books or signature files, they are advised to wait at least 12 hours before making the conversion or the changes will not be transferred to Express.
Users also should be aware that the conversion to Express is a one-way trip, and CITES cannot restore them to the student/staff cluster once they have switched to the new system.
Urbana students who entered the university in fall 2002 or later have been using Express since they came to campus. Another 7,000 students have voluntarily converted their cluster accounts to Express since CITES announced the opportunity last fall, Tuchman said.
Some faculty and staff members also have made the switch voluntarily; however, many departmental computer support people are coordinating batch migrations of their units’ accounts and users still on the clusters are advised to consult their computer support people before switching.
CITES began transferring retirees’ accounts to Express in February, and during March and April will move most of the remaining student accounts, except those that appear to belong to seniors nearing graduation. During the first week of June, CITES will begin converting any accounts that remain on the staff cluster.
In total, the switch to the new system involves about 50,000 cluster accounts. It is a huge undertaking that requires the assistance of departmental computer support professionals who are very busy with their usual responsibilities, Cetin said.
While Express and NetFiles have many advantages to offer, Cetin said that CITES is aware that some users may embrace the new service more readily and find the conversion easier because they are more adept with computers or more accustomed to changes in technology based services.
“Regardless of the benefits, we understand that this is a significant change,” Cetin said. “People become accustomed to doing things a certain way and making any changes can be difficult or disruptive. As part of the migration, we are sending people lots of information and providing opportunities to migrate to the new service at a time that is most convenient to the end user. We have ramped up support at our Help Desk and encourage people to contact us by phone, e-mail or in person if they have questions.”
You’ve got [junk] mail!
Got mail? Lots and lots of e-mail ostensibly from “management” or “UIUC administration”?
The problem is these messages – commonly referred to as “spam” – probably are not legitimate and may actually carry computer viruses such as MyDoom, Netsky or Bagle, which have been infiltrating e-mail inboxes on campus.
Between Jan. 18 and Feb. 3, CITES filtered more than 2.3 million viruses on the Express E-mail and student/staff cluster systems. While that figure is typical, according to Mike Corn, CITES director of security and information services, it represents only the top five viruses that CITES filtered for during that period.
Most viruses are relatively harmless – simply mining inboxes and sending out replicants of themselves to other addresses – and Corn said he has received no reports of malicious activity such as confidential data being stolen.
However, users are encouraged to update their anti-virus software at least twice a day since the antivirus software vendors may issue software updates for the newest variants twice a day.
Perhaps the best defense, though, is to look skeptically at every piece of incoming e-mail, particularly those with attachments. If you unexpectedly receive an e-mail with an attached file, even if the sender appears to be legitimate, you should verify with the purported sender that they did in fact initiate the message.
“A high percentage of the mail that’s going out these days is spam,” Corn said. “There’s a good chance that that amusing little note you got from your sister is in fact not from your sister, and you really don’t want to run that attachment.”
Since the viruses are usually not activated until the attachment is opened, you should be pretty safe if you just delete the e-mail and attachment unopened.
Users also should get out of the habit of sending attachments, Corn said.
In addition, users should set the filters in their e-mail programs to screen incoming messages so that those from certain addresses, like co-workers, go directly into the inbox while others are isolated in another folder. Users can then review the contents of the second folder once a day, pick out the few legitimate messages and bypass the junk.
During the next few months, CITES security will be investigating centralized anti-spam programs and hope to announce soon what process has been selected and the timeline for its implementation.
Users can download current versions of antivirus software for Macintosh systems and Windows machines from www.cites.uiuc.edu/security/. If you discover that your computer has been infected, you should contact your system administrator or the CITES Help Desk for assistance.
CITES Help Desk
1420 Digital Computer Lab
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244-7000 or 800-531-2531
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Monday through Thursday;
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Information about CITES Express E-mail and NetFiles, including how to make the conversion, configuring CITES-supported desktop
e-mail programs and compatibility