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.