Fall 2008 [Number 242] Printable version (752KB PDF) Download Adobe Reader Please note that this issue of Interface is an archived issue. Therefore, the information contained in each article may no longer be current.
Happy 10th Anniversary, CIT!
Ten years ago, computer and information technology (IT) at NIH was scattered across campus, divided among the Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT), the Office of Information Resource Management (OIRM), and the Telecommunications Branch/Office of Research Services (ORS). In 1998, NIH leadership combined all NIH IT and related functions residing with DCRT, OIRM, and ORS to create the Center for Information Technology (CIT) to ensure unified policies, standards, and strategies. To lead this organization, Alan S. Graeff was appointed to serve both as the director of CIT and as the first NIH Chief Information Officer (CIO).
CIT’s original mission to provide, coordinate, and manage information technology, and to advance computational science, has involved adapting to shifting paradigms brought by the rapid pace of technological change. To meet the many challenges posed by competitive sourcing studies, budget cuts, administration changes, and other hurdles, CIT has been proactive in its quest for technical excellence, and its desire to be a vital partner in the NIH mission through information and information technology.
Responding to NIH’s business needs
CIT played a key role in developing solutions to fit NIH’s business needs from the very beginning. In 1999, the Fellowship Payment System was created to provide a mechanism to record pay stipends and insurance premiums for NIH fellows.
Along with the development of numerous web pages, conference registration systems, and IC-specific databases, CIT has been responsible for other business systems used by staff at all levels through the NIH. The Integrated Time and Attendance System (ITAS), NIH Enterprise Common Services (NECS), including NIH Login and NIH Portal, the Contractor Performance System (CPS), and the Human Resources Data Base (HRDB) are just a few. In response to renewed attention to the NIH ethics program, CIT created the NIH Enterprise Ethics System (NEES) to automate the method to request, review, track, and report on all ethics-related activities.
CIT took a leadership role in 2002 to forge NIH's strategy for common services. This included hosting the improved and expanded NIH Portal, which allows for a single, user-friendly customizable web interface by which data and documents can be readily accessed by NIH staff and other users.
In 2003, CIT modernized the legacy NIH Data Warehouse and provided comprehensive reporting solutions by creating the nVision reporting tool. In April 2007, the NIH Data Town interface was retired and a new nVision interface was implemented to create a single, central website—the nVision Data Warehouse Portal—to address all business reporting needs.
CIT helped to increase collaboration significantly within NIH, as well as beyond the campus, by implementing the external Active Directory "Forest" in 2005, which allowed over 75 projects throughout NIH to have external staff included in internal communication mechanisms. In 2007, CIT joined the Federated Login to ensure that the NIH community could easily and readily integrate with outside customers, at their convenience. This enhances communication between NIH ICs and external institutions while minimizing costly account creation and maintenance.
At the same time, new programs such as the Relationship Managers and the Continuity Assurance Program were created to better meet and exceed customer expectations.
Saving time and working more efficiently
CIT’s Remote Access and BlackBerry services have played a critical role in improving productivity, accessibility, and responsiveness for NIH workers away from the office. These technologies have also helped to facilitate NIH’s implementation of federal Telework initiatives. In 1999, the first BlackBerry was connected to the NIH network, and today CIT supports over 6,400 devices.
To strengthen information security efforts and help NIH users remember their network passwords, CIT implemented iForgotMyPassword in 2006. In just under two years over 6,400 users have signed up for the service. Most recently, CIT initiated an internal Instant Messaging service, utilizing Office Communications Server (OCS) and Jabber, in 2008.
The CIT Videocast service, established in 1997, has now been successfully used for most large meetings held across the NIH. It not only makes it possible for NIH staff to share their meetings with outside communities, it also allows people unable to attend events to participate in real time and to view programs at a later time, with over 4,100 archived events available to users. As the CIT Videocast service evolved, it provided enhanced services including video bridging, IP bridging, and web conferencing. CIT recently launched a Podcast service, which already hosts 484 archived events (see also Podcasting at NIH in this issue).
CIT’s efforts towards desktop security have been a priority throughout the years. In 2001, the NIH Incident Response Team was the first civilian federal agency to receive the prestigious Office of Personnel Management Guardian Award for exceptional contributions in ensuring the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of NIH information resources. Prior to 2005, CIT handled and successfully contained 19 major virus outbreaks; since 2006, NIH has had no major outbreaks. CIT has been vigilant in pursuing best practices in desktop security and sharing its knowledge with the rest of the NIH through its Antivirus website (http://antivirus.nih.gov) and by holding workgroups and meetings on the topic.
The CIO’s role
For the last 10 years, the CIT Director has also held the role as NIH’s Chief Information Officer. One of the first committees created to support the CIO was the NIH Information Technology Management Committee (ITMC) in 1999. This committee was formed to develop and communicate recommendations and decisions at the NIH Institute and Center level, provide a forum for building consensus across NIH, and serve as an umbrella organization to the NIH IT process management and technical committees. Since its inception, ITMC has held regular meetings to share information and opinions on IT matters that affect all of NIH.
NIH leadership decided this year to separate the roles of the CIT Director and the NIH CIO. The NIH Director appointed Dr. Jack Jones as the NIH CIO; Dr. Jones continues to serve as the Acting Director, CIT. In supporting the NIH CIO’s focus on improving information and information technology for the entire NIH, CIT provides operational resources to assist in carrying out the CIO’s strategies and vision.
Since 2002, one of the key efforts of the CIO’s office has been in the area of Enterprise Architecture. Serving at that time as the Chief IT Architect, Dr. Jones assembled domain teams from across NIH to examine the technology and standards needs of areas that were about to undergo significant consolidation, such as email systems and wireless networks. Currently, these domain teams continue working to select the right "bricks and patterns," the building blocks of IT architecture, that can be used across all of NIH.
Ensuring a secure, solid infrastructure for NIH’s data and communication needs
From its inception, CIT’s Data Center has been well known across NIH and government agencies. It has undergone many transitions and upgrades over the years to improve the security of NIH’s IT data, expand upon its services, and cater to the needs of customers. The most recent physical upgrades included installing high-end UPS systems, a leak detection system, and Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA), and replacing nine air conditioning (CRAC) units to ensure a constant temperature. Data Center service offerings have also expanded by offering co-location services in Sterling, Virginia for backup, redundancy, and Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning, and a customer service area within the Data Center to allow customers to manage their own systems within the secure site.
Within the Data Center, hosting services have become more efficient with wider offerings and choices for the customers’ needs. Two very dissimilar OS/390 mainframe systems were merged into the z/OS Titan system, creating a robust central service. Oracle hosting was initially offered in 1999, with SQL hosting joining in 2005. Today, over 190 databases are supported on these platforms. CIT also hosts over 165 specific customer projects, including the Enterprise Systems of eRA, NBS, NED, PMS, EHRP, nVision, UFMS, NIH Login, ITAS, and HCAS.
A central Active Directory was initiated in 2000, which now supports 49,000 customers. With email consolidation in 2003, the Data Center now hosts 22 servers (consolidated from 235 throughout the ICs) and supports over 40,000 mailboxes.
CIT provides the NIH backbone network and the main Internet connections for NIH, maintained by a 24x7 Network Operations Center. Over the past 10 years, the network has been redesigned to handle the continual growth and ever-expanding IT data needs of NIH. CIT has offered remote access services, beginning with the Parachute dial-up service and transitioning to the current two-factor authentication VPN service, for increased speed, security, and data protection. CIT has also increased security to the firewall, eliminating the possibilities of outside intrusion and protecting the data communications of NIH users.
CIT was able to document the cabling topography for the entire outside of the NIH campus backbone. More recently, CIT implemented the Integrated Graphical Database, which shows cabling plans superimposed onto floor plans to assist in moves, renovations, and construction.
Over the years, CIT has been responsible for the installation and management of the telecommunications, cabling, and network infrastructure for the Clinical Research Center, Building 50, bio-terrorism research in Building 33, the NIH Fire Station, the Children’s Inn, and the NIH Campus Perimeter Fence, as well as for providing special services for the Global Health Security Initiative Conference, the Year 2000 Command Center, and during emergencies such as September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. CIT continues to stay vigilant and on call anytime our services are needed.
While one focus of CIT has been on the business needs of NIH, CIT has also concentrated on the computational needs of the scientists and researchers. The knowledge and skills of the computer scientists, engineers, and researchers at CIT have come together over the years in collaboration with NIH bench scientists to provide critical, cutting-edge systems and instruments for advancing science.
CIT was instrumental in building many scientific and research systems over the last 10 years, such as the laser capture microdissection system, microfluidic DNA separation system, quantitative lifetime fluorescence imaging system, and portable dual gamma camera small animal imaging system. Along with developing these research systems, the computer scientists at CIT have been responsible for a number of U.S. patents, bringing about innovation and change in a constantly evolving environment.
CIT substantially supports local collaborations within NIH while also developing systems to achieve long-distance medical and scientific work between NIH and other institutions. In 1999, CIT completed work on the predecessor to the TELESYNERGY(TM) Medical Consultation WorkStation, which provides an electronic imaging environment that transmits simultaneous high-resolution images to all sites participating in a medical consultation. CIT joined forces with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2000 to pioneer a TELESYNERGY partnership to reach out to distant community hospitals. Collaborating sites with TELESYNERGY Systems either installed or under construction include hospitals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Wheeling, West Virginia; Amman, Jordan; Belfast, Northern Ireland; the United Kingdom; and Dublin, the Republic of Ireland. Through efforts such as these, CIT extends its support of advancements in science to a global level.
Another way CIT shares its research is through publications, downloadable applications, and software. Key publications of the last 10 years include the structure of papillomavirus antibodies (which describes how Gardasil works to prevent cervical cancer), and the structure of Kaposi's Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV). CIT also established the mAdb (microArray Database) in a partnership with NCI and created a way to upload Array data via web-based interface.
CIT scientists receive world-wide recognition through the number of citations and downloads of their work, such as the Medical Image Processing Analysis and Visualization (MIPAV) application, which is downloaded by hundreds of NIH researchers and thousands of researchers from around the world, and the first Xplor-NIH paper, which was published by CIT in collaboration with NHLBI and NIDDK, and as of today has been cited 365 times while the accompanying software has been downloaded by over 2700 groups worldwide. In addition, the predicted protein structures submitted by Dr. Zhexin (Jason) Xiang of CIT were ranked among those of the top eight research groups (out of more than 140 world-wide that participated in the comparative modeling category) in the blind structure-prediction challenge known as CASP6 (Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction). Most recently, CIT founded the statistical analysis core as a component of NHLBI Microarray Laboratory, with responsibility for primary analysis of up to 7,000 Framingham Heart Study samples.
To support the research of other ICs at NIH, CIT created the NIH Intramural Database (NIDB) which collects, stores, and reports data from the NIH Intramural Research Program. The NIDB integrates with the Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) project, making it an integral part of NIH’s scientific reporting.
Through collaborations, publications, software, applications, and experiments, CIT has been both a pioneer and a partner in scientific research at NIH and throughout the world. As we move forward into the next decade, CIT will continue to focus on communication and knowledge sharing, meeting the business needs of the NIH community, and creating a growing and thriving IT culture in support of science.
CIT by the numbers
|Published by Center for Information Technology, National Institutes of Health|
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