Infrastructure Maintenance & Support

Wi-Fi – oxygen for students

 

During the next four weeks, IT Services’ communications technology staff will be busy working on a major $20,000 wireless upgrade to Kainai and Piikani residence buildings which will effectively double the current capacity, says Terry Kirkvold, Manager of Infrastructure Maintenance and Support.

“Each building will have 14 new access points – four per floor. These buildings will be on par with the coverage provided at the newer residence buildings,” says Kirkvold. “Students will see a dramatic increase in the coverage. This wireless upgrade demonstrates our Destination 2020 commitment to continuously improve the student experience at the University of Lethbridge.Maslow's Wifi

Upgrades to the Tsuu T’ina and Siksika townhouses are scheduled in the coming months and all buildings are expected to have increased Wi-Fi coverage by the end of the academic year.

“We’re anxious to provide what they need and I think they’ll be very happy with the improvement,” Kirkvold adds. “As one student eloquently put it: ‘Wi-Fi is our oxygen.’”

For more information, please contact the Solutions Centre at (403) 329-2490 or help@uleth.ca

It’s ‘upgrade’ season for campus classrooms

 

A number of classrooms are getting a technology facelift this summer. Planning replacements for aging equipment and introducing new technologies begins years in advance so that not everything has to be replaced or added at the same time.

“Every year we map out requirements for maintenance checks, replacements and repairs for the coming academic year, as well as for the following year,” says Terry Kirkvold, Infrastructure Maintenance and Support Manager. “We budget what we need to spend, but there’sclassroom generally the odd situation when equipment gives up unexpectedly. Consequently we need to adjust our schedule so that the most critical work is completed.”

Teaching spaces take priority with feedback from the year and report incidents factored in wherever possible to develop the annual plan. LCD display monitors, projectors and Crestron control systems in classrooms and those rooms targeted for a complete refresh are all scheduled into the annual work.

“PE250 has been a challenge to properly introduce audio–mainly because of its shape. We’ve hired a local consultant to introduce an audio system that will compensate for the room’s geometry, Kirkvold adds. “The team is busy working on many other upgrades in classrooms around campus – not the least of which is Wi-Fi.”

For more information, please contact the Solutions Centre at (403) 329-2490 or help@uleth.ca

 

Managing the U of L’s Buildings through technology

 

The University operates many complex systems on campus which are responsible for managing life safety, internal environments, room scheduling and many others. When any major system needs an upgrade, it can create a cascade effect on other services, and is no small undertaking. Last year, the Building Management System, or BMS, was scheduled for an overhaul.

At any given time, Facilities monitors roughly 35,000 measurements throughout the campus ranging from thermostats, baffles and ventilation equipment, numerous lights and fans, to the University’s boiler plant and its associated pressure and temperature equipment. In addition, approximately 85 rooms on campus are accessed through card swipes by students, faculty and staff. All are controlled by the BMS.BMS HVAC image

Information Technology Services (ITS) was brought in to assist with the software upgrade, and to provide consultation around possible improvements. Wim Chalmet, ITS Application Support Analyst, says the HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning, was tackled first.

“A big concern Utilities had was a lack of redundancy. Since utility operators are able to manage and monitor the environment on campus from their computers, if a server went down, the software providing status updates on the systems would quit reporting,” says Chalmet. “Operators would be blind to how everything was functioning and consequently would have to physically patrol to monitor the most critical points. During cold snaps in the winter pipes can freeze within hours so staff would have to be on call at all times day and night.”

In addition to consultation, ITS upgraded all affected desktop machines and was able to repurpose two additional servers for the BMS. “This provides failover protection so that if one server goes down, another takes over and continues to provide status updates to operators.”

The Card Access system for the campus was another component of the BMS upgrade. “We have a number of classrooms that can be accessed by card swipe,” says Chalmet. “If a student registers in a course that is scheduled into one of those rooms, they get card access automatically.”

Chalmet adds that in order for this to occur, a custom designed interface is needed which permits the BMS system to automatically talk to our databases, such as Banner in this instance. “ITS has done an analysis of the entire structure to determine exactly how this interface currently works and recommended significant improvements to integrate the tool with the new software of the BMS environment.” Completion of the project is expected before September.

 

No Call Waiting for this upgrade

Combined efforts on the part of Advancement, a vendor and three units within Information Technology Services (ITS), compressed four months of work into three, fast tracked the project timeline by starting eight months sooner than anticipated, and enabled the University’s Call Centre to launch its alumni calling campaign on time.

The Call Centre’s software required an upgrade at a time when hiring a manager was underway, and when the software required a critical upgrade. To add further challenges to the project, Advancement’s Call Centre, which operates out of the Penny Building, already had to cancel its fall donor campaign due to construction within the facility. Missing out on the winter semester’s donor campaign as well would have significantly hurt the University’s fund raising efforts.

“We were advised that the former vendor of the software had been bought out by a new company. Consequently the old product needed to be migrated over to a new software, called CampusCall,” says Wim Chalmet, ITS Application Support Analyst. “Advancement approached us in October to ask if we could fast-track the project in order to run the next campaign in mid-January. That meant our usual timeline of May to September would be pushed up by eight months, and shortened our work schedule into three months instead of four. After consultation with all stakeholders, we felt it could be done.”

Staff from Advancement, Desktop Support, Applications, Systems, Telecom, and Finance were all involved in the effort, along with great support from the new application vendor, RuffaloCODY.

“The IT team was very supportive during the transition to a new software program in the Call Centre” says Kathy MacFarlane, Manager of Development Programs. “Wim Chalmet led us through the process smoothly and was always accessible. Most importantly, we finished on time for the next calling session.”

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

IT Services busy during Christmas break

IT Services completed a number of system upgrades during the Christmas – New Year period, taking advantage of precious time when there are fewer students, faculty and staff on campus.  These upgrades included:

  • Service Monitoring System Upgrade (Microsoft Manager System Center 2012)
    Operations Manager provides infrastructure monitoring that is flexible and cost-effective, helps ensure predictable performance and availability of vital applications, and offers comprehensive monitoring for the data center and cloud, both private and public. It enables IT Services to set thresholds and monitor baselines.
  • Network Services Upgrades (QIP, Firewalls)
    These are essentially maintenance upgrades. The firewall upgrade is effectively a new engine with more horse power to meet the growing needs of the U of L, and capable of handling more Internet traffic from more users. QIP is the system that handles the IP addressing of devices connected to the U of L network.  It provides better functionality, resulting in a more robust system, and to handle the growing needs of the U of L users.
  • Telephone Services Upgrades (Unified Communications)
    Staff applied patches to provide stability to our telecommunications, an offshoot of which reconfigured the phone system to a new server. A virtual machine now provides a higher level of disaster recovery and redundancy to one of our Life Safety Systems.
  • Servers & Storage Upgrades (Load Balancer, Storage)
    Load balancers that handle Exchange mail and Moodle Services, and large disk upgrades both provide added stability to campus IT services.  Communications Technology is constantly doing work behind the scenes that is preventive while supporting and enhancing all of the University’s systems.

Cybera adds bandwidth capacity

Thanks to Cybera, the University now has a redundant load-sharing internet path providing up to 600MBs of internet bandwidth as of October. This doubles the University’s previous bandwidth and provides critical backup for the main Telus service.

Wireless enhancements

Wireless accesses on campus are now at more than 53,000 per day, as compared with 38,500 at the same time last year. Work done during the summer by the Infrastructure team has dramatically improved the capacity of the University’s wireless network access.

Systems Management

What was once a highly manual process done in the middle of the night by a “team of zombies” will soon be automated. Each month during the night, systems support staff are tasked to install patches, or bug fixes, on as many as 300 University servers which can take up to 15 minutes per server including rebooting.

The University of Lethbridge recently tendered an RFP on systems operations management, which will vastly reduce this labor-intensive work. It also will assist in the development of a strategy of systems management that will allow IT to have greater visibility into the increasing complexity of the U of L’s computing systems.

The successful respondent, LongView Systems, will assist IT Services in the implementation of an enterprise patch management platform, which will fulfill outstanding requirements outlined by the Auditor General.  In addition, ITS and its partner will implement tools that provide reporting and dash-boarding of U of L critical systems. The result will produce increased reliability and efficiency across the computing systems portfolio.

Concordia move

In June, four ITS network staff traveled to Edmonton to spend two days moving computers, videoconferencing suites and other technology to the campus’s new location at Concordia University. The move needed to be accomplished between summer semesters, and downtime for  campus staff was less than a day.

U of L Edmonton students will  now be attending classes at a campus rather than at an office building in the downtown core, and Concordia’s IT staff will provide all technology support—an extra benefit that did not exist in the downtown location.

 

Eduroam

The University of Lethbridge is now connected to Eduroam! This service provides secure, worldwide roaming access to students, researchers and staff from participating institutions to obtain Internet connectivity, when visiting other participating institutions, by simply opening their laptop.