IT Connect
Information technology tools and resources at the UW

20150309: Nebula Newsletter March 2015

Welcome to our first semi-annual Nebula service newsletter, which brings you valuable updates and information to help you make the most of our services. Because this is our initial newsletter, we are sending it to all Nebula users. We hope you’ll opt into receiving future issues by signing up for the nebula-announce mailing list, a low-volume mailing list we use to send customers notices about service interruptions and notable design changes, in addition to this newsletter. Go to for info on how to join that list.


==== New Capabilities and Improvements ====


* Nebula-discuss: A new two-way communication channel was created to encourage discussion of Nebula services: You can send email to it and so can the service team. The primary goal is to enable interaction about the service so that we can hear from you, and you can hear from each other. This will surface business needs, may expose recurring problems we have missed, and provides a way to ask questions about the service. This isn’t intended as a way to make requests.


To join the nebula-discuss mailing list, please see


* Auto-email-responses: In January, we eliminated a confusing email response that said, “Your request has been resolved and will automatically close in 3 business days” when your request for help led to a consulting engagement.


* Billing changes: We changed our process for billing charges for Nebula desktops to simplify it and to make it more accurate. Nebula desktops moved from the recurring portion of your bill to the non-recurring portion of your January and February bill, as an unfortunate side-effect, but we expect to move Nebula desktops back to the recurring portion of your bill in the near future–likely the bill covering March.


* Customer Portal: We updated the MyNebula customer portal to be the MyIT customer portal. This portal provides reports and information about the computers and IT services you use, and provides departmental contacts more information about their department’s use. Several capability improvements have been added in the last six months, which are detailed in its change log.




* Customer meeting: A Nebula customer meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 5,  from noon until 1pm in the UW Tower auditorium. The agenda is to review the material in this newsletter in more detail and take any questions. We look forward to seeing you there. This meeting replaces the prior “brown bag” and “technical user” meetings.


* Self-help: Our support specialist Tobin Wood documented some common workarounds for when your Outlook profile gets corrupted. We plan to publish more of the workarounds in our internal documentation so you will be able to help yourself. We expect to increase the amount of self-help documentation to our Nebula customers.


* NETID user account conversion: We prioritized converting the Nebula2 user accounts to NETID user accounts for customers from UW-IT. This has helped improve our experience and highlight outstanding issues that need workarounds. We expect to leverage these lessons as we prioritize getting other customers converted.


Converting from Nebula2 user accounts to NETID user accounts reduces how often you have to log in, reduces our service costs, simplifies the infrastructure needed, and will enable Nebula to leverage investments made in the service providing the NETID user accounts.


In the next six months, we would like everyone to self-elect to change to NETID user accounts. At the end of that time frame,  we’ll be phasing out Nebula2 user accounts. That means we will have to make the switch for you, if you haven’t done so already. We believe if you self-elect, the impact to you will be less.


If you’d like to volunteer your department (or just a single user) for conversion, please send us an email with “Nebula2 to Netid user conversion” in the subject line. There are self-service or assisted options (and we won’t charge extra for basic assistance). The self-service directions are at  http://


* Core bundle changes: There are two anticipated changes to the Nebula Core bundle for FY 2016. These changes aren’t set yet, but this is the direction we are exploring at this time:


-We are in discussions to reduce the rate by a small but appropriate amount to reflect the cost of running the service. Our financial forecast suggests we can sustain a reduction, but we’re still running down some outstanding costs and preparing the financial model to support it.


-We plan to remove file services from the Nebula Core bundle for FY 2016 and instead charge for Nebula file services separately.


This would mean the Nebula Core desktop rate would be reduced by the average cost per desktop that Nebula pays to cover Nebula use of UW-IT provided file services. We’d then charge for file service use, i.e., the cost of how much file storage is used.


Today, some of you are subsidizing others’ file service use, while others are using a lot more. In the future, you’ll be paying for what you use.


We anticipate that there will be impacts and consequences of this change. Examples we imagine include:

-You may pay closer attention to which user accounts have Nebula service and file storage. A side benefit is that you will inform us more promptly when users should be removed from Nebula, as we have no good way of knowing this kind of information today.

-You may have a higher interest in no-cost file services such as Google Docs and OneDrive for Business, which  encourages users to move their files in a strategically beneficial direction for the UW.


If you’d like to explore Google Docs or OneDrive for Business but need help getting started, let us know.


We will let you know more about these anticipated changes when final decisions have been made. If you’d like a rough idea of your expected monthly costs for file services, you can review this report in the MyIT portal: If you aren’t listed as a departmental contact, this report won’t show you anything useful. If you’d like to get added as a departmental contact, let us know.


==== Trends ====


Below are statistics across the Nebula service. For information specific to you or your department, the MyIT portal has more data:


* Usage stats. Since August 2014, Nebula has:

-Basic stats: -50 computers (~3400 total today), +150 users (~4900 total today), +150 groups (~3000 total today)

-IE browser: +250 IE11 (~2750 total today) and -100 IE10 (~300 total today)

-OS: +0 Windows 7 (~2900 total today), +125 Windows 8.1 (~350 total today), +0 MacOS (~22 total today)

-Nebula VPN use: +18 sessions on average (~18 sessions total average with a peak of 35)


-VPN stats reflect unusual increase due to stats from one VPN server not previously recorded.


* Operational assistance stats

-Support requests have grown by 16.7%; 2451 Nebula support tickets resolved since 8/20/2014 (vs. 2100 in prior period).

Incidents have grown by 223%; 58 Nebula incidents resolved since 8/20/2014 (vs. 26 in prior period).


-Prior to the past six-month period, incident reporting was optional, so there was likely quite a few more actual incidents than were recorded.

-We’ve changed operational tools during the last year, so the request and incident comparison for the prior period is suspect and we’ve had to make some data compromises. Next time this data and the comparisons should have more validity.


==== What’s Next ====


Our objectives for the next six months include:


* Activities related to FY 2016 core bundle change, as noted above.

* Activities related to the Nebula2 user transitions, as noted above.

* Make some design changes related to the Mac VPN so it isn’t a blocker for letting go of the Nebula2 user account.

* Publish more self-service documentation to enable you to help yourself. We hope this will help drive down our costs, so we can increase our improvement investments and/or further reduce the service cost.

* Support a UW-IT project team in enabling UW Connect to submit billing data for consulting requests. We anticipate that there may be some changes to your experience of budgets and billing for consulting requests.

* Replace the servers behind our aging software deployment infrastructure (System Center Configuration Manager or SCCM). We also will explore moving Nebula’s software deployment capabilities to the UW Windows Infrastructure service so a broader set of the UW can leverage this capability and contribute packages Nebula customers might use.

* Explore the unreleased Windows 10 operating system. In particular, in tandem with the above software deployment infrastructure refresh, explore how it might enable us to provide a self-service, in-place OS upgrade experience, and other options that would lower our delivery costs.  We expect this will enable you to trigger your existing computer to get automatically upgraded without losing your user customizations. In general, our goal is to be prepared to support this new OS shortly after it is released.

* Via a pilot with some higher risk departments, explore a solution that provides data encryption capabilities regardless of where the data is stored, has broad cross-platform support and advanced tracking capabilities (Azure RMS). We suspect this is a strategically important technology for risk mitigation, but we need to verify.


==== Your Feedback ====


Supporting your needs for Managed Workstation capabilities offered via the Nebula service is our priority, so we welcome feedback on how we can make the Nebula service more valuable to you.


You can voice your support for future objectives to help us rank priorities, ask for things that aren’t yet on our radar, or simply contact us via


Brian Arkills

UW-IT, Nebula Service Manager