Thursday, September 21, 2023

How UTSA built one of the nation’s most innovative technology hubs

How UTSA built one of the nation’s most innovative technology hubs

To ensure the security of data servers at the new San Pedro I facility, UTSA developed a sophisticated and proprietary security system.

JANUARY 18, 2022 — The quickly evolving nature of the high-tech industry creates unprecedented challenges for planning teams tasked with developing a new facility project. Innovation takes shape before anyone even steps foot on a vacant property.

So how do experts build a state-of-the-art facility that meets strict security federal requirements while allowing for open collaboration to take place between students, faculty, researchers and partners? It’s a process that The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and its partners have been navigating for several years now in preparation for San Pedro I, the newest facility at its downtown campus.

Long before this month’s grand opening of San Pedro I, UTSA has been breaking barriers. It is the largest university in San Antonio and is one of just 21 Tier One research institutions across the nation to be recognized by the federal government as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). It is home to the nation’s top program in cybersecurity, and it’s the only HSI in the nation with three National Center of Academic Excellence designations from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, the university’s National Security Collaboration Center with its embedded ecosystem of government, industry and academic partners is unsurpassed in its ability to develop and activate innovative solutions supporting U.S. national security priorities.

“We have created a space where UTSA students and professors have regular interaction with senior leaders from a national laboratory or publicly traded tech company just as easily as they could order a cup of coffee from a local café.”

When UTSA leaders set out to construct a facility that would house their School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, they needed to create an environment that included layered physical and network security while embracing open collaboration among students, faculty, researchers and NSCC partners.

“We have created a space where UTSA students and professors have regular interaction with senior leaders from a national laboratory or publicly traded tech company just as easily as they could order a cup of coffee from a local café,” said Guy Walsh, founding executive director of the NSCC.

Nassos Galiopoulos, UTSA chief technology officer and deputy CIO, added, “We didn’t want silos. We wanted to merge these partners together for joint projects, but we had to address this from a technology perspective so as to not compromise security.”

To ensure the most robust and resilient infrastructure possible, UTSA University Technology Solutions focused on three main areas: mature cybersecurity practices (NIST-800-53), strengthened security posture/Zero Trust (NIST-800-207) and micro segmentation or the ability to segment and encrypt traffic on the network (NIST-800-171).

Supporting the work of graduate students and other researchers in the new building, San Pedro I is home to a Tier 3 Data Center with a 64-rack and a two-megawatt generator that can promote life safety during potential weather disruptions. To ensure the security of the data center, UTSA developed a sophisticated and proprietary security system. The university’s team derived inspiration from the airport industry for the architectural design of the data center and created multiple security zones, a deviation from the typical cage model. Each zone meets different controlled access standards and has enhanced audit capabilities.

Zero Trust framework standards assume that networks do not have a traditional edge and can exist anywhere—locally, in the cloud or elsewhere—both physically and otherwise. They uniquely address the modern challenges of today’s business, including securing remote workers, hybrid cloud environments and ransomware threats. Built to Zero Trust standards, UTSA’s unique infrastructure requires every user to be authenticated, authorized and continuously validated to gain access to applications and data.

Dozens of research areas are located in San Pedro I including the MATRIX: AI Consortium for Human Well-being, the Open Cloud Institute and laboratories specializing in bioinformatics, cyber-informed engineering, machine engineering, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, smart transportation and related areas.

To protect the university’s most important asset, its network and the data stored within it, UTSA University Technology Solutions invested in micro segmentation technology as part of its Zero Trust build. This technology divides the data center in San Pedro I into smaller segments, down to the individual workload level, where security controls and services can be personalized to the user. This enables the university to segment traffic on the network and encrypt it in ways only specific devices can see.

Additionally, micro-segmentation allows the team to have specific security policies apply to each layer of the stack based on function, without installing multiple physical firewalls, while maintaining the integrity of the system in customized ways for each zone. This approach significantly bolsters a company’s resistance to attack.

“Watching the team design a zero-trust network while addressing all the federal and state requirements has been nothing short of inspiring. It truly speaks to innovation and collaboration on many levels,” said Kendra Ketchum, vice president for information management and technology. “The most anticipated outcome is reducing the time to science for our researchers and partners.”

To monitor online traffic and malicious activity, the first floor of San Pedro I includes a cybersecurity operations center with an attached war room. This area allows 15 agents to collaborate on threat intelligence activities and act accordingly. Special technologies enable UTSA to quickly highlight questionable activities—attempts to talk to sites that host malicious content—and respond accordingly.

The space will enable hands-on learning opportunities where UTSA students can experience, in a practical setting, how artificial intelligence and machine learning can be combined to advance cybersecurity practices.

Explore UTSA’s School of Data Science and learn more about its National Security Collaboration Center.

On a weekly basis, the San Pedro I cybersecurity operations team thwarts about 100,000 instances of malware, blocks a million malicious domains and actively responds to a handful attempts from unauthorized actors.

The building has been designed and constructed with LEED principles in mind. LEED, the most widely used green building certification program in the world, sets standards for buildings that will save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions and create healthier spaces.

Ari Castañeda and Katia Diamante

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

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UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

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The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.