28 June 2005

New Calendar clients

A recent upgrade to the University Calandar supports new clients.

The University’s Netscape Calendar has recently been upgraded to a new version with a new name: Corporate Time. While the old clients still work, there are new clients available for the Calendar that give added functionality. Contact the cehelpdesk to have the new client installed.

You can also check out the new web interface at http://calendar.canberra.edu.au/cgi-bin/nscal/login.cgi [sign-in required: use your staff number in the form sXXXXXX as the User Name and your usual proxy password].

OPUS portal for Student Management System

Upgrading doesn't always provide all the attractions of the old system...

One of the features of the old Merlin student management system that appeared to have been popular with staff was the web access provided to Merlin through OPUS. When Callista replaced Merlin the OPUS interface was dropped.

If staff are interested in the restoration of web access to the student management system through OPUS they should register their interest with the IT & Infrastructure Committee (through their School representative or the Office of the Deputy Head of the Division) so ICT Services can be encouraged to reinstate it.

Leasing ICT equipment

The University is discussing leasing arrangements with a number of potential partners.

The Commonwealth Bank, with its partner ComputerFleet, has approached the University with a proposal to consider leasing rather than buying ICT equipment like computers, monitors, printers and even media equipment like digital cameras.

The system could work like the current IT Loan system to the extent that Divisions retain their autonomy to purchase equipment that fits their needs, although the University may also be separately considering centralising some purchasing if it can be shown to drive down the cost.

Under the ComputerFleet proposal, the University would replace equipment like desktop computers every two years, and end up paying less than the University pays for the computer if it buys a replacement every three years. Under the current IT Loan arrangements, the Division only pays 67% of the cost of new equipment (the rest is funded by the University centrally to encourage the Divisions to keen their stock of IT equipment current), so it may cost the Divisions more if they were to absorb the whole cost of leasing.

Benefits of the ComputerFleet proposal include:

  • Replacement of ICT equipment every two years;
  • Asset tracking is handled by the ComputerFleet’a ClientXpress software, management of which can be decentralised to the Divisional level or even finer;
  • Using the ClientXpress software, costs can be applied easily to local cost centres and easily transferred as needs change (like research projects that may be completed, for example);
  • At the end of the lease period ComputerFleet’s partner, APCD, disposes of the assets.

New Helpdesk software

New helpdesk software will improve communication with staff about the status of their requests.

The Division’s helpdesk is managed using some software originally developed some time ago: we have been planning to replace it but with the uncertainly surrounding the centralisation of ICT services it was not thought prudent to invest resources in a new or upgraded solution that may be defunct if and when centralisation proceeded. The recent IT & Infrastructure planning day highlighted the need to press ahead with an update: among other things to provide staff with information about where their jobs were in the system.

BLIS has been using the Computer Associates UniCenter ServicePlus Service Desk solution (http://www3.ca.com/Solutions/Product.asp?ID=191) for more than a year, and recently HDS also began using it (previously HDS didn’t have a computerised request tracking system). BLIS has offered us access to their system, for which they have requested a modest fee to help them cover the costs of the infrastructure. We would also need to buy 4 or 5 licences and provide analyst and administrator training for our help desk people.

Helpdesk phone upgrade

New phones and headsets will improve TSU telephone support.

Helpdesk phones have now been upgraded to new ones with headsets, so helpdesk staff can deal with support calls ‘hands-free’. As well as making it possible to interact with a computer to solve issues as they arise, it also makes it easier for the helpdesk to log requests in the helpdesk system so we have a better record of the work they do.

Remote support

Some decisions have to be made before the mechanisms for remote support of staff computers are introduced.

For some time now the Technical Services Unit has been accessing computers remotely for maintenance: mainly for configuring servers but we have also been experimenting with managing staff desktop machines via network access. We have a number of tools available to use that allow us, for example, to log on to a Windows or Macintosh computer over the network and share the screen, mouse and keyboard with that computer.

In the case of a request for support, for example, with the permission of the client the support person can log on to the client’s computer over the network, see what is on the screen, and use their keyboard and mouse to control the client’s computer as the client watches. Combined with phone contact, this provides a very simple way for support (and dare it be said ‘just-in-time’ training or ‘at-elbow’ support) to be delivered.

Once in place, such systems also allow us to update and reconfigure computers remotely, either singly or sometimes in groups as large as, for example, ‘all PCs in the Division’.

There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed before such systems are introduced throughout the Division: security and privacy being significant issues that need to be addressed appropriately. The widespread introduction of the systems will require software installation or upgrading and changes to settings on staff computers that may involve a visit by a member of the technical staff.

With Executive support we will develop a detailed plan, including costings, to implement this approach across the Division.

14 June 2005

Staff relations

We do what we can...

Always at the end of Semester the levels of tension within the University community rise: with limited resources, competing deadlines and overwhelming requests for support this can lead to frayed tempers and misunderstandings.

While the TSU staff do their best, often above and beyond reasonable expectations, some staff members in the Division feel they aren’t getting the attention they deserve and express their dissatisfaction directly with TSU staff, sometimes beyond the point of what would be considered appropriate workplace behaviour.

TSU staff have been instructed to bring any instance of such behaviour to the attention of the Manager, IT & Media Services. Any support work for the individual staff member concerned will be suspended pending an investigation of the incident. If it looks like the complaint is justified an official complaint may be lodged with the University about the incident.

Divisional staff who are dissatisfied with the Technical Services Unit should take their grievance up with the Manager, IT & Media Services, or the Deputy Head of the Division, not with TSU staff directly.

Help requests

PLEASE use the proper channels to lodge requests for TSU support!

Often TSU staff are stopped in the corridor with requests for urgent assistance: to aid in setups for presentations for example. The TSU has no staff specifically available for this type of support: requests for help should be logged with the helpdesk by phone or sent to the cehelpdesk email account.

Swipe card access

Swipe card access is being upgraded around the University.

The University has (finally!) begun the transition between the old Honeywell swipe card access system used in a number of places around the Division, to the new Cardax system. The first phase of the transition is expected to be completed by the beginning of Semester 2, when all existing Honeywell controllers managing access to Buildings 5 and 20, and rooms 5B38, 5C44a and b, and 5C56 will be replaced with Cardax controllers. Eventually out of hours access to all of the buildings on campus will be regulated by the system.

After the rollout the Division can request additional spaces be regulated by the system: suggestions for any spaces that might be regulated by the new system should be sent to the Division’s IT & Infrastructure Committee for discussion. The Division will have to pay for the installations requested.

Network issues

Leading-edge network services need a robust network.

Difficulties with the network continue to plague the Division’s capacity to support existing services and introduce new ones like the eMeeting system and streaming video. Network Services from ICT Services are being extremely helpful in this regard (a major issue with the live streaming of local television services was solved last month when a security setting on the main University router was identified as the culprit and reset), but problems continue with getting reliable services across subnets.

Current thinking is that we must replace ALL the older D-Link network switches with more modern managed switches: while this is necessary and it may solve some of the performance bottlenecks on the network, there may be other underlying configuration settings that will also need to be modified before full service from, for example, the eMeeting server is available. There are between 15 and 20 older switches in the Division that need replacing: at our own cost we have already replaced 5 and are waiting for them to be installed in key locations around the Division to see if performance improves. Another 10-15 switches will be required to completely update the network, and there may be some additional capacity required to allow them to be connected properly to the University network.

While the installation, maintenance, administration and upgrading of the network is the responsibility of ICT Services, in practice they don’t have the resources to solve these issues on their own immediately: the Division will need to contribute funds if the problems are to be addressed now.

New email server

The Division has had to move to a new email server.

The new Exchange email server, isaac.canberra.edu.au, is now operational and TSU staff are busy transitioning Divisional staff over to the new server. While not yet complete, the transfer to a new server has shown great promise in solving a number of the issues recently experienced with the old server, spirilium.

All staff should be migrated to the new server by the beginning of Semester 2. For some staff this may require a visit from TSU staff who will check the configuration of their email client to ensure they are using the correct setup for the new server. Staff who access their email from outside the campus via an email client may need to contact the helpdesk to help them apply the new setting required.

Staff can access the new email server via the web: once all accounts have been transferred to the new server instructions for accessing the service via the web will be posted on the TSU website at http://www.canberra.edu.au/divisions/comedu/tsu/home. In the meantime, staff who have been migrated already can visit http://isaac.canberra.edu.au/ to have a look at the new Web Access system (enter your staff number with the ‘s’, and the password is your normal proxy password: no domain required!).

Directory Service for the Division

More specialised needs for Division of Communication and Education students.

In order to overcome shortcomings with the ICT Services-supported Directory Services for students in the University, the Division has been investigating the development of a partial replication of the central student Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) service to satisfy the Division’s own specialist needs for additional functionality.

The new Directory Service would provide support for, for example: the ePortfolio service, student access to Communication Learning Resource Centre (CLRC) resources, and Professional Experience teacher education students secure access to online registration of their placement preferences and information about their professional experience program. The Division is working with ICT Services and outside consultants to implement the augmented Directory: it is expected to be available for further testing within the next week or two.