Friday, 25 February 2011

Spiceworks for iPhone

I was a big fan of Spiceworks in the school I used to work at, especially its ability to map and inventory your network. It made it a wonderful piece of helpdesk software which had the added bonus of being free.

Currently we pay for the Supportworks software from Hornbill, but for those of you who use Spiceworks, and I know there are one or two that read this blog, you may be interested to know there is now a free iPhone app for it (iTunes link here).

From your iPhone you can manage, respond and create tickets, view hardware and software, access user details and get involved in discussions with other Spiceworks users.

Please note this requires iOS4.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Annual Report - Facts & Figures

A few facts & figures from our departments recently published annual report:

• 7,436,869 pages printed out by students
• 43.9 million email messages sent, of which:
• 2.6 million delivered
• 94.1% rejected as spam
• 10,000 telephone extensions
• 6,000 voicemail accounts
• 850 mobile telephones provided by the University
• 48,641 phone calls, emails and visits to helpdesk, IT Centres, the workshop and networking staff in 2010
• 23,422 phone enquiries handled at the helpdesk
• 17,982 email responses sent from helpdesk
• 450 knowledgebase articles written
• 3487 knowledgebase searches
• 412 queries logged through self-service
• 1177 Instant Message and Remote Assistance sessions
• 39,000 hits to service status page in one day during email outage
• 743 followers on Twitter
• over 1,500 outlets added to the network this year (5% increase in size of network on last year)
• 390 wireless access points around campus (30% increase on last year)
• 2,000 wireless devices connected at peak time
• 1 Gb/s dedicated internet connection for grid computing and scientific computing
• Iceberg processor cores: 568*
• Iceberg performance : 435GFLOPs*
• Iceberg total main memory: 2.296TB*
• Iceberg filestore: 8 TB*
• Iceberg temporary disk space: 18TB*
• Iceberg power consumption: 36KW*

*iceberg is the name of the Linux based High Performance Computing Cluster at the University. Its mission is to meet the intensive computing requirements of research projects and provide 'cloud computing' capabilities within the campus.

Just a few things I thought was interesting, see how it compares to other educational institutions.

Windows 7 Service Pack 1 out today

Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 has been released a few hours ago. Details at the Microsoft Download Centre here.

So for those of you in schools and educational institutions, get planing your updates (at least it is half-term for many schools this week - hope you didn't do any images in the last couple of days). If you use WSUS or just group policy without a WSUS, or even just let users manage their own updates then you will need to be aware of this as it could have implications on your lessons (for example, if it is set to install automatically then you may find your users miss half the first lesson back after half term).

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

I needed cheering up

I am back at work today, still feeling terrible. After having only one day off sick in nearly 5 years, since starting my new job I have been off almost every week just recently which doesn't look good when there is a promotion opportunity arising soon.

Still everyone has been really good about it and when I have come in I have been told to go home (probably so they don't get infected).

Still I needed cheering up, so I got a new mouse. Sad I know! But just look at it!
My dream car, an Aston Martin DBS. And look the headlights work:
And the tail lights:

It keeps me amused a little while and even has a scroll wheel in the bonnet.

Don't judge me.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

IPT roll-out continues

We are continuing to roll out IP telephony to departments and one of the teaching hospitals will be set-up tomorrow (82 handsets).

We had to do a bit of prep work and change all the switches in the building over to Cisco 3750 POE switches to power the phones. Also setting up the voice VLANs to function across there and a few other 'fiddly' bits we discovered while setting up.

The 'fiddly' bits included the hospital emergency phone number being the start of a range of our numbers which caused a few head scratches, as well as the fact that, as the phones will be on the university network, they will be barred from calling the hospital number.

In the case of the emergency phone, the problem was that if the emergency number was 1111 and we had 5 digit extensions from 11110 through to 11119 then university personnel would be ringing the emergeny number by mistake.

To solve this we changed the Dial Plan to allow the four digit emergency number as an extension on our servers. Dialing this will point to a vector. This vector looks at the ANI (calling digits) and routes the call based on those. If the calling number is specified in a Vector Routing Table (which we put the new extensions in) then it will route to the Hospitals Control Centre DDI. If the ANI is not in the vector table then it will just play a message along the lines of 'This number is not valid' and hang up. Also, obviously, we had to reserve and not use the ten numbers in that range.

In the long term using IPT will not only provide many more features for the users but also make things easier for us. Every time someone moves their office around or swaps desks we will not have to go out to the building and re-patch from an EPN wiring frame, to a cabinet and to a socket. With their IP phones they can just plug in to any network socket and login and out of the phone as they wish.

The only existing wiring we will have to keep for now is the analogue lines for faxes and franking machines. But these do not move around so much.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Another reason I dislike Apple

Added to the previous problem of Apple devices and our wireless network which I wrote about here, we have now discovered a new problem.

First a bit of background. We run two wireless network in our institution, Eduroam and Guest. Eduroam connects to the university network and allows access to you documents and the servers and connects to the internet on janet, the UK educational network. Guest is used for those occasions when you do not want people on your network. It might be a private company renting a building (therefore not allowed to use eduroam), some visitors holding a conference or some contractors installing CCTV who want to download some updates and drivers, for example. Where Eduroam accesses the internet using janet, Guest uses a Virgin Media service.

I can switch between the two networks on my laptop, I can switch between the two on my android. However, I had a manager come over with his iPad yesterday and said he couldn't connect to Guest. He was getting an invalid password, even though I knew it was correct as I had changed it myself. I tried on my iPhone 3, I couldn't either. Someone tried on their iPhone 4, they couldn't either.

For whatever reason, you have to forget the Eduroam network (and therefore loose all your settings) before you can connect to Guest. Iit is not an invalid password issue because Apple devices that have never connected to Eduroam can connect to Guest.

We have reasons when we need to switch between the two, like when only one of the services is available or if on the rare occasion a service may be full of connected users. This just makes things more difficult.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Busy wireless times ahead

After the £2.9billion in budget cuts there has been some discussion on the way to proceed. There are still difficult decisions ahead for some departments, but the university as a whole is starting a project that aims to give students value for money when the tuition fees rise.

There was a meeting the other day that suggested quite strongly there will be another £250,000 for wireless installations this year. Added to this is the fact that the teaching hospitals want to do a joint project where all the hospitals in the area are completely covered with wireless.

The aim of the project is to say to students, if you are having to pay £9,000 a year in tuition fees then this is what you get...

There is talk of the funding being extended to £250,000 every year! Although before we get carried away there is plenty of discussion to be had before then. It is the thought of some of the 'high-ups' to make it so the whole university is covered by wireless. I blame all the directors who now have their shiny new iPads to play with wherever they go :)

It seems a few departments are trying to spend their way out of trouble, by expanding and getting better at what they do. Another good thing is this wireless project will not come out of our IT support budget but the university project budget.

Anyway, tuition fess rise in 2012 so there is some planning to do before then and a lot of switches to upgrade, servers to setup and VLANs and IP addressing to sort out. Surveying the buildings starts soon.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Good News Android Fans...

Sony has announced that from android 2.3 (the next update, currently on 2.2) Sony Playstation content will be available on android devices. Planned to be released this calendar year.

I have already installed the Playstation app on my android for checking friends' status and trophies but not too far away will be PSP and PSone games to play on tablets and smartphones. There will also be a Playstation store, so I am guessing you will be able to buy games, movies, music, wallpaper and so on using your phone.

Useful tools - Freemake

I would just like to sing the praises of some software I recently discovered.

Many times I have had a teacher (or student) rush in with a phone, a camera, a CD, and so on, and say "I need this [media] on for my lesson" only to give you no time at all to do it.

Freemake produce two pieces of software you may find useful Free Video Downloader and Free Video Converter. I have been a big fan of Handbrake in the past for converting and firefox plugins for downloading, but in my opinion these do the jobs better and faster.

Using the converter I was very impressed by the conversion times and I would also recommend these for home use since Handbrake has done away with the support for PSP, PS3 and Xbox conversion. The software boasts over 200 input formats and can output to android, PS3, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, basically any output format you can think of and also includes burning to DVD or Blu-ray.

I love the simplicity of the menus and the drop down boxes make converting much simpler than it is on Handbrake. Select Sony for example and a drop down box appears that says PSP, PS3 720P, PS3 1080P. If you select android it asks you what size your screen is and you are away.

I can't name all the list of output formats because there are too many, I'll just tell you that you can also upload to Youtube, can split videos up and insert them into playlists which may be useful for some of you but it is a feature I have not yet tried.

The downloader supports over 40 sites, although some are US only. Again the speed when compared to similar programs and plugins seems to be excellent. As a bonus the downloader also converts videos to MP3s.

And, of course, they are free.

Students are back

So the students were back last week. How can we tell? Our internet traffic got extremely busy (see graphs below), we even got a few complaints, something I have not known since starting here (apart from the students who wanted to use P2P).

Almost hitting our limit everyday
Saturated from 10.30AM to 10PM
I am guessing part of the problem is a lot of students have exams, so with no lessons on students are surfing, gaming and streaming all day long.

We have 2 x 1GB links to the regional broadband but one of those is reserved (as it is paid for from the department) for HPC (High Performance Computing) so we can't divert traffic down that link when we are busy.

Although the graphs don't show us actually hitting our 1GB limit the problems occur because we have two links and two firewalls for load balancing and resilience. The switches look at the IP addresses and send even numbers down one path and odd down the other (if one route failed all traffic would go the same way). Now when you have more even than odd addresses, or vice versa, the link for those can become full. Changing the IP address of those experiencing problems by one will temporarily fix it, but you can imagine having to do that for hundreds of users is not practical.

In the long term it is hoped to get a 10GB link to the region but this is something other institutions are dragging their feet over. For now we are looking at new traffic shaping software that is more effective than what we have got.

As with every educational institution the problem is having to get quotes, putting it out to tender and getting a board to sign off on it. Not a quick fix.