U of L wireless network – hurdles and behind-the-scenes efforts

Last year the University committed $20,000 to upgrade the wireless in some of the older residence buildings which dramatically improved coverage for students there, plus another $80,000 to improve the coverage in classroom spaces, says Jeff Oliver, Network Team Lead in IT Services. “Over the next few months, we will be conducting tests across the campus to determine where other gaps exist.”

Wireless surveys have already been completed in University Hall and Markin Hall which has helped us to identify some issues already. IT Services staff need to physically pace off every space with equipment that measures the wireless signals which then provides visual heat maps of how well wireless signals are reaching offices and workstations. “These heat maps help us figure out where new access points will help, and where they won’t,” adds Oliver.

E8 HeatmapWi-Fi coverage in E8 of University Hall: the darker colors represent good Wi-Fi coverage and are generally closest to the access points. The lighter areas show poorer Wi-Fi signals. The green line indicates where a staff member walked the area and the dots on the line represent ‘pings’ to the access points.

Wi-Fi signals do not penetrate solid materials well, particularly steel and concrete, or fluids. A person standing between a device and an access point can interfere and simply absorb the signals. The more obstacles, the weaker the signals.

Imagine being in a room with 10 radios that are all tuned to different radio stations…

“Noise, also known as an abundance of radio signals, is also a big problem with wireless. The more noise, the worse the connection. Imagine being in a room with 10 radios that are all tuned to different radio stations – can you listen to them all, or pick out just one? Can you pick out an individual conversation in a room where 100 people are all talking at the same time? In the wireless spectrum the same concepts apply. The more conversations going on at the same time, the more noise overall.”

The number of wireless devices brought on campus is increasing every academic year. With each additional faculty, staff or student come one to three or four additional devices, all requesting network access–many at the same time. This means that every access point must support more and more individual devices, and the access points need to be closer together as each one can only service a limited number of clients.

…there are about 25,000 wireless devices on campus of which more than 10,000 can be active and connecting to the wireless network over the course of a day.

Oliver adds there are about 25,000 wireless devices on campus of which more than 10,000 can be active and connecting to the wireless network over the course of a day. “Our maximum concurrent connections this semester so far has been 7,000, and that number can fluctuate wildly depending on the day.” Early in the semester we were alerted to the fact that some of the network infrastructure supporting the Student@UofL and Guest@UofL networks was running at capacity, which prompted us to replace some equipment with newer technology.

So how much network traffic does this number of devices equate to?

Guest student before new router

The graph above illustrates the amount of Wi-Fi traffic on the network during one week in September: it peaked out at 300MB per second. Once the new router was installed, the higher demand was easily managed as shown in the graph below and no longer has “flat spots.”

Guest student after new router

Network staff have been working to add additional access points in 80 classrooms over the past year, and expect to be finished by December. The largest classroom, PE250, will have six access points. The rest will have roughly double what they originally had, which will greatly increase the number of concurrent connections available in classroom spaces. “We are targeting approximately 40 users per access point.”

It isn’t just a matter of attaching an access point on the ceilings, additional wiring must be installed as well as network infrastructure such as switches and routers to support the increase in the wireless footprint. Much of the work must be done when the rooms are not in use.

The demand is not only on campus. Last spring, outdoor access points were added at the stadium to provide coverage in the bleacher and track areas. “The University’s wireless network is in a perpetual state of upgrade.”

The team is constantly planning and preparing for future changes in technologies. Next year about 250 aging access points are scheduled for replacement to keep up with the changing technology used in mobile devices today.

The next time you use wireless on campus, whether it works immediately or there’s a delay connecting, keep in mind the hurdles and ‘behind-the-scenes’ efforts and costs to provide the service. Oliver reminds people to report any issues to the Solutions Centre (help@uleth.ca) so that steps can be taken to correct them.

Mac users – do not upgrade to Mac OS X El Capitan (10.11)

El Capitan1For those using a Mac, please be aware that we do not recommend upgrading to OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) at this time. Microsoft has posted a notice indicating that Outlook 2011 currently does not work at all with El Capitan when connected to an Exchange email system like the University uses, and Office 2016 users are reporting frequent crashes of Outlook, Word, and Excel when used with El Capitan. These issues are likely to be corrected fairly quickly, but we urge University Mac users not to upgrade to El Capitan in the interim.

We will post updates as they are learned.

Updated Network upgrade schedule

Latest upgrade dates as of October 19th below.

The upgrade work being done on the University’s network has taken some expected twists and turns, and some not so expected.

As a result, the scheduled dates for each of the buildings and areas have been adjusted.

Below are the current (and somewhat still tentative) dates for the upcoming work:

  • University Hall – Substantially Complete
  • Centre for the Arts – Currently working in this area – Oct 12 – 28
  • LINC – Nov 1 – Nov 6
  • Students’ Union Building – Nov 16 – 27
  • Turcotte Hall – Nov 30 – Dec 4
  • Anderson Hall – Dec 7-11
  • PE – Dec 14 – 18
  • CCBN – Dec 21-24
  • Water Building – Jan 18-22
  • Markin Hall – Jan 25 – Feb 5

Watch for further updates as the work continues.

Read the full story about the Network upgrade here.


Android phones and the StageFright vulnerability


An issue was recently discovered on Android devices which could expose the user to potential cyberattacks. It is characterized by a specially crafted text message which attaches multimedia (video, music, pictures) data to the communication. By default, Android tries to process this information in the background so that when you open it up, it doesn’t buffer or cause delays with seeing the content. When the android device is attacked, malicious StageFright imagecommands are sent to the phone in the background and the user do not know they have lost control of the device. Risks of a compromise include stolen passwords, leaked contact information which are subject to attacks, data loss if files are stored on the device, and potential fraudulent transactions conducted in the user’s name without their knowledge or consent.

Unfortunately, fixes for android devices are pushed infrequently, but there are some steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of this type of attack until your manufacturer releases an update.

There is an option in the text messaging application used to disable the automatic retrieval of MMS (multimedia) text messages. This allows you to determine if you trust the sender of the message before opening their communication. The steps for disabling may be slightly different for various versions of the Android operating system, but typically the user can find it by following these instructions.

Google Hangouts as default SMS:

  • Open Google Hangouts
  •  Choose Settings
  •  Select SMS
  •  Scroll down and turn off Auto Retrieve MMS

Google Messenger as default SMS:

  •  Open Messenger App
  •  Go to right hand of application and select the three dots
  •  Choose Settings
  •  Choose Advanced
  •  Turn off Auto-retrieve

Other (using default messaging app):

  •  Go to Messages App
  •  Select More
  •  Select Settings
  •  Select Multimedia Messages
  •  Turn OFF Auto retrieve

In order to see multimedia messages in the future, users will be required to click on the download button and the phone will process them as usual.

We are recommending that users watch closely for an update from the manufacturer that addresses this issue and apply it as soon as it is released. For additional information on the StageFright vulnerability, please visit the website: http://fortune.com/2015/07/28/stagefright-google-android-security/

For assistance, contact the Solutions Centre at 403-329-2490, or help@uleth.ca, or visit E610 in University Hall.

Future-proofing our network

Not unlike a vehicle needing new tires, suspension, or even a new motor, the University’s network needs constant maintenance and upgrading if it is to take it longer distances while operating efficiently.

Parts of the network are 20 years old, installed when the University of Lethbridge connected to its first campus-wide data network, says Terry Kirkvold, Infrastructure and Maintenance Support Manager.

Typical network closet prior to upgrade

Typical network closet prior to upgrade

“As many of the current network switches and routers are nearing end of life, what we’re doing, in essence, is future-proofing our network. With this

upgrade, at a minimum, we’re able to maintain and increase the quality, and also improve our service. Users will probably not see a difference in their day-to-day operations, but if they were to look under the hood, they would see a very modern, clean and efficient engine.”

Over the Family Day weekend in February, new core network switches were installed and are currently in operation, as well as new Wi-Fi access points in many classrooms and learning spaces. Next will be the installation of a new Domain Name Server (DNS) and DHCP (IP address allocations).

As outlined in the August 2014 blog article, the upgrade provides a number of improvements:

  • Faster response times for core services such as email and internet
  • Increased wireless capacity which will provide better coverage in classrooms and other student spaces
  • Ability to grow and change with the University’s needs
  • Enhanced security which provides a more secure infrastructure

“We will flip buildings to the new network in a staggered manner, one at a time, over the summer,” says Kirkvold. “These moves will be during the day as a rule and IT resources will be available to troubleshoot any problems that may occur.”

The current closets  are a complicated maze of organic growth that accommodated previous upgrades over the years.

Teams of Infrastructure staff will be required to visit each of the more than 70 network closets to completely reconfigure the network devices, cabling and fiber connections. The current closets  are a complicated maze of organic growth that accommodated previous upgrades over the years.

“With 5,500 connections and more than 27 kilometers of patch cables that have to be moved, each closet, depending on its size, could take two to four hours a day to re-configure and turn up the new infrastructure. For example, the CCBN has three closets and our staff could spend a full day or more in just that one building.”

The move will consist of first moving the wireless access points to the new network followed by the wired computers, phones and other devices attached to the network, and cleaning up all of the cables which could take up to two or three hours to complete.

Go here to see the tentative schedule of the planned work.

For more information, please contact Terry Kirkvold at kirkvold@uleth.ca, or 403-329-2720.

Network upgrade at full throttle

Did you know?

  • Portions of the University’s current network date back to 1995 when the first fiber connection went live.Fiber_optic_illuminated
  • More than 5,500 wired users are connected to the network.
  • There are more than 600 wireless access point on campus.
  • On an average day, the wireless network is accessed 17,000 times.
  • If the network cables were attached end-to-end, they would stretch out 27 kilometers—the distance from Lethbridge to Welling.

Why are we telling you this?

IT Services’ Infrastructure team has been working on a major network upgrade project on the Lethbridge campus during the last nine months, and now is preparing to do the heavy lifting required to move all users from the old network to the new, says Terry Kirkvold, Infrastructure and Maintenance Support Manager.

For the next two months, Infrastructure staff will be visiting more than 70 network closets situated throughout campus to completely overhaul (move and/or replace) the switches and cables. This may or may not impact individual users. (see schedule below)

As buildings and areas are scheduled to be switched over, Information Technology will be emailing notices to users, posting up-to-date information to the Notice Board and sending out reminders of installation and completion dates. It will also provide an explanation of the changes, suggestions on how to fix known issues, and who to contact with questions or concerns.

Kirkvold adds that the upgrade will only affect devices attached to the current network. IT Services is aware of most but there are some that will be discovered as part of this migration process. “For example, we have to find all of the non-central printers that are hidden away in many offices in campus. We do not have a good idea of how many exist or where they are – but we’ll certainly be finding out once the new network is configured; these devices may need IT’s assistance with new configurations.”

By completing these upgrades during the day…we will be better able to respond to issues as they arise.

The other expected issue may only require a simple reboot of machines in order to bring them online with the new network. If users are experiencing any connection issues, they should first try to reboot their computers to see if the issue resolves. If not, IT Services will be available to assist. “While we have attempted to minimize the impact of this change on University clients there is always the risk of unanticipated issues.   By completing these upgrades during the day in manageable chunks we will be better able to respond to issues as they arise.”

Although exact dates and times are not yet confirmed, below is a rough schedule of the work. Service Notice updates will be sent to users as they are known.

Please contact Terry Kirkvold at kirkvold@uleth.ca, or 403-329-2720, with questions or concerns.

Go here to see what the current network closets look like, and read the full story on the network upgrade.

Planned migration dates:

University Hall……………………July 8 – 31
Centre for the Arts………………August 4 – 7
LINC………………………………….August 10 – 14
Students’ Union Building……. August 17 – 18
Turcotte Hall…………………….. August 24 – 28
Anderson Hall…………………… August 31 – Sept 1
PE……………………………………..September 2 – 4
CCBN……………………………….. September 7 – 9
Water Building………………….. September 10 – 11
Markin Hall………………………. September 14 – 18

NOTE: As of October 19th, this schedule has been updated. Please view it here.

Data Storage Standard – what it is and why you need to care

Before your eyes glaze over, answer these simple questions:

  • Where do you store your University data?
  • Does it contain personal or highly sensitive information?
  • Do you use a cloud-based storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive?
  • What types of documents do you share with people outside of the University, or in another country?

As technology continues to evolve and our dependency on information sharing increases, it is becoming increasingly critical to ensure that academic and administrative staff classify, store and share their data appropriately.

The border between work life and personal life is becoming blurred.”

“People are demanding 24/7 access to their information—both personal and professional,” says Kevin Vadnais, Information Security Manager in IT Services. “Consequently, they have turned to cloud-based services which can provide constant availability to all of their information. The border between work life and personal life is becoming blurred. Perceived security and acceptable use of cloud-based solutions is often flawed and the University is taking steps to bridge that knowledge gap so that users are aware of the risks and benefits.

“There is also a difference between personal storage and work-related storage. Some personal storage solutions are free to a pre-set limit, and users pay over and above that, as is the case with Dropbox and Google Drive. Users are asked to either accept the end-user license agreement, or not use it. Most people do not take the time to read them and just accept the terms. Work-related, or enterprise, storage solutions are better protected through contracts between the enterprise or business and the cloud provider. Specific services are spelled out and privacy implications are assessed for that business or enterprise.”

To assist in educating the University community, IT Services has created and authorized a Data Storage Standard which is available on the University Policy website. This standard provides four points of guidance and expectations regarding the secure management of information with which individuals, departments and faculties have been entrusted.

We want people to balance the convenience of a cloud storage vendor with the risks of potential data loss, and to make the appropriate decision.”

“We want people to balance the convenience of a cloud storage vendor, such as Dropbox, with the risks of potential data loss, and to make the appropriate decision,” Vadnais adds.

Below are the highlights of the Standards. Faculty and staff are encouraged to not only review the document, but to download it or bookmark the page so that it is a constant reminder of their responsibilities.

  1. On-campus storage should be utilized for information that has specific requirements or constraints specifying it cannot be stored on systems outside of Canada, e.g. research funding requirements which mandate where resulting data is stored. These solutions typically include network shares (research drives, department shares, etc.), and P Drives.
  2. Cloud storage, commonly provided by third-party vendors such as Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive’s personal and enterprise solutions, and Google Drive, etc., host users’ data in a robust data centre environment which is not located on campus. This environment typically resides in one or more geographic locations outside of Canada and, as such, subjects that data to the legal jurisdiction of the hosting country. Depending on the sensitivity of data being stored, additional security measures, such as encryption, may be required. (Selection of a third-party encryption tool is underway to support secure usage of cloud storage.)
  3. IT Services is currently developing online training on data storage and selecting the appropriate storage location for your data based on sensitivity. Staff and faculty will be asked to complete the training every two years, and again when significant changes are made to the data storage standard. This will ensure their knowledge is up to date on the latest technologies, threats, privacy implications, and best practices for data management. Training is not expected to take longer than 10-15 minutes.
  4. The use of email as a data management tool is a common practice at the University but is an unsustainable and risky strategy. Lost devices, compromised passwords, and human error (accidently sending the wrong information) can all lead to inadvertent data loss and possibly privacy breaches. While email is generally secure it is not appropriate for sending all types of data. Faculty and staff should become familiar with the data storage standard and use the appropriate storage and sharing technologies based on the data they are working with. The University is also exploring the use of email encryption services if sensitive information must be shared via email.

In addition to these four points, IT Services has implemented a data classification strategy to assist University users to determine the level of rigour that should be applied to specific pieces of information. These definitions classify the four types of data as follows:

  1. No/Low Risk – Category 1
    Information that is publicly available and poses little to no risk of negative consequences should it be seen outside the University:

  2. Medium Risk – Category 2
    Information typically used and shared in daily operational activities by University staff and faculty. This is not data we would normally publish outside of the businesses, but is not considered sensitive:

    • Meeting Minutes
    • Student coursework submitted to instructors
    • Preliminary research reports/results
    • Operational budget items (travel costs, office supplies, etc.)
  3. High Risk – Category 3
    Information that, if compromised, would be harmful to the University’s reputation or to an individual:

    • Employee/Student records
    • Payroll/Budget reports
    • Personally Identifiable Information (SIN’s, tax information, FOIP-related data)
    • Contracts and Terms
    • Passwords/Authentication information
  4. Critical Risk – Category 4
    Information in this category would cause significant damage to the institution if disclosed. Any data classified as a Category 4 should be given special attention as to its storage location, storage method and distribution channels:

    • Legal Proceedings/Appeals
    • Medical/Health information
    • Criminal Investigation results


Blackfoot Digital Library – new and improved

The long and auspicious journey of the Blackfoot Digital Library (BDL) has met yet another major milestone. The newest iteration of it went live last week, after almost two years of planning and work.


“The first version of the BDL in 2009 was ground-breaking work,” says IT Services’ Web Manager Michael Warf. “It pushed boundaries with the technologies but, because it was so customized, upgrades became a huge barrier. The other huge shift that happened since the first version was developed was the evolution of mobile devices,” Warf says. “The previous BDL site didn’t have any support for these devices, which created a significant barrier with the growth in mobile usage.”

As a result, and with the assistance of a grant, the University Library commissioned Hybrid Forge, an Edmonton company that specializes in design and development for the web and mobile. IT Services was brought in to assist with the RFP, vendor selection, and to act as a consultant on the project. “It’s one thing to have an idea and it’s quite another to understand what’s within the realm of the possible. It’s not unlike doing a complete renovation on your existing home. You and the contractor have to communicate in order to manage what can be changed or rebuilt and what the associated costs are,” says Warf.

IT Services’ ongoing commitment to supporting this important and significant resource is to be commended.”

Once Hybrid Forge completed the development of the new BDL site, the ITS Web team deployed it on campus. The system now can be secured, updated and maintained appropriately. “The longevity of the system is now there and can easily upgraded and secured. And it also works well on mobile devices. One of the great features is that anyone can use a mobile device to record interviews and the files can be immediately uploaded to the Blackfoot Digital Library. It removes all the extra steps that are often involved.”

Wendy Merkley, Associate University Librarian says the new BDL is the result of a successful collaborative effort on the part of the Library, IT Services and Red Crow College. “While the process encountered difficulties, the relationships established early on by the members of the core project team served to ensure that we did not lose momentum or direction. IT Services’ ongoing commitment to supporting this important and significant resource is to be commended.”

For more information, please contact Michael Warf at michael.warf@uleth.ca, or 403-332-4584.

Systems critical for University operations


For the past 10 years, more than 50 U of L Facilities’ employees have depended on obtaining their daily work schedules and tasks through TMA, a computerized maintenance management system. And all U of L employees and students have relied on Facilities’ staff to deliver the University’s needs: power, air flow, plumbing, building maintenance, event setups, and cleanliness.webTMA

Users of Facilities’ work request system are blissfully unaware of the many months, weeks, days and hours spent planning, collaborating, testing and finally rolling out the new webTMA in December last year. But ask anyone from the Systems, Applications or Telecom teams in IT Services, or the Facilities’ teams, and they’ll tell you.

“The original TMA work order system had been in place for more than 10 years,” says Wim Chalmet, Facility Operations and Maintenance Director. “As with any software product, desktop versions are costly and require regular upgrades and maintenance. IT Systems has been moving away from desktop installations to web-based solutions for some time now. TMA was able to provide a solution, technical support and the flexibility we needed.”

The hard work of planning, upgrading the database server, applications server and the web component began in earnest. “We needed to know how we were going to move away from the desktop application and how to implement the web-based system quickly and cleanly. If it didn’t work correctly when we switched over, it could jeopardize all of the work orders waiting to be fulfilled. IT Services recommended that a test server be built so that we could play with it and fix any glitches. So we had to stagger all of the work.”

Once the Facilities and IT Services teams were confident it would operate as required, TMA converted the database to the new platform, sent it back to ITS for uploading, and the system went live.

“We had to stop all work at 3:30 pm one day and it was up and running by 9:30 am the next day. Advanced planning with ITS Systems was critical to ensure resources were available. Everything worked really well. We were very happy with all the guidance from the ITS Systems and Telecom teams. It was well planned and executed,” says Chalmet. “Excellent cooperation and collaboration meant that the Facilities’ work order system was up and running without significant downtime, not to mention those waiting for their work orders to be completed.”

The new webTMA interface can be viewed here.

For more information, contact Wim Chalmet at 403-380-1837 or wim.chalmet@uleth.ca.

Health Sciences manikins going mobile

If you see human-like beings laying around campus, breathing heavily, sweating, and generally looking unwell, don’t worry, it’s not an episode of the Walking Dead. The Simulation Health Centre in the Faculty of Health Sciences has purchased new manikins and, unlike the old ones, students and instructors will soon be able to move this newest generation of ‘patients’ around campus.

“Sharon Dersch, an instructor in the Nursing Programs, approached us about a year ago to assist the Faculty with the RFP and vendor selection to replace two of their training manikins,” says Daryle Niedermayer, Application Design and Planning Manager in IT Services. “They were aware of the technology challenges and needed to select a product that would work within the University’s environment. Any sort of complex equipment like this is far from plug-and-play, and the costs warrant intense collaboration with all stakeholders. Between our Telecom and Applications teams, we were able to help them choose the best option for their needs.”Manikin1

Dersch says the older manikins had limitations with some of their technologies. “We had experienced problems with wireless connections between the manikins and A/V systems within the University environment that could not be resolved. The problems required the manikins to be hardwired which limited the amount of information that could be transmitted through the A/V system. We did not want to encounter similar problems with the new equipment.”

The mobility characteristic of the two manikins represents only one of many complex requirements for the new medical training tools for students. The undertaking required assurance the manikins and audio-visual equipment would work seamlessly within the University’s network and could be supported by IT Services in the future.

“The amount of information about the patient’s, or manikin’s, condition was extremely limited in that it could not be transmitted between the manikin and visual displays without wireless connections,” says Dersch. “With the new equipment, students and instructors observing the simulation remotely will be able to see the ‘patient’s’ heart monitor, blood pressure and other vital signs, as well as the names and dosages of medications that are given.”

Niedermayer adds that the new manikins’ ability to use the University’s wireless network means that it will be much easier for instructors to wander the room with an iPad, for example, and test their students’ skills with simulated symptoms, and to monitor their progress.

Working together, the Health Sciences and IT Services teams were able to select a vendor that met the requirements. “By reaching out to us early in their investigation, we were able to ask the right questions and help Health Sciences choose the right vendor. Three different companies responded to the RFP but only one, Laerdal Medical Canada, Ltd., addressed the networking issues involved with a product like this,” Niedermayer says.

Dersch concurs. “Daryle and the IT team met with us on numerous occasions over the last year to help with all stages of the purchase, from wording the technical requirements on the RFP, to helping with the final selection of products. During the selection process IT Services managed all the technical correspondence, and also met with vendor technicians to test equipment. Daryle and his team were invaluable in helping to ensure the manikins have the necessary functions and functionality–not something that the SHC team could have done alone. Another huge advantage to including IT Services in the selection process is their knowledge of the selected product, enabling them to more easily provide support in the future.”

The new manikins are expected early this summer.