A Sound Investment

Some of you may have noticed some inclement weather in the North East of Scotland these past few weeks leading to flooding, blocked roads and power cuts. A lot of this peaked on December 30th in the Garthdee area of Aberdeen, where the RGU Campus is. We didn’t get flooded, but there was quite a big power cut across the Campus.

Over the past few years we have moved all our core IT infrastructure into two new datacentres – sharing with the University of Aberdeen and North East Scotland College. One of them is on the RGU Campus so this power cut was a good test. Both datacentres are well equipped with battery backup, plus generator backup – but of course as much as you can test these components in controlled circumstances, there is nothing like the real thing.

In the event, when it became clear that there had been a power cut, I received an anxious phone call from the duty manager asking me if the data centre and our IT systems would be OK? By the time I received the call, the automatic alerts had already notified technical staff in IT Services and the Head of IT Operations and Support, Richard Lynch, was on his way to the Garthdee Campus. There he found that both the battery backup and generator had kicked in automatically as they are designed to when the power was cut. All our IT services continued without interruption and when power was restored the generator powered itself down again and everything settled back to normal.

Many if not most of the major incidents I have encountered in IT have been down to a loss of cooling and/or power in the datacentre. Incidents such as these demonstrate the value of investing properly in datacentre resilience. What ended up being a non-event could otherwise have been a a much more protracted IT recovery operation.

Web and Social Media

What do you think of the RGU Web Site? Do you use RGU’s presence on Facebook? Or LinkedIn? Do you follow any of RGU’s Twitter accounts, or bloggers {ha! If you are reading this then that question is answered}? What should the modern organisation project to the external world in terms of its digital presence and how should our key stakeholders be able to interact with us digitally?

These are questions we have been asking quite intensely over the past 6 months. Like many Universities, we have a web site (actually, quite a few web sites – that’s an issue) which had its last major development around 5/6 years ago, has had its content and some aspects of its look and feel spruced up incrementally since then, and was recently reworked to offer a “responsive design. We’ve also produced a set of guidelines to assist staff in the most appropriate ways to use the various social media channels.

In the intervening years there have been massive changes in the use of mobile technology in particular, and the way in which stakeholders now expect to be able to engage with organisations. It’s a while since we really took a long hard look at our external “digital presence” holistically, so we’ve asked We are AD – a digital agency – to work with us and look at our overall external presence as it is today, against best practice and our own strategic objectives as an organisation. We want to refresh our external presence to reflect today’s expectations from our stakeholders, and just as importantly set up our internal organisation so that we can keep our digital presence current in what we expect to be a continually changing technology environment.

They’ve been working with us since October, and have met with a cross section of stakeholders as well as doing an in-depth analysis of traffic to our web site and main social media sites. We expect to see their findings before Christmas, and in the early part of 2016 we’ll be preparing our plans to respond to these – will keep you posted!

Welcome Back!

Oops – seems like I have neglected the blog over the summer, so time to get it started again regularly with the new academic year under way. First of all a very warm welcome to all new students, and to those returning for another year of study – it’s great to see you all here and that includes those of you who are studying online. All the IT resources mentioned below are for you too.

Also a warm welcome to any members of staff who have started recently.

First things first – if you need any help with anything to do with IT, please do use the IT Help Desk resources, or contact them directly if you need further help. IT Services have updated a lot of the information available online, so even if you are a returning student it’s worth checking these links (if you need to sign in just use your normal username and password):

On Moodle, the IT Help Desk has a new page, with a number of short videos to show you the key IT Resources available to you and how to access them. They also show you how to connect these to your own devices.

On the Student Portal you’ll find additional information and more detailed documents if you want to refer to them:
Follow the Help Desk on Twitter – they use it regularly to give you updates on any changes to our systems, news, and links to helpful information.

Follow this blog – we use it to keep you up to date in a bit more detail on what’s happening, what’s planned, and items of interest.

And of course, if you need to contact the help desk directly you can do that too:

Email: ITHelpdesk@rgu.ac.uk

Telephone: +44 1224 262777
In Person at the Learning Centre located in the Aberdeen Business School building

Opening Times are:

MON to THU – 8am to 8pm
FRI – 8am to 5pm
SAT – 10am to 2pm
SUN – 12noon to 4pm

I’ve called my dog @ff43z*;

If you search on the internet “someone figured out my password”, and look for “images” – you should see a few examples of a poster with a picture of a forlorn looking dog and the caption “Someone figured out my password, now I have to rename my dog!”. Cats don’t find this funny either.

Trying to get people to take IT Security seriously is like pushing water uphill sometimes. . . until something happens. I stopped by the reception desk in one of our buildings this week and whilst I was there, somebody came along and handed over an iPhone that had been left on a chair. The receptionist said that this was a regular occurrence – I hope at least it had a pin number on it. Then, she produced a biscuit tin full of USB sticks that have been found lying about. How many of these contain the only copy in the world of somebody’s dissertation, or worse some confidential information?

USB sticks in a biscuit tin - is yours there?
USB sticks in a biscuit tin – is yours there?

Recently, the worst passwords of 2014 have been announced. The good news is that the word “password” has at last been knocked off its perch as the most common password. The bad news is that it has been replaced by “123456”.

Poor password control puts University systems at risk. Consider this – you have some kind of personal online account with a username and a poor password. You’re human, and remembering all these passwords is such a hassle – so you just use the same one at work – for your e-mail, the University finance system, whatever. Your personal account gets hacked and somebody knows your password. {Easily done – you may received one of these urgent emails which look as if they come from the IT Help Desk and ask you to “click here” to confirm your account or something like that. You’ll be amazed at how many people click the link, but not you of course.}

They make a guess that you might, just might, use the same password at work – bingo, they’re into the University finance system. Far fetched? Well, something very similar to that scenario happened in one organisation that lost a 6 figure sum of money as a result.

Now that I’ve kept your interest to this point, I’ve just revised the University’s policy on use of IT Facilities. Please read it – it’s there to help everyone use our facilities safely and fairly, there’s a very short introduction to the key points, it’s not rocket science and it won’t take you more than a few minutes.

Student Facing Review

Wow, where does the time go? I’ve been quiet on the Blog since start of January, so am picking things up again.

I thought I would share a bit about our student facing review of IT Resources, but first an update on WiFi. In any case, WiFi came up regularly as a topic when we met with student reps. IT Services, along with the manufacturer, have completed a substantial programme of work in January and February to look at the WiFi system and reconfigure it to resolve the key problems people have been experiencing with connections. I’m pleased to say that most if not all of the feedback now is that this has brought a substantial improvement to both staff and students. The IT Help Desk are now getting hardly any calls, and we can see a steady high load of successful connections to WiFi across the Campus. As ever in these situations, there can still be a small “tail” of people who might have unusual problems, or something specific to their IT Account – if you are still experiencing any difficulty with WiFi access please do contact the Help Desk. Don’t be stuck – they are there to help you!

Back to the Student Facing Review. As part of our ongoing programme of quality enhancement, the University engages with students to take their input to help us improve non-academic support services in the University. This year, we decided to involve students in looking at IT resources across the University and we have also involved SPARQS (Student Participation in Quality Scotland) who are helping us in our approach and also keen to see how we get on.

We kicked the process off with a series of focus groups in December involving student representatives, and we also attended a meeting of the “Big Student Forum.” It’s been great meeting up with them – we have very committed and involved student representatives, and the feedback from each of the focus groups has been consistent which has helped us to draw up some priorities.

We also held a couple of further focus groups in February to involve the student reps in designing possible solutions to some of the suggestions they had made. Next step is to bring all of this together into our forward planning to create an action plan.

The key topics that have emerged in our discussions so far have been:

1) WiFi – and hopefully we have made good progress in addressing that now.
2) Printing support. Students like our print solution, but are looking for more rapid support, information and help when there are problems with the printers.
3) Access to Computing Facilities. Across the Campus there are open access facilities, and also IT labs which are partially timetabled and available outwith that. Students want better information on which IT spaces are free and when.
4) Information and Communication. Some students were unaware of valuable IT facilities available to them, and overall induction and communication emerged as a key theme which probably applies beyond IT.
5) Storage for student files, and how best to access such storage on Campus and off Campus.
6) Access to help and support. Students give great feedback on Help Desk support but they find it restrictive having it physically in one place on Campus (other than peak times when we do “popup” help desks). We’ve discussed a number of possible options to create more flexible access to support.

There’s lots more I could say on each of these topics even at this stage, but we’ll take some time to shape them up in more detail and then share progress on the blog.

Moving On, travelling light . . . ?

Well, today is the last day that IT Services will be in St Andrew Street. Tomorrow, we move down to the main Garthdee Campus of the Robert Gordon University. The last 12 months have been an exceptionally busy time for us as we have been fitting out new buildings and helping to move many other Departments in the University. Not to mention two datacentre moves into the bargain! And then of course, we have all the work to reconfigure the University’s voice and data network so that we can “unplug” the St Andrew Street Building.

I’ll be downsizing too – I think my new office is quite a bit smaller than my existing one. That said, it was interesting going through my filing cabinets, desk and cupboards. With very little hesitation I emptied more than 50% of the contents into two confidential waste bags for secure disposal. The rest I fitted into two cardboard boxes (for files) and two blue boxes (books, photos, memorabilia and some IT stuff). Clearly over the last decade there’s been a huge shift away from paper to electronic and you see that manifesting itself when you have so little physical belongings to move. When I get down to Garthdee at least one of the boxes is earmarked for further pruning, and hopefully shredding!

office

Next blog post will be from Garthdee, meantime I’m off to a cake cutting ceremony!

cake

Start of Semester

First of all, a big welcome from IT Services to all new students who have joined the University this year and welcome back to all students who are returning after their break over the summer. For the IT people, this has been overall the busiest summer we can ever remember, with all the preparation to install the network infrastructure for the opening of Riverside East, refurbishment of the Aberdeen Business School, and rolling out as part of that new Windows 7 desktops, a new printing solution, new audio visual facilities, a new WiFi system and moving one of our datacentres. I’ve written in more detail about these in various other posts over the summer and you can look over them for a bit more background.

We’ve done our best to test all of these over the summer, but it’s not until the start of semester when students return that everything really gets put to the test, and there have been a few teething problems this year. WiFi I know has been difficult in some parts of the Campus. In Riverside East, we put a new WiFi system in, based on “Eduroam.” This is working very well and the great thing is that once you have set it up on your tablet or smartphone, it connects automatically so you don’t have to keep on entering your username and password. The old Wifi system is still around in the rest of the Garthdee Campus and we had originally planned to rollout Eduroam to the rest of the Campus over the next few months. However, we’ve experienced a number of problems with the old WiFi system. We have a temporary solution in place which will keep the old system available, but we are now going to speed up the rollout of Eduroam to the rest of the Campus. This will consist of two phases:

First of all, we will replace all the existing WiFi access points on the old system with new Eduroam ones. That will be fairly quick and we hope can be done in the next 2-3 weeks. However, these access points do not currently cover the whole campus – they mainly cover the more heavily used public areas and teaching spaces. So the next phase will be to add additional access points to bring WiFi to as many as possible of the areas not covered by the current system. This will take a bit longer, as it takes some time to plan the optimum location of new access points.

We’ve had good feedback about the new Windows 7 desktops and those of you who were here last year should see a noticeable improvement. Some people have reported that some of the new desktops “freeze” from time to time for a few seconds, – IT Services are aware of that and are working on a solution along with our supplier.

The new printers are working well and successfully processing thousands of print jobs every day. As it’s a new system, we’ve had a number of calls to the Help Desk for people asking for help and advice, and a small number of specific issues, but hopefully that will settle down now as everyone adapts to the new system.

Talking of the Help Desk – the start of Semester is always a really busy time for the IT Help Desk. There’s normally a steady stream of people who have forgotten their passwords (not you though?) and this year there have been many additional calls from people asking how to use some of the new facilities such as printing and Eduroam WiFi. The graph below shows you clearly how the number of calls to the Help Desk have spiked just over the last 2-3 weeks, so I hope you understand it will take a little bit longer for non-urgent calls to be answered at the moment. Remember that you can find information on how to solve the most common queries on the IT Help Desk pages on RGyoU so please look there first:

You can also find information on the IT Services pages on the main University web site.

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