Quick update on IT

Wow, where does the time go? I haven’t posted on the Blog since February – that’s bad, sorry about that. There has been lots happening since then, so here is a quick general update.

On Wireless, we still had a few problems with the new system but we have had great feedback from students through Facebook and face-to-face and this has really helped IT Services to identify and work through some of the problems. As I said in January, we can see from our logs that large numbers of people have been able to connect and use the system successfully, but we knew from feedback that quite a few were still having problems. We’ve worked with the manufacturer and have made a number of changes to the controllers and feedback from students now is that it is greatly improved. We still have to extend the coverage to ensure that all areas on the Campus are covered, and that is now planned for the summer.

We have been looking at the “old Library” area in the Aberdeen Business School and are right now finalising plans to put in more IT workstations, a help point, AV facilities, and better group work areas for students to use. IT Services along with Estates are just in the process of finalising cost estimates, and hopefully that will be approved and the work will commence in the near future.

Behind the scenes, IT Services are working hard on preparations to move our St Andrew Street datacentre. We moved one of our datacentres last year to the shared datacentre at University of Aberdeen and now we are moving the other one. It’s going into a new facility which we are also sharing with the University of Aberdeen so by the summer we will have all of our server kit in two new state of the art datacentres, each with environmentally friendly cooling and generator backup. We are moving ourselves too – once we get the datacentre out of St Andrew St the three remaining departments will move out of there and we will have to disconnect all the IT and remove the building from our Campus network. St Andrew St has been one of our main “hubs” for IT since IT began, so this is very much going to be the end of an era!

This is the time of year when Schools and Departments submit their planning statements for the forthcoming year and we are also looking at all of the IT related project requests so that we can update our forward plans. These are all going through the approval process as I write, and once things are finalised I’ll put a summary on the blog. Some of the key areas we are likely to be looking at are:

– A major investment in our storage and server infrastructure to replace end of life equipment and increase capacity and performance;
– Improvements to our Learning tools, including an upgrade to Moodle and improvements to access to Library e-resources
– Enhancements to our portfolio of communication tools to provide new video conference facilities across the Campus, more flexible access to telephony services and integrated access to Skype communications;
– Enhancements to the Staff and Student portal (RGyoU), particularly looking at the provision of more information for students in one place, and better document management and collaborative tools for staff;
– A new system for managing student placements
– Preparation for the opening of the new Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Riverside East

These are just a few highlights – just as importantly we plan to spend some considerable time on preparatory work for initiatives which will start the following year, but more of that later.

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Responsive Web

A new version of RGU’s web site went live this morning, with a new design based on the concept of “responsive web design.” The Wikipedia entry for responsive web design summarises it as follows:

“Responsive Web design (RWD) is a Web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).”

If you look at the new RGU home page on a full screen PC, or large tablet format such as an iPad, it will look pretty much like before (although there have also been additional improvements made along with the implementation of responsive design):

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If, however, you look at it on a smaller screen size such as an iPhone or similar, it will look like this:

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The layout of the page is now optimised for the smaller screen size, so that you no longer have to “pinch and zoom” to get the areas you are interested in to a size where you can read them.

Have a look yourself!

Update on Wireless Service

First of all, a Happy New Year to all staff and students at RGU! This blog has been a bit quiet last few weeks so new year resolution is to put more out on the blog.

Back in August, I gave an update on our plans for improving the wireless service on our Garthdee campus. Our plan then was to install the new service, based on “Eduroam”, in Riverside East and the refurbished space in Aberdeen Business School, followed by a rollout to the rest of the Campus to replace the previous system. We had hoped that the previous system would have been able to operate for an interim period of time until we completed the full rollout of Eduroam, but unfortunately it continued to cause problems from the start of Semester.

So, we decided to quickly replace all the wireless access points on the old system so that Eduroam is now the only wireless system on Campus. We also installed additional access points in the refurbished ABS Foyer and that has greatly improved the cover there.

However, we don’t yet have wireless coverage across all areas on Garthdee and we are working to extend this over the next few months. At the moment, the whole of Riverside East is covered, the open central areas in Aberdeen Business School, and Faculty of Health and Social Care are covered, Sports Centre and a number of open areas and meeting rooms in the other buildings. Until we get the cover extended, you may find some rooms where the wireless signal is not strong enough to give you a good connection – it’s not broken, it’s just that we haven’t yet brought the new system to these areas.

We know that WiFi is an important service for our users. Students, as usual, have a wonderful way of expressing their service requirements and one of the Class Reps shared this little pyramid with me – thanks!

WiFi

IT Services can see from the system logs that many people are using WiFi without any difficulty, but at the end of last year there were a number of people reporting some problems. Remember, there’s good support material which you can find online on the IT Helpdesk’s support pages.

We made a change in December as recommended by the supplier to address some problems in connectivity and “roaming”. What’s “roaming”, you may ask? Well, when your device connects to a wireless network it connects to a wireless access point (transmitter) close to you. If you move around the building, the system has to release you from the original access point and connect you to another one. Technically, that’s a complex process and sometimes, it can take a minute or two for that to settle down, so if you are finding problems with WiFi as you move around, allow the system a bit of time.

Some people have been confused by “RGU Connect” – you only use RGU Connect once, and what it does is configure all the settings on your device. Once you’ve done that, your device should automatically connect to eduroam from then on. Please don’t try to use RGU Connect as your main WiFi – it causes problems for other people trying to connect, and anyway won’t work very well.

IT Services also found last year that some devices worked better than others – this appears to relate to the manufacturer and the operating system – whether its Microsoft, Android or Mac. IT Services hope that the change made in December will have improved these issues but are continuing to monitor and work with the supplier on this.

Some apps that have worked in the past aren’t working fully. Some of these IT Services have been able to fix, others, are more difficult to diagnose. I am aware that Facebook Apps work on some devices but not on others – this is not a University policy to block Facebook!!! IT Services are continuing to work to resolve these issues, although some of this is dependent on getting information from the people that wrote the apps.

When you visit other eduroam campuses (in Aberdeen you can access it at Aberdeen University and NHS teaching hospitals) you will need to turn off “proxy” settings to allow you to use the service there (remember to note what they are before you turn them off!) then switch the proxy settings back on when you come back to RGU – they are normally “proxy.rgu.ac.uk”.

And finally (!) – if you are running a conference or event, remember that IT Services can provide guest logins for the WiFi. Only guests from other Universities will be able to use eduroam, and even then only if their University supports it.