Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Money saving decisions

I have wrote previously about the difficult financial position educational institutions are now finding themselves in. I have also mentioned the savings in energy costs with our move to virtualizing most of our servers but I would just like to mention what else we are doing to save money.

This year the students email moved over to Google giving them much more storage space and less data for us to have to store. An added bonus is they also get a free calendar which they did not have before. We are considering implementing this for staff too as we currently pay a large annual fee for the Oracle calendar staff use.

A problem we have experienced since moving student email has been spam. Google does a great job of stopping students seeing any spam but we are now unable to prevent them from sending it when their accounts have been compromised. We have seen an increase in phishing attempts originating with the Google email accounts and whereas before we would stop them being sent in the first place we now have to react to them coming in.

Overall though, the benefits outweighed the negatives as we didn't need to look after servers, backups and the infrastructure around them.

We have also purchased LogMeIn Rescue to hopefully reduce the time taken to fix faults as well as traveling costs. This version of LogMeIn supports PCs, Macs and smartphones.

There are people higher up who are looking at using Google Apps for staff as a way to save money. They are also looking into other open source software for document management and the new portal.

In the future there may be more data stored in the cloud than there is currently and outsourcing is on the agenda as an avenue to explore. Obviously the strictest data protection rules must apply.

In my own area we are implementing softphones for making calls using your PC and have purchased speech recognition software for the switchboard meaning members of our team do not have to cover and answer the phones, instead an Automated Attendant deals with the caller. Putting them through to who they require. As a result we are free to fix faults and make network changes/improvements.

Fibre, fibre, fibre

Well this is what I have been doing today. I have all this fibre to test.

As part of a resilience project we are currently undertaking (which should be finished next month) I have been testing the quality of the links between buildings and departments and checking for damages (repairing where possible).

The project in question is designed to provide backups to the routes between buildings in the event of failure (power or otherwise). Reducing the downtime our users experience.

I meant to get a picture of the miles of cable we have been providing contractors to cable around the city (hopefully one will be coming soon). We make sure the contractors buy the fibre cable from us so we know it is of good quality as there has been instances of poor quality fibre installations in the past.

For testing I have been using the Noyes OPM5 (below) and a OLS4 at the other end providing the light source. We have just recently been provided with these which I am pleased about as previously we had different testers for single-mode and multi-mode. The OPM5 will measure both. On most trays we have 12 single-mode and 12 multi-mode connections.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Spending review 2010. The good and the bad...

The good news first. George Osborne has announced that the schools budget would rise from £35bn to £39bn and more money would be available for disadvantaged pupils.

We already knew about the building schools for the future program being abolished as well as Becta closed down. It seems the hardest hit will be higher education. Universities face a 40% cut in their teaching budget over the next four years totalling a cut of £2.9bn.

How these cuts will effect staff and pupils is yet to be determined but it seems likely that fees will rise. Also the universities are going to have to decide what services they want to continue to provide. Who knows, maybe a managed service will eventually come to this university.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Instructions for iPhones and iPods

Step 1: Open the packaging.
Step 2: Remove headphones.
Step 3: Dispose of headphones.
Step 4: Buy decent set, not necessarily for very much (for example).

As someone who uses public transport to get to and from work I really hate having to listen to someone else's crappy taste in music. Every time I hear some awful dance, rap, techno, house, garage, hip-hop whatever it is blasting out I turn and see those familiar white apple headphones in the persons ears.

I don't know where my iPhone headphones are, and I don't want to know. If I turn my iPhone up to the loudest possible setting and don't have my (non-apple) headphones in my ears I cannot hear a thing. As it should be.

They are headphones, for personal listening, don't subject everyone around to your rubbish. I have not even mentioned how uncomfortable the white buds are.

*I am sure my taste in music will be seen as just as bad to other people. But the difference is I don't make you listen to it.

Big day tomorrow...

We find out tomorrow what cuts the government will be making to university funding. It is a bit of a squeaky bum time here as we already was told to find £400,000 out of the budget. According to a leaked email to the BBC cuts are likely to be as high as £4.2bn (that's right BILLION).

Obviously that will have a massive effect on higher education. The students may have to cover most of the shortfall with raised tuition fees but we are already getting emails about working hours arriving in our inbox's, even before the announcement.

I am sure there will be a meeting in the next few weeks so we will just have to see what happens.

After moving from secondary education where my job was in danger due to BSF and managed services, higher education does not seem so safe now either.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ipconfig not recognized...

I had a case this morning where a user could not give us there IP information because when they typed ipconfig into a command prompt it said 'ipconfig not recognized as an internal or external command'.

If you come across this problem type the word path in the command prompt and you should see something like this that says C:\windows\system32:

If it does not then that is your problem and here is how to fix it.

1. Right click computer and go to properties (or press windows key and pause/break).

2. Go to advanced system settings.

3. Go to environmental variables.

4. In the system variables browse to Path.

5. Edit it to say C:\windows\system32

6. Go to OK.

It should work now but you may need to restart your computer.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Wireless upgrades

We had some funding for new wireless access points, which I have spoken about before here. We spoke to the departments about where they wanted them and carried out surveys to find the best places. We tried to cover teaching spaces primarily (especially as the departments themselves were not paying) so as many people as possible would get use out each access point. It was rather annoying however the amount of staff said they wanted it just above THEIR desk or in THEIR office where, after a survey, it would only really be them getting any benefit out of this costly AP.

After a few early starts so as not to effect users we have maybe nearly 400 access points up now. As these are 802.11n access points they provide 5ghz access to the network for compatible devices such as Macbooks and also better security.

A problem we have encountered is with the few older 1200 series access points. As these only support WPA and not WPA2 we have Macbooks that think they are connected but are not. The Macbook associates, gets an address and then enables encryption so it has a valid IP address but does not work.

As a workaround it seems Macs specify WPA2 automatically so we need to remove all profiles of our network from the airport config, the reconnect specifically as WPA Enterprise and it should work.

A last point about wireless. It seems greater demands are being placed on it this academic year due to the greater use of smart-phones. This is something any network team will now need to consider when setting out their wireless needs. I have already seen local schools using iPod's, PSP's and Nintendo DS's in the classroom along with mini video cameras capable of uploading video and pictures over the internet. This, along with the phenomenal success of the iPhone among staff is a big wireless move in the academic sphere.

Silly students

If you are using your laptop to download copyright material and we block it then it is probably not a good idea to phone us up and say all of a sudden your downloads have slowed down. Silly boy.

It looked suspicious as we entered the room and saw a drive caddy with full size drive connected to the laptop. Then seeing a familiar BitTorrent client running in the taskbar it did not take long to diagnose the problem.

We currently have 2 x 1Gig links (one for power computing/computer science and one for regular users) but there has been talk of needing at least a 10Gig connection to cope with the amount of research data that will be transported. Lets just hope the peer-to-peer traffic shaping software does its job or we'll probably see all our electricity savings go out the window as students realise what they can do.

On the subject of copyright material, I was surprised to read on Plusnet's support pages that they say they were not to blame for leaking customers information in the recent ACS:Law hacking case. Below is a screenshot of their website:

This is despite the fact that the information had been sent to ACS:Law unencrypted and unsecured. So how was Plusnet not, at least partly, responsible?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Going green

There has been a big push in our institution for greener IT. Not least because know we have targets set by government that are extremely challenging (48% reduction in carbon emissions on 2005 baseline).

We are are encouraging paperless meetings, instead using tablet devices such as the iPad. We also promote online collaboration and lately have moved into producing maps and other information included in apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices. I may be involved soon in testing the new Android app when I upgrade to android 2.2 (more in a later post). Hopefully this will reduce the need for this information to be printed as I saw some amazing figures recently:

In 2009/2010 year, our institution used 41,000,000 sheets of A4 paper.

That would mean an average of 2166 pages per member of staff.


Also incredible is the saving we have made through server virtualisation. We have gone from 130 servers to 4 large servers with virtualisation. This has had an effect of a 5 year energy saving of £436,569.

If you are currently running a number of servers I would seriously recommend taking a look at virtualisation. There are many great products out there such as VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server. In my last school I started rolling out some virtual servers and hopefully can provide some guides soon.

Turn off conversation view

I don't mind Gmail's conversation view, in fact, when I first saw it I quite liked it. It is even something Apple have copied with the new version of the iPhone IOS in what they call 'threads'.

However I know people who don't like it one bit. Well (in the words of Professor Farnsworth), good news everyone! There is now an option in the Gmail settings to turn it off, should you wish to.