12 December 2006

2006 in review

The last twelve months have been a challenging time for the Technical Services Unit: after many years of relative stability in staffing, over the last eighteen months we have lost a number of staff with between them over 100 years of experience with the University.

The transition of common services like the network, web hosting, wireless networking, staff home directories and shared network drives, helpdesk software, and soon email to ICT Services has not been easy, with TSU staff having to deal with changing responsibilities while at the same time keeping the services going. It is still unclear how much responsibility members of the TSU will continue to have to look after common services even when the services are migrated to ICT Services: a year after IELTS and ASP moved out of the Division the TSU is still required to look after many of the IT services needed to support the ongoing operations of the units.

There have, however, been many successful activities and projects undertaken during the year that often go unnoticed in the day-to-day activities of the Division. Some major highlights this year include:

Printing and photocopying in the Division

In 2006 half of the Division’s photocopiers, and desktop and large-format printer were replaced. All of the desktop printers supported by the Division will have been replaced with new printers by Semester 1, 2007. All the Division-provided photocopiers have been replaced with multifunction devices that print, copy and sometimes fax and scan. By the start of Semester 1, 2007, all the remaining large-format printers will have been replaced with multifunction devices as well: providing double the number of stations for photocopying than before, and much more efficient printing (less that one-third the cost per impression for prints than the machines they replaced).

Media production areas refit

This year saw the start of the refit of the media production areas in Building 9. The refit is designed to overcome increasing maintenance and operational problems that have arisen after years of just keeping the studios and production areas going with short-term fixes and repairs, rather than taking a good hard look at facilities as a whole and eliminating the underlying causes of the ongoing problems. The project to refit the areas is well underway, and is expected to be completed in mid 2007, depending on the requirements to keep using the facilities for teaching during semester.

Wireless access

Over the last few months the Division’s pioneering wireless networking has been taken over by ICT Services. Staff and students can now access the University network through the UCWiFi network from an expanded number of areas around the Division, using the University’s standard UCanConnect service.

Wireless networking is now available in the CRC, CLRC, ILTC, Building 5 Seminar Room, COnference Room and PG Room in Building 9, the Microteaching Rooms, and the Art Room in Building 5.

Server refresh

Many of the servers used in the Division to provide network storage, backup, printer services, enterprise systems and so on came up for replacement in 2006. With the move to centralise common services, rather than replace the systems being retired the Division took the opportunity to focus on better providing for the Division’s specialist needs to support teaching, learning and research.

With the responsibility for staff network storage going to ICT Services, we have focused on developing specialised network storage for the large demands of audio and video editing with the BigVideo Networked Video Editing Storage Solution, initially servicing the Journalism workstations and the Television Control Room.

Large storage requires even larger backup, so a larger-capacity backup system has been installed to accommodate the new demands. Server rooms in Building 9 and Building 20 have been connected with high-speed network connections to allow large files to be moved quickly and efficiently from server to server depending on where the files need to be available. For example, video files edited on the B Floor of Building 9 are included in television programs produced on the A Floor, then served though the streaming server in Building 20, after being suitably prepared, for delivery through NowUC.

Network switches

It would be wonderful to report that network switches throughout the Division are up to the University’s standard, but not yet. The good news is that Building 5 and Building 1 are now upgraded, and there is a program in place to complete the replacement of the Division’s last remaining legacy switches in Building 9 and Building 20 with current technology in 2007. The plan at the moment is to have the replacement program completed by July, 2007.

ASU iChat

Probably the highlight of the year was the successful completion of four video chat sessions between Japanese language students studying at UC with English language students studying at the Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) in Nagoya, Japan. Live video chats gave students the opportunity to converse with native speakers of the languages they were learning with an immediacy not usually available without international travel. Plans are underway to make the service a permanent feature in the Division from Semester 1, 2007.


…and of course UCTV. In 2006, with the support of the University’s Network Management Team, AARNet and international supporters from research networks across Europe and North America, the satellite services being received through the dishes on the top of Building 20 now travel around the world (sometimes back to their country of origin!) in full digital quality via the next-generation research networks that connect Universities and research institutions. Hopefully in 2007 the services will get to Building 9!

Monthly Statistics

Each month for the past four years basic statistics reflecting a crude measure of the activity of the helpdesk have been collected.

Monthly activity for the Technical Services Unit is reflected in the latest statistics to the end of November, 2006. Typically demand for support decreases towards the end of the year, and this pattern is reflected in this month’s statistics.

What is of concern is the increased number of jobs outstanding. Normally we would expect these to be declining around this time of the year, but not this year. It has been a particularly busy semester for the TSU with record numbers of emails to cehelpdesk indicating increased demand over previous years.

Our capacity to deal with the requests coming in is finite so with more jobs to do it takes longer to get through the queue to resolve them. Should this pattern continue in 2007 we might need to employ additional casual staff in the helpdesk team to meet acceptable response times.

28 November 2006

Streaming Television

Some changes have been made to the streaming IP television system.

A few weeks ago Al Jazeera (in English: see http://english.aljazeera.net/) became available as a free-to-air television service on a satellite from which other services are being received in the Division.

The service is now running as one of the digital streaming services (check the Session Announcements list under UCTV International in VLC). All the services listed under UCTV International are being received across Europe, North America and Australia on research networks. We are looking at replacing one of the existing services on the analogue RF campus network with Al Jazeera if we can find a suitable candidate for replacement. [Update 1 December 2006: Al Jazeera is now on Channel 25 of RF Network]

See http://uctv.canberra.edu.au/ for more information on the services available and how to connect. On 27 November 2006 The Canberra Times also ran an item on the possibility of funding an expanded service.

Network access

Network access for visitors can be difficult to organise.

The University computer network provides staff and students with access to on-campus and off-campus network services like printing, network file storage, enterprise systems (like Alesco, Callista, and FinanceOne), as well as email and World Wide Web services.

For various reasons access to the University network is regulated: for legal reasons, to protect sensitive information, to reduce the risk of malicious attacks, to manage costs and so on. Controlling who gets to use the network is managed by authenticating users: to log on to a computer, access a network storage device, get email or surf the web all require the user’s identity to be known to the systems they are trying to access.

For staff and students this can be managed through information stored in Alesco and Callista. For others (visitors to the University, people who aren’t on the payroll, contractors and so on), access, often quite legitimately required access, is difficult to organise. These people must somehow be provided with credentials known to the various authentication systems so that they can access them.

The Technical Services Unit receives a number of requests for providing access to the University network for people who aren’t ‘in the system’. Some recent examples include: conference attendees who want to check their email and surf the web; visiting presenters using the World Wide Web to support their lectures; workshop attendees studying aspects of using the Web; and visiting scholars who might be here for only a few days. Since the TSU doesn’t manage the systems that provide users with access to most of the University’s systems, it is not in a position to facilitate this access. Requests for providing access to people not in the staff or student systems should be directed in the first instance to the ICT Services Service Desk.

Computer purchasing

Cost-savings in PC purchasing.

ICT Services has been working all year to develop a preferred supplier for desktop and portable PCs: to leverage the University’s buying power to reduce the cost of PCs. An announcement was expected this week on the successful supplier, but last-minute approaches from a number of potential suppliers have delayed the decision.

Centralisation of email

The University is moving forward on the planned centralisation of email and integrating a new campus-wide calendaring environment.

A (rather large) working group has been established to organise the migration of email and calendar services to a central email, calendaring, address list and document sharing system under ICT Services. The University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) recently accepted the recommendations of a report compiled by Acumen Alliance to establish a central collaborative system based on Microsoft’s Exchange and Sharepoint services.

Debate is currently centred around the choice of version for the Exchange Server environment: the current version, Exchange 2003, is in use in BLIS and COMEDU, but Microsoft is due to release Exchange 2007 Real Soon Now. 2007 would be a preferred environment based on the expected functionality it would bring, but experience has shown that it is reasonable to expect some delays in the availability of a suitably stable version for enterprise use when such a major release is made available.

The expectation is that email will be operating centrally by the end of the first quarter of 2007 (31 March 2007). Should an enterprise-ready version of Exchange 2007 be available from Microsoft in time for a thoroughly-tested service to be deployed by that time, then the email should be hosted by ICT Services then.

Currently the University has available to it a centrally-provided electronic calendar (Oracle Calendar). BLIS users also have a calendar in Exchange 2003 (as do COMEDU users), but in order to manage appointments and meetings across Divisions, the Oracle Calendar needs to be used. Exchange has an integrated calendar that will replace Oracle Calendar. Migration strategy, roll-out plans and a timetable for Exchange Calendar are yet to be determined.

Once email and calendar functions are operating, document sharing using Sharepoint will be implemented. Again no plans or a timetable are in place for the implementation of Sharepoint. In the meantime document sharing is being managed by the Divisions and ICT Services on an ‘at-need’ basis.

Heldesk 'centralisation'

Delays in the roll out of the CA UniCenter ServiceDesk software has left the Division in a difficult position.

Latest indications are that the CA UniCenter ServiceDesk application (the centralised replacement to the Divisional Helpdesk system) may be running later this year but training of our staff in using the software won’t happen until 2007 sometime.

In the meantime we are redeveloping our own system as an interim step (including Application and Asset Management functions that won’t be available in ServiceDesk or FinanceOne to our requirements) so that we can continue to serve our Divisional clients until ServiceDesk is operating efficiently. The current helpdesk system in use in the Division is being taken out of service in mid-December 2006 because the server it runs on is out of warranty and we no longer have the skills in the Division to maintain the environment in which the software was developed.

It appears that the ServiceDesk implementation will be required to support the four separate helpdesks (ICT Services, BLIS, HDS and COMEDU) separately. While there is a function to allow analysts (the people who work out what should be done with an request) to transfer jobs to other Divisions, the software would work much better in a centralised environment. Making it work across the Divisions may have been a major cause for delay in the implementation.

Another reason for keeping our system available is that no historical data will be transferred from our old helpdesk to Service Desk. We have over 5 years of data relating to helpdesk requests that is a valuable source of information relating to incidents over that time: it would be a pity to lose it.

14 November 2006

Media Production Area

The summer break gives the Technical Services Unit the opportunity to do maintenance of facilities.

The television and radio facilities on the A floor in Building 9 are undergoing a refit over the summer. Final student work should be completed by now, with a marketing exercise for Year 11 students from Alfred Deakin High being run over a couple of days this week the last commitment for the facilities until Semester 1 2007.

The radio area will have new desks in the studio and control room, providing all ‘balanced’ wiring and equipment to reduce the possibility of electrical interference with recordings.

The television studio will be cleaned out, with the property store regaining its original function and losing its store-room and junkyard status that it seems to have acquired over the years.

The television control room will be revamped to provide better accommodation as a teaching area, with equipment upgrades, rewiring, a new desk and better monitoring facilities planned. The control room will also join the University computer network to make it easier to manage some of the resources down there, and to move content to and from the studio electronically rather than by ‘sneaker-net’. A separate high-speed fibre network linking the editing workstations in 9B23 with central storage to video will be extended to the control room to remove the need to carry videotapes or mass-storage devices between the editing rooms and the studio.

Work is expected to be completed by the time the facilities are required for teaching in Semester 1 in 2007.

Alan Nicol’s retirement

Celebrating almost 34 years at CCAE/UC.

After almost 34 years at the Canberra College of Advanced Education and the University of Canberra, the Division’s Audiovisual Officer Alan Nicol is retiring on 24 November 2006.

Alan started with Science at the CCAE in early 1973, coming to Canberra for the job from the Darling Downs Institute of Education where he was a lab technician in Biology. After three years in Science, Alan took a one-year appointment with the School of Teacher Education videotaping trainee TAFE teachers to provide them with feedback on their performance. The one-year appointment was made permanent and Alan has stayed with the School and now the Division providing production support in video, photography, desktop publishing and graphic design ever since.

Alan leaves us to take up fishing, painting, photography, graphic design and lying by the pool in a professional and amateur capacity! Our best wishes for a comfortable post-University experience go with him: the Division will miss his services and him around the campus.

Please encourage staff to join us at the Staff Club on Wednesday, 22 November 2006 at 4pm to celebrate Alan’s time at UC and to launch his retirement.

Colour printing

Colour printing is becoming affordable — but no free access!

The refresh of large-format high-volume printers in the Division gives us the opportunity to introduce colour printing facilities in each building in the Division. Executive endorsed replacing the older printers with multifunction devices: the cost difference between colour and black MFDs is minimal and with costs of these devices generally coming down we will be able to get colour MFDs for about the same price as we paid for black ones last year.

The challenge is in containing the printing costs. Black prints cost around 1 cent per impression, colour around 10 cents. This ‘click charge’ covers the toner and maintenance of the machine, so apart from the cost of the MFD and the paper, this is all that is paid for keeping the devices printing over their five-year expected lifecycle. As a comparison, desktop colour laser printers like the HP 2800 series cost 18 cents + per impression for toner and drum costs alone, with any maintenance paid for separately in addition to the consumables. Paper cost is extra but then all devices use the same paper so the cost is the same no matter what printer is used.

The devices can be configured to limit the access users have to colour printing: each user can have unlimited, quota-limited or no access to colour printing (but can still print in black). Printing can be monitored by individual user so costs can be managed.

It is proposed that access to printing in colour be restricted to certain individuals in each building. Staff wishing to print in colour would need to send the jobs through these people, with Schools deciding if there needs to be any further approval process (say the permission of the Head of School) before the job was done.

The TSU will monitor usage (and cost) and provide a report to Executive each month for noting: any cause for concern in terms of printing cost could then be identified quickly. If the cost of colour printing did become an issue, policy and restrictions could be tightened up further.

Stocktake update

Lots of stuff found or written off.

After a long drawn out process only one item of any value from the discrepancy list that originally cited 47 items missing after the last stocktake could not be accounted for.

As a result of the experience the Technical Services Unit is reviewing its asset management approach, including developing a robust system to track the movement of equipment as it gets used around the Division.

As a part of this review of process it would be helpful for Heads of Schools and Centres to reinforce with their staff the need to inform the Technical Services Unit when equipment on the University Asset Register or leased equipment is moved around, as people change offices for example or when equipment is swapped as staff come and go: the TSU don’t always hear about these relocations that had lead to equipment apparently going missing. A simple email to the cehelpdesk citing the asset number, the old location and the new location (room number) is all that is required.

Items on the University Asset Register have a small white sticker saying ‘University of Canberra’ with the serial number and UC asset number on it. Leased items have a yellow sticker with a bar code and a number starting with UC.

31 October 2006

More thefts

Stolen equipment continues to concern us.

It appears around $2,000 worth of microphones have been stolen from the audio production area in Building 9 during the last teaching week of Semester.

The production areas are always busy during the last few weeks of semester when many staff and students are involved with audio and video productions. It’s hard to know what to do to reduce the risk of thefts from the area without compromising the access required to support teaching.

Network storage outages

Delays in the transition of responsibilites for hosting network storage are causing more and more concerns for Divisional staff.

The Division’s file server, dcenas, is becoming increasingly unreliable. dcenas houses staff home directories and other volumes shared between Divisional staff (and in some cases, students). In April this year the Division organised with ICT Services to migrate these services to a new server infrastructure provided by ICT Services to host home directories and shares for staff in the non-Academic Divisions (and eventually the other Academic Divisions as well).

On current estimates, the replacement facility will not be available until early December. The existing facility run by ICT Services to provide network storage to the non-Academic Divisions can’t cope with the Division’s requirements: existing users of the service on Windows already occasionally see lengthy delays, and Macintosh file services are not available. It would be unwise to migrate our Divisional users to the service because the extra load would probably compromise the service even further, and providing the Macintosh users with Macintosh file services could take a lot of effort and increase the unreliability of the system for all users.

Last week dcenas failed a number of times. On Thursday it took the combined effort of the Technical Services Unit and ICT Services to revive dcenas when it looked terminal. A ‘cold reboot’ (basically removing the power cord and waiting a minute or so before reconnecting it and starting the computer up again) has restored it for now and it has been operational since then.

Action Plan

We will continue to use dcenas in its current state until the services can be migrated to ICT Services’ replacement facility in early December, unless of course dcenas fails completely and can’t be revived. If two cold reboots are required within any twenty-four hour period, dcenas will be pronounced dead and an emergency migration to the existing ICT Services facility will be undertaken. This should take about a day and the service will be subject to the shortcomings outlined above.

To lower the load on dcenas and reduce the effort for migration (emergency or planned), TSU staff will:

  1. move shared volumes (that is, not home directories) to cestaff.canberra.edu.au.
  2. ask Divisional staff to clean up their home directories on dcenas, reducing the number of files and folders for any planned or emergency recovery.

We will continue to track the installation of the new ICT Services facility, and keep the Division informed if there are any changes to the current plan to move the directories and volumes to ICT Services in early December. In the meantime, daily backups are being made so in the event of a total failure of dcenas very little if any work should be lost.

Videoconferencing for the Division

H.323 Videoconferencing facilities for the Division?

Recently the Executive discussed access to H.323 videoconferencing for the Division. On investigation, a basic point-to-point system could be acquired for around $17,000.

The cost includes:

  • option to allow sharing of data (presentations)
  • ISDN
  • 1 year maintenance (NBD [Next Business Bay] swap out on failure)
  • Installation and training
  • Point to point only

Total cost of system like that installed in the Division of BLIS could be up to $65,000 when installation, commissioning, network installations and operator and participant training is taken into account. Such a system could include additional features like multiple cameras, video projector, additional monitors, interactive whiteboard, multiple participants, recording capability, computer, and additional audio enhancements.

As an alternative to buying a system of our own, or organising access and support to use the BLIS facility, the current cost of renting an existing facility commercially off-site is around $250 per hour, plus a booking fee of $75. Staff wishing to organise booking such a facility should contact the Division’s Helpdesk in the first instance.

Sensitive Data on Student Shares

Staff should NOT place material they don't want students to see on network shares that are available to students.

Several years ago the Technical Services Unit set up a student share on the Division’s Network Attached Storage Device (dcenas) so that lecturers, tutors and students in particular Units could share materials. One requirement of the system was that staff could share unit materials among themselves without students being necessarily able to see them. The TSU was convinced at that stage that WebCT or other services provided by ICT Services couldn’t handle the particular requirements of the Units.

Once set up, the facility was left in place so that the lecturers could manage the system without requiring TSU staff intervention.

Recently a student in one of the Units with access to the share discovered several folders within their unit folder containing marks for students. The student was able to open the files and read them. When a directory is created within another directory, by default the new directory inherits the permissions of its parent (permissions allow or deny certain users and groups of users access to read from and/or write to files in the directory). The creator of the directory can change the default permissions to allow or restrict other users’ read and/or write access to the directory. Anyone with the right level of administrative access can change the permissions on a directory to allow or deny access to users.

Staff should not store information they don’t want students to see on drives, shares, or volumes that students can access. The Division and the University have network storage for this purpose that can be shared between specified staff members securely: contact the Division’s helpdesk for further information.

A list of shares or volumes on Divisional servers that students have access to will be circulated to staff so they can assess whether they want to move any of their files to a more appropriate location.

17 October 2006

Testing the Business Continuity Plan

Every Business Continuity Plan needs to be tested.

Business Continuity planning has been on our list of Current Challenges for some time now. Also called Disaster Recovery, business continuity planning is about knowing what to do in the case of an interruption to business to ensure the impact of the interruption on the smooth running of the organization is minimised or eliminated.

In the IT context, the Business Continuity Plan (the BCP) details the systems and processes in place to ensure the continued availability of computing facilities to support the operation of, in our case, the Division. In order to develop a BCP, it is common to imagine a number of scenarios and work out what needs to be done to continue to provide or restore services in the event the scenario is realised.

We had a real-life situation last week that has given us great insight into the business recovery process: someone on the team took out the Divisional web server and reformatted the hard drives, and installed a completely different operating system (Linux rather than Windows) on it, thereby very effectively erasing completely all the information, operating system, applications, settings and data that was previously on the server.

We are decommissioning a number of servers over the next three months, and while the web server (bacillus) is due to be decommissioned at the end of this year, it was still in service supporting the ASP database, the Divisional helpdesk system, all the Divisional websites that have yet to be migrated to UCOnline, and a number of other internal services used by the TSU. The Division’s old mail server (spirillium), was taken out of service last year, and this was the server that was due to be reformatted. Unfortunately at some time over the last five years, the faceplates on the servers were swapped around so the wrong server was removed and erased.

That was around lunchtime last Thursday. By Monday the TSU team, especially Thomas Teng, was able to restore the web server to its status as of the previous Tuesday night. About a day and a half of data was lost, but all services have now been restored: our disaster recovery worked OK, but probably took longer than we would have liked, and exposed some holes in our BCP that need to be addressed.

Faster restores

A new backup system is progressively being installed in the new 9B25 server room. This backup system allows us to back up both Building 9 and Building 20 servers, and provides a more secure environment for the backed-up data. The new system has faster connections to most of the servers needed to be backed up (especially the new ones in Building 20 and Building 9), so backups will take less time to do (for the same amount of data), and restoring the servers in the event of catastrophic failure of the type experienced last week will be quicker. We are also looking at ways to back up operating systems and configurations more effectively so the restoration process goes faster and more smoothly.

Double checks

One of the factors in the recent disaster was the turnover of staff: there have been four generations of IT Officers responsible for the servers since they were installed five years ago, and many more staff with access to them over that time. A regular program will be put in place to physically check documentation against the actual installations to ensure they match up. Where documentation is missing or wrong, new documentation will be developed to reflect accurately the situation so that the risk of disaster is reduced and faster restoration is easier.

Better documentation of server installations

With the turnover of staff responsible for the Division’s IT staff, a lot of corporate knowledge has walked out the door over the past five years. We already had in place a project to capture all the knowledge of the current team, and any documentation we had, and are building an internal-to-TSU knowledge base of the operations the TSU is responsible for maintaining. Last week’s disaster has focused the minds of the team on this task and more than confirmed the need for it.

One shortcoming identified in the process of restoring the web server was that original installation disks and serial numbers were not being kept systematically. Everything that was needed to restore the server was found, but it could have been easier. A more robust, accessible and reliable system will be developed over the summer to ensure the right resources are always available easily.

Tracking of configurations

The Division has around 29 servers in daily use: each of them serving different functions, on different hardware, of different ages (from a few weeks to five years old), with different operating systems (Microsoft Windows Server 2000, 2000 Advanced, 2003, a special version for the Network Attached Storage device, Apple Macintosh OS X Server, and now a Linux machine!), different configurations and locations. Keeping track of which machine is doing what, where it is physically and how it is set up is a major project and one which is being addressed with added enthusiasm at the moment.

Backup regime

Due to limitations of the retiring backup system, we weren’t keeping as many backups as maybe we should have done. We will increase the frequency of backups (especially of critical systems where data changes frequently), and investigate ways of restoring files changed even on the same day.


Another issue identified as a result of the disaster was the transfer of responsibility for Divisional services to ICT Services.

  • The Academic Skill Program database should have moved to ICT Services on 1 January 2006 when the ASP moved to the Division of Teaching and Learning. Configuration, maintenance and hosting of the database is still the responsibility of the TSU and despite a number of attempts to get some idea of what the migration plan is for the service, none is in place.
  • Web hosting should have been migrated to ICT Services, although not all of the Division’s web sites will ever be the responsibility of UCOnline. Those web sites we will continue to have responsibility for will be migrated to a new server by the end of this year, as will those destined for the Web CMS.
  • The Division’s Helpdesk was due to be replaced by CA’s UniCenter ServiceDesk from 1 January 2006. It is still not available for us to use, and it probably won’t make much sense for us to use it until January 2007, assuming the current date of commencement (30 October 2006) does indeed see the system operational.


With the move to centralising standard and common services (like the network, email, staff home directories), the Division has been moving to provide more specialised resources (and the appropriately skilled technical staff to look after those resources) that are not and may never be standard or common. When ICT Services doesn’t provide us with the level of service we require to support teaching, learning, research and administration in the Division, we end up having to be involved in looking after the old services as well as the new. This is becoming increasingly difficult, as common services remain the responsibility of the Division.

03 October 2006

Server availability

Hiccups with the transition of Home Directories and Shares to ICT Services.

Our transition from older servers delivering common services now to be provided by ICT Services to a new generation of specialised servers to meet the needs of the Division is not going as smoothly as we would like.

In April 2006 the Division proposed the transfer of staff home directories to ICT Services. ICT Services embraced the proposal but still the transfer hasn’t happened because of the failure of the installation provided by ICT Services to do the job. The Division’s hardware for Home Directories is now out of warranty and increasingly unreliable. Because ICT Services is taking over the responsibility for providing Home Directories, we have not sought to replace this equipment, and now find ourselves exposed to a fairly risky situation where the service to staff in the Division could be interrupted. ICT Services has agreed to take on the responsibility of dealing with these risks in the interim while they get their service operational, expected to be within the next month. Our old system is being backed up and should it fail little if any work should be lost, but there may be an interruption to the service while an alternative is brought on-line. Staff in the Division will be advised of any disruption.

Still to come: email and collaborative services (like shared calendars and documents). The move to Exchange campus-wide has been approved, and now the process of planning the changeover begins. Mail is expected to be moved first, probably within the next six months depending on any issues that arise, but there is no indication of when the other collaborative services will be available centrally.

We have had problems with our specialised services as well: particularly the streaming video used for NowUC and some units for delivery of video-based support materials. It is hoped that a recent update to the streaming video system will alleviate some of the problems that have been experienced with the accessibility and reliability of the service. Users are being kept informed of our progress, and patience is requested as we bed down these leading-edge services.

Asset audit

This year's audit has not gone smoothly...

A recent Financial Services audit of the Divisional computing and media equipment on the University’s Asset Register has failed to account for a number of items. Most of the items on the list are of no value and in the normal course of events would have been written off anyway, but for a number of reasons still appear on the University’s Asset Register and so need to be accounted for. These items were not in use and it was thought they were stored in preparation for disposal. It appears that they may have been disposed of without the necessary paperwork being completed and submitted to Financial Services.

By far the majority of the list seems to be as a result of the large turnover of staff in the Technical Services Unit, with new staff not appreciating the need to dispose of equipment, or track its movement from room to room, in line with established procedures. The staff have had it impressed upon them that they need to adhere to the University Asset Management policy when dealing with equipment disposal or movement in the future.

What are of concern are six relatively recent desktop or portable computers that cannot be accounted for. While we fully expect these to turn up in due course, that they weren’t where the Asset Register said they were is a problem. It may be that computers were moved without the knowledge of the Technical Services Unit: Divisional Staff must advise the TSU if they move computers around.

Some computers were apparently installed by the TSU without advising the Division’s Asset Officer or the University Assets Officer of the installation. Staff have been advised to ensure the appropriate notifications are sent. Others may have been lent out for off-campus use without the proper paperwork being completed (Authority to Remove University Equipment Off Campus). Again all staff need to be reminded that the Authority must be completed before equipment leaves the campus, and renewed annually.

One shortcoming of the present system identified by TSU staff is the complex process of ensuring asset registers are kept up-to-date. At the moment the process requires staff moving equipment to note the asset numbers (University and Divisional), email both Division’s Asset Officer and the University Assets Officer with the details of the movement, and then ensuring both have entered the details of the movement in their respective registers. The University Asset Register only covers assetable items: the Division’s covers most if not all of our equipment purchased or leased.

The University Asset Register is a part of Prophecy. At the moment there is no information about its replacement once the Prophecy system is replaced with Finance One, except that it is understood Finance One has a module for asset management although no-one responsible for assets has seen it yet, and the timetable for the changeover is vaguely ‘early next year sometime’.

One way of improving asset tracking in the Division is to streamline the process of recording assets movements so there is no multiple handling of the data required to register the movement. Once the transition to Finance One is complete (including the Asset Tracking module), there will be a review of the process to ensure it is most efficient and accurate. It adequate tracking can’t be accomplished within Finance One the Division should develop its own system to a level where more accurate records can be kept easily.

ICT Bids

Each year the Division calls for bids to purchase ICT (Information and Communication Technology) equipment for the following year.

The Deputy Head of the Division has initiated the bid process for next year’s Divisional spending on equipment. Because of changing circumstances with budgets and purchasing arrangements (a new finance system, move to leasing rather than buying), it is unclear at the moment how the process will be resolved.

The Division is half-way through replacing photocopiers and printers, and will need to continue this process to replace older, out-of-warranty, more troublesome equipment: about $80,000 of equipment will need to be purchased or leased to cover replacements. Between 120 and 240 desktop, portable, lab and server computers will need to be replaced in 2007 if we are to keep to our policy of disposing of equipment once its warranty expires: replacements will cost from $240,000 to $480,000.

Next year the Division will begin the year with a commitment to honour at least $85,000 in lease payments in 2007 for equipment leased in 2006. Leasing $320,000 more equipment in 2007 will cost around an additional $110,000 in lease payments over a full year.

Financial Services has not provided the Division with details of the cost of leasing the equipment leased in 2006: the figures provided above are based on a rough estimate of the costs of leasing outlined by Financial Services during introductory seminars on the University’s arrangements with Macquarie Bank. The theory is that we pay roughly the same as we would have paid for the equipment if we had purchased it outright, but with 12 payments spread over three years. At the end of the lease the equipment is returned to Macquarie, with additional charges possibly due then if the equipment is not returned in good order.

19 September 2006

Clever Networks

New support to extend the availability of UCTV is being sought.

The Federal Government’s Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) recently called for proposals for funding under its Clever Networks program [see http://www.dcita.gov.au/communications_for_business/funding_programs__and__support/clever_networks]. DCITA is seeking proposals for projects that use broadband technologies to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of health and education services in rural and regional Australia: projects that create demand for broadband services and stimulate the rollout of infrastructure in regions lacking it. Government co-contributions can be from $500,000 to $5m.

The Technical Services Unit is working with the Division’s Learning Communities Research Area and a number of others around the University and in the wider community to put together a proposal based around services using streamed live and on-demand video, especially to remote areas using broadband services that are being delivered under DCITA’s $1.1 billion Connect Australia package.

The Division’s UCTV service now delivers 22 international television channels to its campus network, and beyond to other Australian university campuses through AARNet3. Staff and students can watch live, full-size and quality broadcast television channels on their desktop computer. UCTV also provides a mechanism for any university to have their own digital live television channel running on the network, using content provided for example by staff or students of media, communication and language courses.

With recent advances in video compression technologies and consumer computers, viewers outside high-bandwidth university campuses could (technically if not legally) now watch the live channels on their computers using open source software: the proposed project would refine these technologies and techniques to deliver the 22 channels currently going around AARNet3 (and potentially other channels as well) to broadband users in rural and regional Australia at bandwidths appropriate to the local network.

The proposed project would be supported by existing work being done in the Learning Communities Research Area to research digital learning communities and how new social networking applications on the web can facilitate learning outcomes, increasing the chances that DCITA would look favourably on an application from UC.

We are also exploring the possibility of bringing in telecommunications, computing, content and legal partners into the bid: in fact DCITA require contributions from the bidders that will be matched by DCITA and other Government agencies. There also needs to be a plausible plan in place for the project to continue after the DCITA funding ceases.

UCTV Services now available on AARNet3

Now available around the globe!

On 12 September 2006 22 of the international free-to-air satellite television services being received on Building 20 were switched from GrangeNet (the Government funded high performance research network that closes this year) to AARNet3 (The next generation of the AARNet network: see http://www.aarnet.edu.au/Content.aspx?p=19). AARNet3 was launched in Canberra on 15 September 2006.

Only the international services received from satellites are included in the package, since the local free-to-air services that are reticulated around the campus network as well should not be distributed beyond the local area for regulatory reasons. Discussions are continuing with a number of experts to confirm previous advice on the legality of what we are doing.

With appropriate configurations at the various nodes where the internet traffic is routed, services can now be viewed live in Universities and research institutions connected to AARNet3 from Brisbane to Perth, many points in-between, and beyond.

There is no charge for the traffic because AARNet does not charge for ‘on-net’ (AARNet) traffic.

UCTV channel availability (theoretically…)

[source: http://www.aarnet.edu.au/engineering/aarnet3/]

22 August 2006

CLRC Printing - update

Still no working solution in place...

Despite optimism on the CLRC printing quotas, we have been unable to implement a robust solution to the quota business requirement (each Communication student is allowed 20 free pages every two days). What has been implemented takes up far too much time and resources to keep it operating, with many “exceptions” that have to be dealt with manually always arising.

Until an effective solution can be implemented, we are proposing that the CLRC goes on the University-standard student printing regime, where students pay the same for printing wherever they print on campus.

Technical advice

We've asked for some help to keep the media facilities going.

Barry Lambert has agreed to work with the Division to look over the existing media facilities and provide us with advice on what needs to be done to ensure their continued usefulness to the Division.

Jim Wise, the senior technical officer at the ABC here in Canberra, initially suggested Barry for the job. Barry has a long history of working at the ABC and elsewhere in television, including OB and studio design and construction (and reconstruction!). Barry is currently working with the ABC on studio construction in Parliament House, and spent some time here at the Senior Technical Officer in the Instructional Media Centre.

Ten year vision

We need to inform ourselves of emerging trends in the professions we teach to make sure we have the facilities in place to teach them.

The Division’s IT & Infrastructure Committee has established a working group under Brett Butler as the Chair to get some ideas from the Division about what their requirements for media facilities and services will be over the next ten years, to inform the Division’s planning on how best to use its resources.

The group is having a meeting on Friday 1 September 2006 at 2.30pm in 9C25 if anyone cares to attend.

Student email

Should the University still provide students with email?

The University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) decided at its meeting on Thursday 17 August 2006 to press ahead with the investigation of giving up hosting email for students. Instead, students will be asked to supply their email address on enrolment much as they supply postal and residential addresses and contact phone numbers now (which they should keep up to date through OSIS).

During a recent activity in the Division where students were asked to supply a contact email address, over 75% of 200+ participants nominated a non-UC student email address. Anecdotal evidence suggest many students don’t use their UC student email address, and of course when students leave they lose the address anyway, so can’t be contacted via their UC student email address for any follow-up communication.

It is expected that students who don’t have email addresses will be encouraged to set one up with any one of a number of free services like GMail, Yahoo! or Hotmail.

Students who check their email on campus might also find they are using up their traffic cost quota where before when the University provided the email account traffic was free. A working party is to be established to address this and other issues that might arise, and to consult widely with stakeholders to inform progress on the proposal.

Removal of CE websites from Search

Some changes have unintended consequences...

With the makeover of the University website to the new outward-looking approach came another change that was only recently discovered. It appears that UCOnline unilaterally made the decision to stop indexing the comedu websites that hadn’t been migrated to the Web Content Management System. Inflect, the TSU site, and uctv are not coming up in searches using the University’s Panoptic Search engine.

The issue has been raised with UCOnline through the Director of ICT Services, and by the time you read this the sites should be restored in the search, and won’t be removed until they are migrated to the Web CMS (if ever: sites like Inflect will probably never be hosted by ICT Services so the Division will be required to host them as long as they are required to be hosted. Same goes for some of the more dynamic content in the TSU website and uctv.).

Enterprise Collaboration Software

After four years of discussions, some progress on an Enterprise Collaboration Environment.

At its meeting on Thursday 17 August 2006 the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) endorsed the recommendations of an Acumen Alliance consultancy report that concluded that Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server are the best functional fit for the University to support email, calendaring, contact lists, task lists and file sharing as an enterprise-wide system for staff.

UIMSC has established a working group consisting of the IT Managers of the Academic Divisions and some ICT personnel to prepare an implementation plan.

The Division of Communication and Education has been using Exchange for email for a number of years now, so the transition from a Divisional-supported email system to a University-provided system should not be too problematic and require little adjustment if any for most staff in the Division. Existing Outlook and Entourage users should experience no differences after some settings are adjusted.

The movement of the calendar from the Oracle system to Exchange will require more work especially with staff training and support for those staff who don’t currently use a Calendar, or don’t use Microsoft Outlook or Entourage as their email client. In the longer term to move to Exchange Calendar across the campus should provide a much more integrated system for managing scheduling and communication than the current environment allows.

Implementation and use of the Sharepoint document sharing system is an unknown quantity at the moment since it is a completely new system for the Division. Certainly an ongoing commitment to training and support within the Division will be required if document sharing is to be used actively and appropriately in the Division.

The email and address list stage of the project at least should be in place by the end of this year.

08 August 2006

Blackboard Patent

It's amazing what the US Patent Office (and IP Australia) will patent these days.

Blackboard Inc., owners of the Blackboard and WebCT Learning Management Systems, has been issued a patent by the US patent office “for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods. The patent covers core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.” [http://www.blackboard.com/company/press/release.aspx?id=887622]. A corresponding patent has been issued in Australia, among other places, and patents are pending in a number of other territories. MyClasses, Drupal, Moodle, and Sakai are examples of LMSs that the Division uses or has expressed an interest in using which may infringe Blackboard’s patent.

With the University currently in the process of reviewing its LMS options, it may be constrained in its choice of systems by the Blackboard patent. Blackboard has already filed a Patent Infringement Notice with one of its competitors, Desire2Learn, and may pursue its rights against other LMS developers both commercial and open source.

In the past patents like the Blackboard one issued by the US Patent Office have been overturned on appeal, especially where “prior art” exists. BlackBoard CEO, Michael Chasen, is himself quoted as saying “We [Blackboard] certainly did not invent e-learning or course management systems.” [http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?topic=8], so it is unlikely that the patent will stand. In the meantime, though, it may complicate the University’s procedures in updating its current WebCT LMS.


Why can't you log on when visiting another another educational institution?

eduroam, or Education Roaming, is a system for allowing education users visiting other educational institutions to log on to the local computer network using their username and password from their home institution. eduroam is available in Australia, most European countries and Taiwan. Dr Robert Fitzgerald from the Division’s School of Education and Community Studies raised the issue of whether the University of Canberra is a participant in the scheme, but it appears no-one has asked before.

eduroam Australia is managed by AARNET, Australia’s Research and Academic Network, and has a wireless focus, allowing users from participating institutions to access each others’ wireless infrastructure with their home credentials. In the ACT, the Australian Catholic University, the Australian National University, CSIRO’s Division of Forestry, and AARNET itself all provide eduroamers with access to their networks.

Executive should ask the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) to investigate whether the University of Canberra should join the scheme.

Colour Printing in the Division

Colour printing is becoming increasingly common, but can we afford to offer the service in the Division?

Depending on the printer and other variables, colour printing costs upwards of 15 cents per A4 page for toners, compared with 1 to 3 cents for black. Options for colour printing in the Division are limited to a few printers purchased to satisfy specific requirements, and one with Alan Nicol that can be used on a cost recovery basis by staff in the Division with requirements for colour printing. The Curriculum Resources Centre has colour photocopying and printing, but there is no mechanism in place to charge for printing so colour printing is not available to staff. Tourism has a colour MFD with rights to print in colour managed by the section.

Alan’s colour printer is out of warranty and should be replaced, although when he leaves at the end of this year the Division will need to decide what if anything to do to support colour printing beyond the end of the year.

Mechanisms to manage colour printing effectively do exist, but implementing them in our environment (Divisional and University) may be resource-intensive. With the Executive’s approval, the Technical Services Unit will investigate options for providing colour printing to the Division on a manageable basis with the printing costs to be borne by individual Schools or Centres, or by the Division.

Microteaching rooms bookings

Trying to organise appropriate access to Divisional resources

Students and staff in a number of units have been using the Microteaching rooms in Building 5 for many years for recording presentations and interviews. In 2004/5 the rooms were upgraded using funds from the DEST Infrastructure Grant for the National Institute of Language Learning (NILL) with better quality video and audio recording equipment, SmartBoard electronic whiteboards and video projectors.

School of Education and Community Studies students recording presentations and interviews for assessable work are the most frequent users of the rooms. School of Languages and International Education staff and students also book the rooms for presentation work in regular tutorials, although it is unclear whether they use the video and sound recording capabilities and other specialist facilities in the rooms. The SmartBoards in these rooms are used also in the Information Technology and Education unit to familiarise prospective teachers with the sort of equipment they will have available to them in classrooms when they graduate.

Student bookings are managed through the use of booking sheets in the anteroom outside the Microteaching rooms. The rooms are also included in the University timetable system as Divisional rooms, and can be booked through Syllabus+.

Recently the rooms were block-booked through Syllabus+ for the ACT Department of Education and Training to conduct interviews with prospective teachers. Students who had booked the rooms for video recording using the booking sheets were unable to use the spaces and emergency arrangements had to be made elsewhere in the Division to accommodate their requirements. Also some tutorials are booked into these rooms on a regular basis, but the facilities are not used during the tutorial much if at all. While the rooms are occupied by tutorials, students wanting to use them for their assessments can’t get in, increasing the pressure on the use of the rooms (towards the due date for assignments it is often impossible for some students to make a booking in the rooms at all).

With the increasing pressure on the use of the specialist facilities of the rooms, bookings for the rooms should be removed from Syllabus+ and only used for the specialised purposes for which they were designed.

25 July 2006

UCTV Update

Digital television on a desktop near you (if not your own!)

Twenty one live free-to-air digital television channels are now reliably being transmitted from Building 20 around the University network, 13 of them to GrangeNet. It is possible that the GrangeNet channels can be received via experimental networks in Europe and the US (but still not reliably in Building 9!).

As an additional service from the Technical Services Unit, video pieces developed in media, journalism and other units can now be transmitted as a separate service along with the live television services. Any video placed in a particular network folder developed by the TSU for the purpose will be added to a loop of other such pieces and transmitted continuously. When the service becomes operational (when there are videos to play!), it will automatically appear in the Service Announcements list in the VLC player used to receive the existing services.

Recently a student from the Ressies asked if they could access the streams there: the answer is currently no, but the request was forwarded to PVC Research and Information Management. He has undertaken to see if the University can in fact make it work: it requires some updating to the network infrastructure and some work on network access policy, but he and the Deputy Vice Chancellor are hoping to be able to make it work.


Has the avalanche of unwanted emails slowed?

Early in July the University further increased its efforts to reduce spam and emails containing viruses and other malware from reaching University email accounts. Graphical evidence at http://rattlesnake.canberra.edu.au/cgi-bin/mailgraph.cgi/werewolf shows clearly the results of the changes between June and July (on the Month and Year graphs towards the bottom of the screen): many more messages are now being rejected rather than passed on to user accounts with [POSSIBLE SPAM] tags. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the amount of spam, even the number of messages marked as [POSSIBLE SPAM], has reduced since the increased measures were implemented.

Staff are asked to pass on spam and other unwanted email messages not marked as [POSSIBLE SPAM] that are still getting through to their in boxes to ICT Services for review, to establish what might be able to be done to reduce even further the amount of unwanted email reaching user accounts. A new Public Folder called SPAM for ICT should have appeared in your email client (under the Public Folders directory in your University account). Drag or save emails you believe to be examples of spam or other unwanted emails into this folder and they will be made available to ICT Services automatically. Contact the comedu helpdesk if you need assistance in transferring spam to this folder.

Forwarding suspect email to either ICT Services or the comedu helpdesk won’t help: forwarded emails may lose the data required by ICT Services to establish how it might have got through the filters in place.

The new arrangements in force may have unintended consequences for people outside the University sending legitimate email to University accounts. Otherwise legitimate email may be marked as [POSSIBLE SPAM] or even rejected without being delivered to the addressee. If you come across examples of this happening please contact the ICT Services helpdesk (x5500 or servicedesk@canberra.edu.au) to advise them and to seek advice on what needs to be done to overcome the issue.

If legitimate email is rejected the sender will receive an explanation of why the email was rejected by the University with instructions on what the sender (or their IT section or ISP) has to do to have their email delivered to the University recipient without being rejected in the future. While in some cases the original email may not be delivered to the intended recipient, in most cases the email will be delivered anyway while the problem is rectified at the sender’s end: the sender just keeps getting the message to have their email server configured properly to avoid the messages being rejected.

CLRC Printing

At least at the time of writing the report, it appeared student printing in the CLRC would work. Alas it was not to be...

After two years of issues, the Communication Learning Resource Centre (CLRC) can now reliably offer students enrolled in relevant units access to quota-limited free printing in the CLRC.

It has been a policy of the CLRC for many years that eligible students can print up to 20 pages free every two days. During an upgrade to the computing environment there several years ago, the management of this policy from a technical point of view became troublesome and unreliable. Efforts to fix the problems with the print quota system were complicated by the University’s complex management of student identity management; the requirement for a ‘single sign-on’ in the University (no matter what service you want to access you should be able to use the same id and password, and any password change should immediately follow you to other services you may want to use); and the lack of a single authoritative source of information covering a student’s id, their password, their enrolment status on a daily basis and the units and course in which they are enrolled now.

With another upgrade of the CLRC’s computing environment available, it became critical to fix the problem properly: the authorisation of students enrolled in the Division is also required to support a number of present and future specialist services provided by the TSU, including the existing ePortfolio and video streaming services, and the up-coming networked video editing storage solution now being developed.

The Division’s Services Delivery Manager worked with an outside consultant and with a number of people from ICT Services on and off over a period of several weeks during the mid-year break to rebuild the system to use University-sanctioned data updated daily for authentication, and the University-developed image for the CLRC computers adapted to the Division’s specialised requirements, to manage the CLRC computers.

There are still some issues for some students who are unable to access their quota, but it appears to be the responsibility of ICT Services in the way the centrally-managed student data is being selected to provide us only with the details of eligible students. The TSU continues to work with ICT Services to refine the processes but overall it has been a successful outcome for a nagging problem that also gives the Division a comprehensive and up-to-date solution allowing us to provide better specialised services to students in the Division, and one that fits in with the University’s proposed Enterprise Architecture.

13 June 2006

University Assets

A proposed audit of the Division's assets raises the issue of asset management.

Staff need to be reminded that there is a strict procedure to follow in order to dispose of University assets. Items on the University Asset Register must be returned to the Technical Services Unit for disposal if they are no longer in use.

If an asset is stolen or broken irreparably this should be reported to cehelpdesk so the necessary paperwork can be completed to get the asset off the University’s books. Similarly leased items or items on the University Asset Register should not be redeployed or moved without the knowledge of the TSU.

With the move to leasing the University has also entered into an agreement with Macquarie Technology Services (http://www.macquarie.com/mts/) to dispose of University IT assets. Staff wanting to buy second hand equipment are encouraged to purchase the equipment they need from MTS via its eBay store (http://stores.ebay.com.au/Macquarie-Technology-Services).

There will be an audit of the University assets held by the Division between Tuesday 20 and Thursday 22 June 2006. Asset Officers will be visiting all Divisional offices and other spaces to check equipment on the Asset Register.

Service Desk software

Computer Associates UniCenter ServiceDesk software to go campus-wide.

Last year the Division entered into a three-year agreement with Computer Associates to use CA’s UniCenter ServiceDesk software to manage helpdesk requests. The software is used by the other Academic Divisions, and now ICT Services has chosen it so all the ICT helpdesks in the University are to be using the same software.

ICT Services is currently developing an integrated system for the whole University to use. The Division will still be responsible for managing its own support calls, but it will be easier to transfer calls to other Divisions and to manage staff that transfer between Divisions.

Since the Division purchased its licence to use the software, CA has upgraded the product. Existing data can’t be transferred to the update, so until the new version is commissioned we won’t be transferring from our existing system. At a meeting held on Tuesday, 13 June 2006 it became clear that the best way forward was to gradually transition jobs over Semester 2, 2006, to the new system while maintaining the old one. In January 2007 we would stop using the old system and be fully transferred to the new one.

A minor risk to be considered is that the old system runs on Divisional hardware that runs out of warranty on 29 September 2006. Should the server fail we would need, as a temporary measure, to transfer the existing system to another server until the helpdesk had been migrated fully to the CA UniCenter ServiceDesk product. The risk is manageable and I propose that the Division takes it.

Home Directories

A step closer to ICT Services looking after Divisional staff network home directories.

ICT Services appears to have accepted the proposal to centrally provide Home Directories and is in the process of finalising a project plan that will see the Home Directories for the Division of Communication and Education hosted centrally by late September 2006. Both Windows and Macintosh users will be provided with up to 2 gigabytes of file storage for their Home Directories. Additional space can be allocated either centrally or through the Division on successful application to the cehelpdesk.

The Division will be kept informed of the progress of the project and any impact it may have on individual users as the plans become clearer.

Network switches in Building 1

Finally, switch upgrades in Building 1!

The Network Management Team has advised us informally that network switches are to be replaced in Building 1 over the mid-year break. There will be some disruption to network services while the new switches and other networking gear is installed, with breaks of up to two hours possible from time to time. Work is being done in the early morning so while the network may be down when people start work outages are unlikely to extend beyond 9am.

The new switches are more sophisticated than the ones being replaced and should allow better services, faster network access and access to the streaming video services provided out of Building 20.

Specific times and dates of planned outages will be circulated to the Division when the Network Management Team provides us with the information. Unless otherwise advised, staff should NOT assume that network outages are the result of the installations and should call the cehelpdesk if they have any concerns.

Printers Rollout

This Division is beginning the replacement of its desktop printers.

HP 4050 and older desktop printers are being phased out, and as many of the HP 4100s as we can afford to buy replacements for this year are also being updated. Building 5, Building 20 and the Business Team are receiving priority this year: any HP 4050 and older machines in Building 1 and 9 will be replaced with the “best” HP 4100s upgraded elsewhere until we can purchase (or lease) new printers (probably 2007).

This is also a project for the mid-year break. Retired printers will be disposed of through Macquarie Technology Services.

Minor Works

Semester breaks are traditionally the time the Technical Services Unit can focus on longer-term projects, when demands from staff tend to less than during teaching periods.

This year the break between Semesters 1 and 2 is being used to start the project to move Divisional servers to a new, separate server facility. The first stage of the project is minor works in the new server room to prepare it for the servers. Climate control adequate for the equipment to go into the room is being installed, access provided to the Technical Services Unit Helpdesk work area, and network connections provided to join the new facility to the University computer network.

There will be some noise and other activities associated with the work over the break, but no interruptions to services are expected. Once the minor works are completed new equipment replacing end-of-life gear in the old server room will be installed and commissioned in the new server room during Semester 2. Once this equipment is operational the older equipment will be decommissioned. The equipment still in use will be moved to the new room after the end of Semester 2.

30 May 2006

iChat with ASU

Sessions between Japanese language students at UC and English language students at ASU in Nagoya are completed for this Semester.

The four video chat sessions between Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) and UC have now been completed, successfully.

UC Japanese lecturer Yuko Kinoshita has written a piece on the experience for the Divisional Newsletter that reflects all the Technical Services Unit needs to know about its reason for existing:

“At the beginning of the first session, none of us knew what to expect. All the technology appeared to be ready to go - thanks to George Bray, who looked after the technical side of this project. However, we were not sure how students would react to this new exercise, and still didn’t know how well the technology would work. We worried that the students might find it awkward to talk to strangers and the discussion would not happen. We also worried that the topics might be too difficult for them to handle.

“But the results were brilliant. The students on both sides just jumped into it as soon as we started the session, and they talked away for the whole two hours. Considering five minutes is quite a long time to talk to a stranger even in our own language, this was marvellous. They occasionally slipped away from the topic and started talking about the weather or their favourite music. However, they were still talking in the language that they struggle so much with in a normal classroom environment, and were also learning about a person who lives in a very different environment from theirs. This too was a precious cultural experience that they so rarely can taste.

“I have never seen students speaking so much Japanese, so spontaneously. They often struggled with words, but they kept going. Even the students who are normally unwilling to speak Japanese in class were talking with their Japanese partners for the whole session. Also it was notable that students did more thorough preparation for this project, compared to discussion classes in previous years, in which they discussed those issues in Japanese with their classmates. This probably means that the students were more motivated in these iChat classes, as it brought them a real experience of speaking with native speakers. I also observed the students’ level of confidence building up over four sessions. We are hoping that everyone can maintain the enthusiasm and the confidence they discovered through these classes, and stretch themselves even further. Although we cannot run the iChat program next semester due to conflicting schedules, Harry and I have more plans to make the technology work for us in the classroom - hopefully we can find more ways to enhance the classroom experience for our students.”

Thanks must go to the Technical Services Unit team, particularly George Bray, for making this work. Thanks also to UC Network Management Team, Geoff Rozenberg; UC Network Security Manager, Matthew Sullivan; the Deputy Head of the Division of Communication and Education, Leah Moore; and to the Communication Learning Resource Centre (for providing the venue and putting up with the intrusion!) and particularly Annabel Beckenham, Chair of the CLRC Committee, for her support. Harry Norris and Yusaku Oteki made it work at ASU.

A photo says it all:

Student from ASU, Nagoya (centre), video chatting with two UC Japanese Language students (inset)

See the UCTV website for a (silent) movie and some additional photos of one of the sessions. The movie is silent so that Journalism student could turn it into a story if they wanted to.

[See UC Monitor Online story]

TSU Short Staffed

Staff shortages at the end of the Semester test the resources of the Technical Services Unit

On several days over the past few weeks up to half of the full-time staff of the Technical Services Unit have been or are on personal or other leave. Since this period at the end of Semester One is among the busiest of the year, there is an impact on the ability of the TSU to deliver services to the Division. Of particular concern is the TSU’s lack of resources to support teaching and assessments in media-oriented units in Creative Communication and Professional Communication.

One casual staff member has been contracted to help out, but it is not easy to find casual staff with the necessary skills and experience to be immediately productive without support. Traditionally casual staff are also students or sessional staff, but at this time of the semester they are often too busy to take on extra work with the TSU when we need the support.

Because of the cyclical nature of the demand for services, it might be prudent for the Division to consider developing an extended pool of potential casual staff and train them up to help out at times of peak demand: particularly the beginning and end of semesters and other teaching weeks. Whether the casual staff are recruited and managed by the TSU or the Schools requiring the support needs to be discussed.

With recent retirements there is also an opportunity for the Division to reassess the way its resources are managed, but there are also the challenges of managing changes in experiences and expectations as new people take over from those on whom the Division has relied for such a long time.

15 May 2006

Leasing IT Equipment

Leasing IT equipment will change the way we operate as a Division.

On Wednesday 10 May 2006 Director of Financial Services gave a presentation on leasing of IT equipment. According to the Director VCAC has approved that the University move from owning to leasing of eligible IT equipment, effective immediately. A paper copy of his presentation is available on request.

Under leasing arrangements, the leasing company (Macquarie Bank) pays the vendor for equipment acquired by the University, and Macquarie charges the University a lease payment every three months for the period of the lease (normally three years). At the end of the lease the equipment goes to the Bank through its Macquarie Technology Services (MTS: formerly known as Reboot) group. MTS resells the equipment to make the Bank’s margin on the arrangement. At the end of the three-year period the cost of the equipment to the Division is almost exactly the same as it would have been had the Division purchased the equipment outright, except that the payments would be made quarterly over the life of the equipment rather than the full cost being paid upfront as is done now. Leased equipment is not on the University’s Asset Register and not subject to depreciation and is therefore easier for Financial Services to manage.

Eligible equipment covers desktop and portable computers, printers, photocopiers, network equipment and servers. While media equipment was not included in the list, it is open to the Division to approach the leasing company through Financial Services to discuss leasing of other items like video projectors, production equipment and studio infrastructure. Last year about 40% of the Division’s IT Infrastructure Fund loan was spent on media equipment.

If an item of leased equipment is lost or stolen, the Division will have to pay out the balance of the lease. Any repairs not covered by warranty will be at the Division’s expense. Leasing does not cover Operating System and application software, except where the software is part of the original purchase. Any upgrades will continue to be the Division’s (or the University’s) responsibility. In some cases original packaging, documentation and disks that come with a leased device will have to be kept in storage and given to MTS at the end of the lease with the equipment. The Division will need additional storage space to keep the required material.

As existing eligible equipment that was purchased outright is retired and replaced with leased equipment, in the first year of lease payments the Division will pay lease payments equal to one third of the capital cost of the equipment leased (only one third of eligible equipment will be leased in the first year, the rest is still owned outright). In the second year two thirds of the eligible equipment will be leased: and by the end of the third year all eligible equipment will be leased.

Assuming that the Division leases the same amount of equipment it currently buys, as much will be spent on lease payments from the beginning of the fourth year on as would have been spent each year in outright purchases: that is, assuming there is no difference in the amount of equipment used by the Division in four years’ time because of leasing, in four years’ time the Division will be committed to lease payments about equal to that which it now spends each year on capital purchases (there will however be savings in the first three years, and there should not be any requirement to replace a piece of equipment after three years when the original item is handed over to MTS so if the equipment is no longer required a saving could be made there).

Leasing does not provide additional funds for purchasing more equipment; it just spreads the cost over a nominated life for the gear. What is lost is the flexibility to vary expenditure on equipment year by year by, for example, reducing the number of new computers purchased in a lean year by keeping old computers for four years instead of three. There is also no longer a store of old equipment that can be sold, or repurposed to provide, for example:

  • postgraduate students with computers, or
  • staff using Macintosh computers with access to Callista (or Finance One), or
  • old gear to host dynamic websites, or
  • additional capacity for streaming television services.

These are all things the Division does now that won’t be an option if the equipment is all leased. From a Technical Services Unit point of view leasing is an advantage to us since the TSU is no longer required to look after old equipment and support a variety of services running on older equipment: for the same amount of money there will be less of a variety and extent of equipment and services available. Financial Services will handle disposal, but overall it is difficult to determine how the management of leased assets will differ from managing purchased assets. Certainly some current issues with disposing of old equipment will disappear, but there is uncertainty about how work is involved with any new procedures to be introduced.

It is expected that the IT Infrastructure Fund will disappear next year, 2007. Financial Services is preparing a submission to VCAC proposing that the money the University now spends on the Fund each year ($700,000?) is distributed among the Divisions in their budgets. Since the Division of Communication and Education repays its IT Infrastructure Fund loan each year, in theory this means that each year from 2007 the Division will receive sufficient funding to spend as much as it does now from the Fund.

Lease periods can vary from the three years suggested for IT equipment, but a condition of the lease is that the original manufacturer’s warranty on the equipment has to cover the lease period plus three months: in the case of a computer this would mean negotiating a non-standard warranty arrangement with the supplier (not impossible, just an added complication in the process).

Financial Services is proposing to establish an IT Procurement section to manage the leasing of IT equipment that will, among other things, be responsible for negotiating discounts with suppliers for standard configurations. Financial Services would pass on any savings to the Divisions in the form of reduced lease payments, but it seems these arrangements would be the same if equipment is leased or purchased (after all, the suppliers still get paid the full amount up front, either by the Bank or the University).

Since leasing has been mandated by VCAC (according to Financial Services), the best option for the Division might be a gradual transition to leasing over a number of years by continuing to purchase some equipment but leasing more each year. The IT Infrastructure Fund loan for 2006 is approved and can be spent to purchase equipment outright, or Financial Services has raised the prospect of being able to use the IT Infrastructure Fund loan in 2006 to service lease payments. The Division can purchase outright equipment that can be repurposed for non-core uses after its initial job is done, or equipment like installed media studio gear that is normally kept long after its warranty expires and it maintained by outside providers. The approach could be reassessed each year to see how the benefits of leasing compare with outright purchase and purchasing decisions adjusted accordingly.

02 May 2006

IPTV Success

Potentially among the largest broadcasters in the world??

Satellite television services received at the University of Canberra can now be seen throughout Australia on GrangeNet, and even internationally on broadband research networks. A very special thanks is due to the members of the Network Management Team for their pivotal role in making this happen.

[See UC Monitor Online article]

iChat sessions

Success with intercontinental communication and learning.

As this report is being completed, students from UC should be chatting with students from Japan’s Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) via video chat links. The first of four planned video chat sessions between students from the two campuses, it has taken some effort to get the system in place to allow the connections to be made. Thanks are due particularly to the ICT Services Network Management team, the Deputy Head of the Division, the Communication Learning Resource Centre (for providing the venue), and particularly to our Service Delivery Manager for his perseverance.

[See UC Monitor Online article]

Print and Photocopy charges

Multifunction devices continue to take over from traditional printers and photocopiers.

The Library has upgraded its old photocopiers with multifunction devices, and is introducing a system that will allow students to print directly to the devices as well as use them for photocopying. The cost per impression is the same whether a student prints or photocopies, so the Library is reconsidering the current disparate pricing for student printing (15 cents per impression) and photocopying (10 cents per impression).

An analysis of the costs for the Division shows that, from the figures available, a cost of 10 cents per impression for printing or photocopying on the Division’s MFDs would return sufficient funds to pay for the rental of the devices, the paper and the click-charge (covering toner, maintenance and parts for the devices over their expected 5-year life). Where student print to printers, further analysis of the numbers shows that at 10 cents per copy the Division will still cover its costs, but with only a slight margin.

In 2003, VCAC agreed to “introduce the ‘user pays’ principle for all student printing to make the costs of student printing equitable across the University by Semester 2, 2003 or as soon as logistically possible” (Resolution No. VCAC 2003/07/07 [part]). As such we will need to charge the same as the Library is charging students.

I propose that the Division supports a common charge of 10 cents per impression for printing and for photocopying to printers and multifunction devices in the Division, matching the Library’s proposed charges.

Websites on Divisional Server

More centralisation: Divisional websites.

Some 40 websites have been identified on the Divisional web server that will need to be migrated to the University’s Web Content Management System before the Divisional web server is decommissioned towards the end of this year. Any websites requiring specialised technologies to operate that are not available from UCOnline will be migrated from the Divisional web server to other Divisional servers as required before the server is decommissioned.

Divisional staff will be contacting people responsible for websites still active on the Divisional web server to see what they want to be done with their websites.

Staff Home Drives

Centralisation of 'common' services continues.

Early in April 2006 the Division developed a Project Mandate proposing that ICT Services take over the hosting of staff home directories from the Divisions. It appears that all academic divisions have agreed with this proposal and ICT Services is currently investigating the scope of the project in order to seek approval and the funds necessary to implement the proposal. The transfer could happen within the next three months if all goes well, which would be good for the Division since our own Network Attached Storage device, DCENAS, is due to go out of warranty in September this year and is currently not working correctly (Dell is working with the TSU team to overcome the issues with the device).

ICT Services propose to limit the storage for each member of the staff to 2 gigabytes (GB). This will be a “soft” limit up to 3 GB, which means staff will be warned if they are storing more than 2 GB of data, but will be allowed to store up to 3 GB.

Currently the Division hosts network home directories for 665 accounts. This includes all staff and staff-like entities past and present. Of these 665 accounts, 23 are currently over 3GB and 37 (in total) are over 2 GB. The largest is 32 GB, but 265 accounts contain no data (average is around 460 megabytes (MB), with a total of around 300 GB in total storage used).

There are several options in dealing with the 37 accounts that have more than the 2 GB proposed under the ICT Services plan:

  1. Advise the owners of the accounts that no more than 2 GB can be stored in their Home Directories, and limit storage to a maximum of 3 GB
    Many staff have legitimate reasons for storing large amounts of data in their Home Directories, where the data can be professionally managed, backed up and archived. Any legitimate University files should be part of a system that allows for professional management: documents stored on local hard disk drives are prone to loss and may not be available for others to access for official purposes if needs arise.
  2. Suggest that ICT Services provide an average of 2GB of storage per account, with no quotas
    ICT Services may find that users will save so much data that collectively the storage required exceeds the capacity provided. It then becomes an administrative issue to identify the large accounts, contact the users and ask them to reduce the amount of data they are storing, and following them up. The Division currently manages its storage on this basis and the manual process can be time-consuming and is not always effective.
  3. Pay ICT Services to store the additional data for Divisional staff exceeding their quota
    This option would be difficult to scope and manage: ICT Services is unlikelyto agree to put in place a manual process to identify high users and manage their quotas.
  4. Provide Divisional staff with additional storage if their quota is exceeded
    The Division can provide additional, professionally managed online storage on request using existing or planned specialist Divisional storage. The TSU would be happy to manage the manual process required to deal with the requests from the limited number of people for whom this is an issue.

18 April 2006

IPTV to GrangeNet

The future of television, on your desktop computer now at UC and soon across GrangeNet.

GrangeNet (GRid And Next GEneration NETwork) is the experimental high performance computer network funded by Government to support grid and advanced communication services for research and education across Australia [http://www.grangenet.net/index.html].

The television channels that we are currently reticulating around our local UC computer network can be made available across the GrangeNet network simply by reconfiguring some of the settings on the program streams and the switches and routers through which the signals pass: with the right configuration someone at UWA in Perth could be watching one of the satellite services being received on campus here in Building 20, at no cost (GrangeNet is free of traffic charges).

GrangeNet’s bandwidth is such that the 120-150Mb/s of satellite television services will hardly have any impact on other services running on their links, which runs at speeds of up to 10Gb/s between nodes.

For legal reasons we would only provide free-to-air satellite services that originate outside Australia on GrangeNet: no local terrestrial services nor ABC Asia Pacific or network feeds will be included until the legality of providing these services can be determined.

The services would be provided on a purely experimental basis with no guarantees of reliability or availability to see what issues may arise when providing television over IP networks. Since GrangeNet’s funding ceases at the end of this year it is unlikely that services will be available after then unless AARNET takes them on.

It would cost us nothing to provide the streams except for some small amount of time doing some reconfiguration of the streams and liaising with ICT Services’ Network Management Team to ensure the traffic is available on the link to GrangeNet. Once outside the University border any configuration issues will be handled by GrangeNet staff.