Improving the IT department

By Вen Li

The fall semester has been busy for U of C’s IT department. With 9,431 new user registrations, a major server migration, and increased around the clock demand for computing services, things have gone surprisingly smoothly. In addition, IT is involved in a concerted effort to enhance its interactions with users, moving away from the traditional insulated tech-support stereotype.

“We’re trying to change the image of IT,” said Manager of Client Services Heather Weiland. “IT had customer service training for all client-facing services. We brought in a person to teach us telephone skills and etiquette, and how to deal with clients.”

According to Weiland, the department is in a two-year process to adopt an IT services framework to better serve clients.

“ITIL [Information Technology Infrastructure Library] is the new standard for IT service areas. It’s another kind of training that we need,” said Weiland. “We’re trying to do a lot of mapping of our IT processes to match ITIL. We’re trying to become a true service organization to match the needs of all our users.”

The process was started in June 2004 and is expected to last into 2006. In the meantime, users can look forward to speedier responses from the helpdesk.

“Our goal is a one-stop reference where the person we pass your call to can answer your question,” Weiland said.

Along with better service, changes are also happening behind the scenes. The server migration of computing services formerly on the five RS/6000 AIX servers to four dual-processor HP ProLiant BL e-Class systems running Linux on October 9 was successful.

“We feel that the backend services will improve as we move to more modern services,” said Web and Internet Services Manager Jeremy Mortis. “The AIX migration gives users a single image of storage.”

In addition to consolidating storage for users, IT is also working to enhance other popular services. Students can look forward to a new webmail client within three weeks, and enhanced Blackboard services.

“We take the reliability of Blackboard really seriously, as we do with the myUofC portal,” said Mortis. “If we look at our usage graph, it never drops to zero, it only dips at 3–4 a.m.”

An increased emphasis on blended learning is a significant motivator for enhancing the robustness of the Blackboard systems.

“With blackboard itself, you’re going to see integration of a lot more tools into that,” Mortis added.

Information Technologies’ Tom Rolff said that services to the residence network have also improved.

“Through some software upgrades and wired connections, students are getting a lot better connections this year,” he said. “With the use of more and more online course content, students are relying a lot on Rez connections. The connection is 20 megabits per second for Reznet, and on average students are using 70 per cent of that so we have plenty of headroom for spikes.”

Unlike the attempted mass migration to wireless Internet access last September, IT took a more balanced approach this year, connecting students with both wired and wireless connections.

“We’re moving to an amorphous structure to allow students more flexibility on the network,” said Rolff. “Wireless didn’t turn out as comprehensive as we wanted it to be last year.”

Presently, up to 1,600 students have Internet access in residence buildings. To meet the needs of so many students, IT meets regularly with students.

“The biggest thing we’re doing right now is working with students with weekly meetings to find out what their issues are and how those affect the corporate network,” he said “The better we inform them of the issues, the better it is for all of us.”

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