One of the issues that had plagued EvalS (an evaluation performance application/portlet) from the beginning was a performance issue. EvalS was the first jsr 286 that we wrote for the Luminis portal. During the first several releases we worked hard to improve the performance by reducing the # of queries and caching whenever possible. In the past, whenever a person would first load the portal page containing EvalS it would take about 5-6 seconds for it to finish loading the page.

This EvalS performance defect affected all users, only after their initial login. This type of performance was not something we were proud of, so over time we worked on improving the code base, and performance of the backend code. A few months ago, we dedicated some resources to finally fix the problem once and for all.

Our initial assumptions were that the EvalS specific code was slow due to it not being optimized for the number of employees and jobs at OSU. This assumption proved to be incorrect once our development environment included enough random data to match the amount of records in production. After a careful analysis of EvalS and the differences between production & development, a small piece of code external to EvalS, but which EvalS relied on was the identified as the culprit.

The problem:
When a person first accesses EvalS, the application needs to figure out the ONID username of the person. It was this piece of code causing the problem and slowing down the application for the person when they first logged into the application. We never expected this piece of code to be a problem, that’s why we didn’t look into it at first.

The Luminis portal doesn’t store the ONID’s username in the User_ table of the portal. Instead it uses a random # and stores it in the “screenName” column. This is the column where the ONID username would usually be stored. We use an sql query to translate between the random Luminis # assigned to each user and their ONID username. One of the joins this query was using didn’t contain the necessary indexes. This was making the query slow.

The solution:
The fix was rather simple once the culprit was identified. The owner of the external query created a new table that we queried instead. This table contained the necessary data along with needed indexes. EvalS now queries this table and the speed has improved drastically.

We should have challenged our assumptions when we were troubleshooting this performance issue, but we have learned some valuable lessons from our mistakes, which will be helpful in the future. In current and future projects, we now test & analyze the performance of the application early during the development stages. Our development environment now includes enough random data to match the amount of data in production and allow for growth.  Moving forward in this way allows us to demystify application behaviors.

 

vote button with text "primary election ballot opens at 10pm april 9th" and "general election ballot opens at 10pm april 21st"

It all started with a simple question, “Can CWS help us build a website that our student body can use to vote with in our April elections?”

The question, posed by ASOSU Organizing Coordinator, Drew Desilet, came to CWS in mid-February.  “When it came time to look at building or buying a new voting system for the student government elections, it was clear we had two options. We could choose to buy an outside product that came pre-made to someone else’s standards and needs, or we could work with our own CWS partners on campus to build us something to suit our needs.” he explains.

It should be clearly understood that the delivery of a complex, finished website or web application within a two-month timespan is a mighty tall order.  Additionally, there were a few tricky specifications that the site needed to meet, one of which includes the ability to limit the voting population to a specific segment of the OSU community, namely, Corvallis campus students.

Ultimately, the answer given to ASOSU was “Yes, we can.”

It did take a few extraordinary elements to get it up and running on such a short time-line, though:

  • Great customers who provided exceptionally clear specifications
  • A rockstar programmer who didn’t miss a step from the beginning to the end of the project
  • A diligent project manager who smoothly coordinated all those extra things that threaten to derail a web-development project
  • The OSU Drupal profile, combined with the Election module, a special contributed module that can be found at drupal.org

“We’re very pleased with the way this project played out.” states Jean Waters, CWS project manager.  “Using the Election module really helped us get this project up and out in such a short time.  In fact, there are still some really nice features that came with it that we haven’t even had a chance to fully examine yet.”

The Election module is based on a new Drupal 7 concept known as “Entity”.  This is still a fairly new concept to the Drupal team here at CWS, but team member Ricky Middaugh was up to the task. “It was a unique challenge, having to work on something in Drupal that I didn’t know a lot about.” comments Middaugh.  “But I’m really pleased that we were able to provide something useful to OSU.”

And the ASOSU provisioned gift just keeps on giving, explains Jos Accapadi, Associate Director of CWS. “Thanks to ASOSU’s willingness to experiment with us, the groundwork has been done, and now we’ll be able to quickly spin up sites for other political organizations here on campus.”

Desilet agrees. “We’re already working with CWS to make system improvements for future years – mobile capability, streamlined candidate entry, candidate profile pages, and a few other minor changes – the voting system has worked out very well for our needs in the ASOSU, and it’s our hope and plan to continue using it for years to come. It’s a system other groups on the OSU campus, or really even the entire Drupal user base, can use for a voting system in the future. It would be nice to see this used across the university for any type of voting, and make it as common to ONID users as BlackBoard is now, or Gmail is to come.”

The new voting site has already passed the Primary election test, during the week of April 9th – 12th.  “So far we’ve had 2,118 voters run through the system without any hiccups of which to speak. Modifications for us between our first Primary election and our General election were minor, and largely administrative based. Therefore the tool the students will use will look and feel the same as the first time they used it just weeks before, however it will work even better for us as election administrators.” says Desilet.

The site will be ready for use for the General election, starting Sunday, April 21st, at 10 p.m. and running through April 26th.  Voting will be open to Corvallis campus students.  To get there, just go to http://asosu.oregonstate.edu/elections and click the big vote button.

 

 

You just put the finishing touch on your Drupal site, all the images are just right, the calendar feed has your events displayed and every bit of content is informative and engaging. It sounds great, but here are some things you should know about live sites and some checks you should do for your site before deployment.

  • Links, images and navigation, these are the cornerstones of a good site. We have some ‘best practices’ items you should check before pushing your site live.
  • Menus – part of the navigation system your visitors depend on in order to find relevant content on your site.
  • Brand Identity Guidelines for OSU web content. Does your site measure up to University expectations, we’ll show you how to find out.
  • Do you have contact information? It can be very aggravating if a user doesn’t have a way to reach out to someone in order to have a question or concern addressed.
  • What do you need to do after your site goes live? Yes there are things you should check after your site is moved to production.

All of these items and others are covered in detail at http://oregonstate.edu/cws/training/book/drupal-deep-dive/osu-drupal-site-procedures/drupal-deployment-checklist.

 

CWS is happy to present Doug Fir, the latest theme in the OSU Drupal 6 distribution.

the web, table, and phone views of doug fir
Doug Fir – What Responsive Looks Like

Designed by WebComm and engineered by Central Web Services, Doug Fir has been developed similarly to OSU Standard in regards to configurable theme options, integration with Google Analytics, and layout regions, but it sports a fresh, clean look which is consistent with the default theme that will be supplied in our upcoming OSU Drupal 7 distribution.

Using Doug Fir provides us with two distinct advantages:

  • It allows OSU Drupal 6 sites to look like OSU Drupal 7 ones from the front end.  What this means is that you don’t have to panic if you’re not ready to roll into OSU Drupal7, instead you can just easily switch the theme out by following the Switching to Doug Fir instructions found in our CWS Training site. (We realize that sometimes these things can seem tricky.  If, after reading over the instructions, you still feel nervous about making the switch, just submit a Help Ticket to us and we’ll be happy to lend a hand.)
  • The bigger advantage to using Doug Fir lies in the fact that the theme is responsive.  What this means is that the display will automatically adjust, as needed, to fit the screens on your mobile devices.  It doesn’t matter if your device is a tablet or smartphone, the responsiveness of Doug Fir will give you a nicely formatted appearance.

Want to see for yourself how a responsive theme works?  It’s really easy to do.  Just go to a site with a responsive theme and resize the width of your browser window.  You’ll immediately see how the layout responds.  Take a look at a couple of early adopter sites who so graciously assisted us in the development of this theme: OSU Admissions and TAC (Technology Across the Curriculum).

So let’s talk Drupal 7, and some bits and bytes about Drupal in general.  Central Web Services maintains a central Drupal installation.  Like any piece of software, it has multiple versions.  Drupal 5, 6, 7, and 8 which is in development.  The CWS stable version is Drupal 6.  Drupal 5 is no longer supported.  Right now we are getting numerous requests for Drupal 7.

We want to let you all know that we are actively working to get Drupal 7 tested, documented, and functional for the needs of OSU.  Well, why can’t I just get it now, it’s just a download, you ask?  The answer is, while if you were hosting on your own ISP this would be the case, the OSU infrastructure is such that we have to ensure security, reliability as well as integrations with other solutions, such as authentication, themes and modules in use by OSU CWS Drupal sites.  We have a number of concurrent activities happening to make progress toward rolling this out for the University, including actively working on the theme necessary for Drupal 7 (yes we have to rewrite the theme to work for new Drupal versions).  This is in partnership with the rock-star team over in Web Communications.

Now more importantly, what we are trying to do with Drupal 7 is reduce our site footprint and number of individual sites.  Can you believe we have over 400 sites?  That becomes a maintenance and support headache.  With Drupal 7, there will be a new feature called Organic Groups.  This will allow us to have a smaller subset of sites, and areas and departments within the same site but still allow the finer grained control that some of you desire.  With Organic Groups, you will be able to take control of the portion of the site that is your relevant content, and have control so others cannot access that portion of the site as a Drupal administrator to modify something in error.  This is where we want to go and what makes sense for Oregon State University.

So when will this be done?  With Organic Groups, we are in the pilot stage with Information Services, and then we are going to ensure we have it done right by piloting the College of Liberal Arts.  Doing this we will ensure we understand the technology well enough to teach, document, and support it going forward so people are not left out on their own to figure things out.

Individual main colleges in working with Web Communications can look at Drupal 7 with the Doug Fir Theme (the theme that we have available for Drupal 7), and then incorporate changes for Organic Groups as we roll that out.  Science and Liberal Arts main college sites are already in Drupal 7.

Departments however, we will not be rolling out with Drupal 7 at this time, as they are to be incorporated into Organic Groups, working with your colleges, once we roll out Organic Groups.

For those sites that are in Drupal 6 and want to look like the main college sites that are using Drupal 7 Doug Fir, we are working on a version of Doug Fir for Drupal 6.

What is Doug Fir?  So besides being an evergreen confier species, Doug Fir is an OSU responsive Drupal theme.  This means that the site resizes depending on the device that you are on.  Liberal Arts is a good site to see using this theme.

For us it is imperative that we do this right and do not add to the overhead and support it would take to enable OSU.  This is why you might hear us say that we are not providing Drupal 7 to individual sites at this time.

Our rough timeline as of now is:

  • Spring and Summer to test and roll out Organic Groups.
  • Winter:  Migrate Drupal 6 sites to Drupal 7
  • 2014 Drupal 6 moves to maintenance fixes only
  • 2015 End of Life (EOL) Drupal 6

With all of this we are re-architecting the infrastructure, and then we will have Drupal 8 on the Horizon.

We hope this information helps you to be aware of the progress we are making.

On Monday, February 18th, if you hadn’t seen information about or attended the training sessions, Central Web Services and Media Services released a new version of Kaltura’s MediaSpace.  This is version 4 of MediaSpace.

The new version of MediaSpace, OSU’s open source and cloud-based media solution, integrates many requested features and some important new functionality, including privacy / access control, captioning, HTML5 support, and improved layout.

One of the best ways to understand the new features is to watch the video in MediaSpace about the new version.

Every department hopes for collaboration and cooperation among all of its members. Here at Central Web Services we are working towards making that a reality. In September, our office had a face lift. Out went the dull grey cubicles and in came new wooden desks and an open work space. The removal of the cubicle walls created an open and inviting workspace. Here are some pros and cons we’ve noticed since the redesign:

 

Pros

  • More space in the office
  • Easier to talk to one another
  • Collaboration among different areas within the department is easier
  • The office appears brighter and more inviting
  • Seeing who’s in the office at a glance

 

Cons

  • Nosier at times
  • No cubicle walls to hang things on
  • Spontaneous drop-ins by visitors can cause more disruption then previously

 

Although there was some hesitation on taking down the cubicles, we all agree that the change in the work environment has helped strengthen the team dynamic.

OSU Responsive ThemeWe have rolled out a new blog theme which is named OSU Responsive.  Why Responsive?

Responsive really means responsive web design.  The goal behind responsive web design is to have the design of a given web page be adjusted dependent on the size of the screen.  So on a phone, the look and feel changes to be more of a mobile experience where reading a full web page doesn’t necessarily make sense.

The theme is a two column theme, with only a main sidebar, and the bottom contact area as available areas to put widgets in.  Remember, not all widgets will look good in different areas so you will have to see what works and doesn’t.

Who can use OSU Responsive?  Responsive is available for everyone, however, there are some things to note.  The use of the OSU logo or tag is restricted to certain use.  The theme will display the tag or not based on the Organization Type as specified by the table below.

Organization Type Can Use Branded Theme?
Student No
Staff No
Faculty Yes
Department Yes
Sponsored Student Organization (SSO) Yes
Voluntary Student Organization (VSO) No
Non-Affiliated Student Organization (NSO) No

Student Organizations are governed by the policies of Student Leadership and Involvement.  If you are a student group and do not know which type of organization you are, please visit the Student Leadership and Involvement site.

What do you need to do to use it?

1.  If you are switching over from an existing theme, and you switch it immediately, it might seem that your site is broken in layout.  It isn’t.  It is simply that the widgets need to be removed and put back into the areas available for it.  So we recommend first removing all the widgets in use from the sidebars.

2.  Go to Appearance -> Themes in your WordPress dashboard, and select the OSU Responsive theme.

3.  Put your widgets back into the sidebar.

4.  Deactivate the Sociable Skyscraper plugin if you are using it.  Use of this inserts a thin horizontal line and makes the theme look broken.  Go to Skyscraper Options in the Select Sociable Plugin expanded menu to deactivate.

Skyscraper Option in Menu Settings

And that’s it.  Good blogging to you all.

Accessibility and Brand Guidelines

As part of the OSU Responsive use, the use of a different background image or color must adhere to OSU’s policies regarding Accessibility and Brand.  Any failure to do so may cause your blog to be disabled.  The net takeaway here is don’t change it if you don’t understand the policies, which is why we at Central Web Services, take care of these things for you in creating the default theme.  However, do remember within your articles, accessibility policies still apply if this is used in any official capacity for students, staff, or faculty or OSU.

Connect IconWith the beginning of a new school year just around the corner, something big has been brewing. Connect Week is all about connecting new students to Oregon State through events that introduce them to the different resources available on campus. Since the events are not restricted to just new students, they have the opportunity to connect with returning students who have already been through the ropes and can give them some tips. To help with the transition, this year there is a Connect app! The app helps you:

 

 

  • Keep track of the new student events
  • Get up-to-date info through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook
  • Information about the assortment of food options  open on campus at the time
  • Connect week FAQs
  • Connect week and new student news

 

What did the lead student developer, Nicole Phelps, have to say on the release of her first official app? “The OSU Connect app is a great way for students to get involved at OSU’s Connect week. Its theme is ‘Connect the Dots’, so I see it as an allegory for how each new student comes to the school with a blank slate, ready to connect their own dots.” You’ve connected the dots your whole life; from connecting the dots to discover the picture on the page to connecting the dots between classes to earn your diploma. Now you can use the app to help you stay connected at OSU while you earn your degree. It’s a connection to important up-to-date information on what’s going on and where to be right on your phone. This app provides a searchable campus map for the term (or multiple terms if you have luck like mine) that you have a class in a building like Wiegand Hall and you have no idea where it may be. Its list of the open food establishments on campus keep you informed and on time for meals. I wish I would have had an app like this during my first year on campus to save me from learning the dining center hours the hard way and showing up too late for a meal. Save yourself from the disappointment of missing new student events, and meals, and check out the app for Android and iOS!

 

Case Award Silver Team

No oops, but we did it again.  Add another award winning design and implementation for the category of Overall Website in the CASE VIII 2012 Communication Awards.  Oregon State University proudly brought home the Silver for the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences Website.  If you don’t know by now the work of Web Communications and Central Web Services, you should.  For the Central Web Services team of Sher Fenn, Paul Lieberman and Mauricio Cordoba, congratulations!  Congratulations to Web Communications and CPHHS team members.  It was a truly a team effort and another win-win-win for OSU in its collaborative efforts.  This could not have happened by any of us individually and reflects what comes from working together.