Thursday, 27 September 2012

Busy summer

There has been a reason for the lack of posts of late.

The summer months are known to those in IT support as the time that stuff gets done. All those jobs you couldn't do because it would effect teaching, all the maintenance that was really needed to be done but you weren't allowed because of exams, the time when there are no students about so you can make as much noise and cause as much disruption as you need to.

This summer we have had one of our busiest summers ever.

You will probably know that tuition fees have risen this year (faq) for English universities when the government raised the cap on fees while simultaneously cutting funding. The response from our university, while being forced to raise fees, was to try to give the students more value for money. One of the main proposals in this strategy was for almost entire wireless coverage, to enable greater use of tablets, netbooks, etc in teaching and learning. This has meant almost doubling the size of our wireless infrastructure at the same time as loosing key members of staff responsible for the wireless network. Unfortunately that meant it was down to me to organise the roll out, and with the project being put back and put back due to work on teaching spaces, new buildings and the regular summer departments moves, this meant it came down to about two weeks in which to get all the installs done and a few days to get them working before student arrivals and registration.

After some hastily designed plans we managed to get nearly 50 switches installed along with nearly 700 wireless access points, taking our total up to 1,202. We have applied these new ones to a student template so in the future we can make changes to them without effecting the ones in teaching spaces, lecture theatres, hospitals, offices etc. This is simply because we are kind of entering the unknown here, we don't know what devices the students will bring and what they will use them for. Will they be sharing/streaming video and music? Gaming? Wireless printing? Peer-to-peer? We will just have to see, and see what effects this has on the network and bandwidth.

As a result of the extra wireless facility we have seen a huge increase over the number of authenticated devices at the same time last year:

*Note: stats from a year ago are no longer broken down by hour, hence the rather straight line on 2011 client count.

At it's peak we also managed to break the record for the number of clients we have ever had using wireless, 5775 (vs 5624 set during exams May 2012) in the first week! Although this has meant getting calls from students asking how you connect an Xbox over eduroam.

We will have to wait and see how successful the coverage is from the limited testing, surveying and 'educated' guesswork that was employed.

We managed to get wireless in the vast majority of residences. Helpdesk though kept getting calls from students saying thy had no wired or wireless connection in one of their buildings. When we finally got to the bottom of which building, there was a reason for that:


IT WAS STILL A BUILDING SITE!

It had not yet been handed over to us and as a result we had no network kit in there. Well the 'geniuses' that work elsewhere decided to inspect it and say it was ready, and went ahead and started moving people in. This meant for us, jumping the fence on a Saturday night and Sunday morning, splicing fibre and installing switches. The 'lovely' spot they picked for our comms room is below:


Thankfully it wasn't raining!

While this was going on we had dozens of staff and department moves, refurbishments to teaching spaces and some new properties to be set up staff and students were moving in to. We also had a couple of temporary helpdesks set up for key collection weekend. Where students could come with their various hardware, software or registration issues. We find this is a good strategy so as not to come in Monday morning to 50+ fault forms and enough emails that would last a week to get through.

Then came registration. 

For 2-3 weeks we usually work solid (no days off) as we have to fit in imaging computers and setting up the registration spaces around all the usual start of term stuff (and projects which departments have forgotten to tell us about). The sooner we can move to online registration and away from having to set up this every year the better:


Once that is done with and term starts we spend another weekend putting everything away and catching up with jobs we have missed while doing registration. We have been asked to come in again this week do some jobs we haven't been able to get to, but I am not sure if my body can take it. I think Freshers Flu is started to get around again.

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