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.