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

New Building for the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment

The next phase of construction in our Riverside East building – the new Scott Sutherland School – is now nearing completion. This has been built as a new wing onto the south of the existing building, and will house the School and the Faculty Office for the Faculty of Design and Technology. Early in June, the contractors expect the building to be ready for the University to start fitting out with its own furnishings, equipment to make it ready for occupation from July. Have a look at Daniel Doolan’s blog for some great photos of the construction work for this project – and indeed the rest of Riverside East.

One of the most important tasks in getting the building ready is the installation of the IT and Audio Visual (AV) equipment. Some of this has already taken place – the IT network cabling was installed as part of the construction work, and the company installing all the AV equipment has been working alongside the main contractor and much of the AV kit is already in place.

Over the next few weeks, staff from IT Services and the University IT/AV team will be working to install and commission all the remaining IT facilities. These activities can’t really start until the main building work is finished as they depend on a clean environment and the furniture installation.

First of all, IT staff will test the fibre optic connection that links the new building to the rest of Riverside East. The next stage is to start installing the network switches in the communications rooms within the building. The switches connect to the cabling and control all the IT network traffic throughout the building so nothing really works until these switches are in place. It’s not just a question of plugging them in – they all have to be configured correctly to operate with the rest of the University network.

As the switches are being commissioned, IT staff will also be checking out all the AV equipment and making sure that it works across the network. Then, once the furniture arrives and the switches are ready, IT staff can start to install PC’s on staff desks ready for staff to move in. Following this, the WiFi access points will be installed so that WiFi access is available in the new building, the printer/copiers need to be installed and linked up to the network, and PC’s need to be installed in the IT labs and studio spaces in time for students to start using the new building.

This is a busy and very intensive period of work for IT staff and will be a key priority for them over the next two months. We are all looking forward to seeing the new building completed and occupied, and staff and students enjoying a modern new environment for the School!

WiFi plans for January

We have continued to monitor our WiFi service across the Campus over the last couple of months and I’m aware that whilst it has now improved for many people, there are still some people having difficulty in using the WiFi network. Our own engineers have been testing the performance regularly across the Campus and gathering information on specific issues, and we have been working closely with the manufacturer throughout this period. We know that there are issues connecting some types of device, some issues when people move from one Campus location to another, and some specific areas of the Campus where people are consistently having more difficulty connecting to WiFi than other areas. On the plus side, we can see from our system monitors that there typically two to three thousand successful connections being made by people at any point in time during the day.

We have now reviewed the issues we are seeing with the manufacturer, and are getting support from very senior level within the company. We have agreed an action plan with them and they will be placing engineers on our Campus week commencing 5th January to carry out a complete review of our entire installation, and as part of that to make some specific changes that we have agreed. There will be some outages during the first week in January, but we anticipate these will be short.

Our own engineers and the manufacturer will carry out an initial assessment of the impact of this work over the first half of January. With such a large user population and range of devices it will be important that we do further checks after that so that we can be confident that we have resolved the issues people are experiencing and have a stable and reliable service across the Campus. We’ll do this by asking a group of staff and students in the first instance to keep a more detailed diary of their use of WiFi – when it works and when/where they have problems.

We are giving a high priority to resolving the remaining issues on WiFi and will work through this as quickly as we can. Please do keep providing feedback via our Helpdesk, visit the Georgina Scott Sutherland Learning Centre or contact us via ITHelpdesk@rgu.ac.uk if you need any help meantime.

WiFi

I outlined in a previous blog post the work we have carried out over the last several months to improve the WiFi service on Campus. We’ve been carefully monitoring the service since the start of semester, and over the first few weeks it performed well and we were seeing it handle a much higher load of users successfully when compared to the same period last year. We had good feedback from those users we were in contact with.

I’m aware, however, that over the past two weeks in particular there have been some problems which have affected people trying to connect to Eduroam over WiFi on our Campus. Once they are connected, the connection is good and performs well, but there have been a number of reports of people not being able to connect from time to time. The problem seems to be that the attempt to connect either hangs, or says that it can’t connect, or asks for a password.

IT Services engineers have raised this as a high priority issue with the manufacturer, and they currently have an engineer on site from Europe backed up with specialist advice from the USA. They are able to trace what is happening on the system and are currently working on a number of options to address the situation. I’m sorry that people are experiencing some problems at the moment – we know how important the WiFi service is and we have stressed to the manufacturer the urgency of getting our WiFi system back to a stable state as quickly as possible.

If you do encounter difficulties in connecting meantime, the tips provided in the previous blog post may still be useful to help you get connected.

IT Help Desk – Happy to Help!

The IT Help Desk has a new home this year. Actually I think it’s had a new home every year for the last few years on the back of all our moves and changes to Campus buildings! It’s now located in the new Georgina Scott Sutherland Learning Centre in the Aberdeen Business School – the area that used to be the Library for those of you who have been here for a while.

You will see the Help Desk located in the middle of the Learning Centre. At the time of writing, they are using temporary furniture but we are expecting a proper counter and some new partitioning in the next few weeks to smarten it all up. Please do use the Help Desk – they are there for staff and students, and will be very happy to help you and provide advice on use of the University IT services. If in doubt – ask! If you are having problems, it really helps us to know so that we can identify commonly occurring issues and sort them out – not just for you but for everybody else.

You can visit the Help Desk, or call them on 2777, or email them at ithelpdesk@rgu.ac.uk . Remember you can also find information and guidance on the IT Help Desk Pages.

The Help Desk is open:
10am to 8pm, Monday to Thursday
10am to 4.30pm, Friday
10am to 2pm, Saturday
12pm to 4pm, Sunday

That’s the main Help Desk. The start of Session is always a busy time, so this year we are also running with “pop up” help desks for a few weeks. You will see these “popping up”:

– In the Library on level 5 which we hope to keep manned Mon – Fri, 10am to 12pm
– in Scott Sutherland manned on a Mon, Tue and Thu, 9.30am to 12pm near the reception area

If you want to know what a popup help desk looks like – here’s one in action yesterday in Scott Sutherland!

IT PopUp Help Desk