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The PI Dashboard: Tracking Financials for Research

Cornell Information Technologies and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research

This article applies to: Case Studies, IT Reports and Presentations

The Need

The PI Dashboard was created by Cornell University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) with the goal of making it easy for principal investigators (PIs) to find all of the information they need to administer their research projects and financials in one place. The PI Dashboard is a responsive single page web app that leverages data from Cornell’s datamarts, thereby streamlining a lot of administrative work and making research projects much easier for faculty, researchers, and staff to manage.

The Challenge

The PI Dashboard uses a Cornell domain, while the applications used to build it are “in the cloud” using Amazon Web Services (AWS). However, the existing Cornell domain name system (DNS) was not adequate to support the new way of deploying applications in AWS. This presented a challenge in that the DNS service is tightly controlled to maintain the security and name reputation of the university according to university policy. Delegating control of the DNS name space to developers was initially rejected by Cornell IT Infrastructure and the IT Security Office as a security risk.

While maintaining security, this decision did not allow developers the needed functionality to move applications to the cloud. Using Cornell’s DNS servers for the PI Dashboard wasn’t fast enough because the system refreshes only once per hour, while Amazon’s servers refresh every couple of seconds.

The Solution

The solution, created in partnership between Cornell’s Cloudification team and IT Infrastructure team, was to extend the Cornell DNS service to a secure server at Amazon and create a trust so that specific applications can update their own DNS records quickly and securely. This allows the oversight needed for security and policy while allowing the new method of cloud development to be deployed. For the PI Dashboard, it enabled data refresh responses to be as fast as a few tens of milliseconds. This process is now documented and can be replicated in other areas.

The Client

Brett Haranin, Programmer/Analyst
Research Administration Information Services (RAIS)
Office of the Vice Provost for Research

The Collaborative Relationship

“This was a very successful collaboration and we're quite happy with the outcome.  We can now manage our infrastructure and deployments entirely in AWS.” – Brett Haranin

“We are very grateful for the efforts of our CIT colleagues and our OVPR IT staff in quickly and successfully tackling this problem. Their work exemplifies the innovative and risk-based problem solving that is absolutely necessary to provide Cornell researchers with tools to better support their administration of research awards so they can spend more time actually doing research.” – Cathy Long, Associate Vice President for Research Administration, and Bob Buhrman, Senior Vice Provost for Research 

About this Article

Last updated: 

Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 9:38pm

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