Will staff network storage be increased?

QUESTION:

We recently received an email regarding Information Security and Data Protection. I understand that the University currently offers only 40MB (by default) of network storage on drive ‘H:’ for staff. By today’s standards this is extremely low and of no real use – especially given the fact that we work in the knowledge economy and that information, manifested in electronic form, is key to the function of a University. Are there any plans to increase this to realistic quota – enabling academic staff to fully embrace network storage, and thus better rely on the security and resilience afforded by the University’s technical infrastructure, rather than having to physically port data around on various devices – and therefore potentially increase the risks of data loss/compromise?

ANSWER:

The ‘H’ drive default quota for staff is currently 200MB, however any user, with a business case submitted to IS via their FMT/SMT, can be provided with an appropriate quota increase (subject to approval) up to a total of 500MB in exceptional circumstances.

The University has recently entered into an agreement with Microsoft for the provision of “OneDrive for Business” cloud storage facility for all staff which will provide each member of staff with 1Tb of secure storage; this new facility is expected to be launched during December. The agreement allows for the benefits of cloud storage to be provided while addressing the legal concerns regarding data storage, and retains ownership of university data by the University. This will become the recommended method for secure storage of files which cannot be accommodated on the University central file storage, further details will be circulated during the product launch via a range of communication channels including RSS in the near future.

To ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of University documents, it is recommended that staff use the University’s central file storage or (after its launch) “OneDrive for Business” storage.

Queries about the new Staff Directory…..

QUESTION 1:
I am sorry to say the New Staff Directory is terrible

It is very slow, when it does work.

Often I need to send contact information to tutors working outside the University; due to the way information is now displayed I can’t cut and paste the information into emails. (Thick grey line in-between).

What would have been really helpful would be to have the staff member’s university contact number on the first page of the search with their name.

 
QUESTION 2:
Re. the new staff directory pages – these are not as easy to use as they were.
Once you search for a name and click on it to find their email or phone number the search function above disappears meaning if the search brings up the wrong person you have to go back

It just appears altogether very weird. If it needed updating it needed updating to show the email and telephone number of the person you want not the division etc.

 

ANSWER:
Work was undertaken on the staff directory to bring the underlying technologies up to date and to allow integration with other systems. Without this work, in the future users would have had to keep contact details up to date in a different location, with the increased risk of inconsistent or out of date information. The system was designed with much of the style and functionality of the previous system to simplify adoption, but including some changes previously requested which could be easily included at this time.

Following introduction of the new directory an intermittent performance issue was reported to our service desks. Information Services staff assessed, identified and resolved the issue within 6 hours of the systems launch.

Since the launch Information Services have received a number of requests for additional features to be added to the staff directory including:

•The addition of the search box to the person details pages
In response to these requests the staff directory has been updated to include this functionality.

•To include email addresses on search results and browse pages.
The visibility of email addresses was considered during the design process, with some arguments that all email addresses should be removed due to the possibility of them being collected for spam purposes. The current approach was selected to continue to provide email addresses while reducing the risk of spam.

•To include telephone numbers on search results table.
This is a new request that poses some design issues regarding how this should be presented, with some users having 4 or more telephone numbers and others none. This is currently under review.

•To allow cut and paste of staff directory entries into outlook without formatting.
The latest versions of MS Office offer several format options when pasting, including to “keep text only” which we advise people with this requirement to use.

•To allow Google and other searches engines to return staff directory results.
This will require the search engines to re-read our sites which unfortunately we cannot control and could take several weeks.

•To include staff directory entries in the university web site search.
The university search engine has been configured to return results from the staff directory.

If you have experience any issues with the new staff directory or have recommendations for future enhancements then please contact Information Services support desks on extension 3800, or email 3800@staffs.ac.uk.

Can we increase email quota?

QUESTION:
Hello, can I ask if we can increase the quota which is allocated to students and staff for email. The current quotas were set a lot of years ago and with the increased use of this technology this is a constant battle with warnings saying you are over quota. Staff are increasingly receiving large attachments from students and from outside organisations which will need to be saved for future review. Also all of the email needs to be saved for future evidence if required with students saying they sent you one thing and actually sending you something entirely different. External email providers are now supporting into the gigabytes of storage per user. I notice that York university have gone down this route giving each member of staff and student 25 Gigabytes of storage. http://www.york.ac.uk/it-services/it/google/

 

ANSWER:
Email quotas are used as a mechanism to ensure the stability, availability and performance of the email system for all users. We aim to provide users with the largest possible default quotas within the constraints of the number of users and technology that we use. Currently the staff email server utilises 4TB of disk storage on a high performance disk system, and a further 90TB of backup archive to allow recovery in case of disaster. Information Services are investigating the use of newer technologies for staff email, including a new version of the Exchange email server, and alternate storage methods that will allow quotas to be reassessed moving forwards. Use of external email providers is not under consideration for staff, due to the requirements around the ability to provide evidence of communications that you have highlighted in your query, and which is lacking in external providers.

For student users, Information Services are actively evaluating the use of Microsoft Office 365 as an external email provider. It trials go well and this is adopted by the university then the benefits will include larger email quotas for students.

We would remind users that email is not always the best mechanism for distribution of large attachments as many organisations limit the size of messages. Information Services provide alternative methods such as our ZendTo Dropbox site that provide a simple secure mechanism for transferring these files outside of email.

When will administration staff get replacement computers that are up to the job?

QUESTION:
I would like to ask Executive when are administration staff going to get replacement computers that are up to the job.  At the moment, I am working on a machine that is due for replacement in June but have heard that there is the possibility that this is not going to be the case. 

My machine on a daily basis, and that is not an exaggeration, has major problems, i.e. so slow that it will take at least minutes not seconds to open up emails, Microsoft Office keeps getting getting error messages that involves a re-boot, blue screen freezing and I would like to ask how I am supposed to do my work efficiently if I do not have the correct equipment to do that.

I do after all work in the Faculty of Computing and find it absolutely appalling that we are still using XP Professional on our out-dated machines. IS jokingly say that I have them on call-back, but it is not a laughing matter.  Our machines are seriously slow and out of date and should have been replaced long before they got to the point of hindering us in carrying out our duties.

If you cut back on essential maintenance for staff we will be unable to provide what we are here for in the first place and that is to support students.

 

ANSWER:
The university replaces staff and student PC’s with a standard device on a cyclic basis as agreed by Executive.  The replacement cycle is normally 5 years for staff and 4 years for students.  Any exceptions to this rule (other than a few instances such as faulty or damaged devices) must be approved by a cross institutional group called the IT Resources Steering Group (ITRSG) and then by a submission from their department to the Investment Approval Panel (IAP).  PC’s are bulk ordered to obtain the best possible prices at 6 monthly intervals. If individuals do not feel that their PC meets the requirements of their duties they should discuss making a submission to ITRSG with their Technical Manager.

 

Why hasn’t the IS status page been updated recently?

QUESTION:
I’ve noticed that the University have an IS Status Page, showing the current status of University Systems. It’s a shame that the last time this was updated on 6 December 2011, especially since it would be easier to have a central page for all users to look at, before ringing 3800 and reporting a fault. Is there any reason why this hasn’t been updated for over one year?

 

ANSWER:
The IS status page was developed before the wide adoption of RSS as the main medium for communication of updates to staff and students. RSS has the advantages of being widely accessible and being a single focus for key communications regarding institutional matters, therefore the decision to replace the status page was taken. IS will now remove the page to avoid further confusion.

Why does the University not have an intranet?

QUESTION:
Dear Ask Executive,

In the HE sector, Staffordshire University is surely an isolated example when it comes to not having an intranet. Provision of internal information appears to be divided among various semi-official and unofficial channels, many of which are available to the outside world, thus exposing much of our internal content to the public, and making it very difficult to establish what is and isn’t out of date.

Given the IT resources at our disposal, why does the University not just have an intranet?

Thanks.

 
ANSWER:
The term Intranet covers a multitude of different technologies and approaches to communication and collaboration, Staffordshire University already provide many intranet features including a student facing portal and web 2.0 tools such as wikis for group working that do not expose content to the general public. Colleagues in Marketing also monitor and maintain the institutional presence on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The University is currently considering options to effectively enhance its services to staff and students in this area in order to better meet their needs in the increasingly mobile centric world.

We would encourage staff who notice content that is out of date, to report it to the page owner so that it can be updated.

 

Will performance problems with Blackboard be resolved?

QUESTION:
What is the situation regarding the performance issues that are sometimes / often experienced by Blackboard users?

 
ANSWER:
Since September 2012 the Blackboard system has been delivered via an externally hosted managed service provided by Blackboard in Amsterdam. Following reports of a number of performance issues impacting on student learning and University staff, Information Services have been working with Blackboard as upmost priority to resolve these problems.

As part of the investigations, discussions have taken place with other institutions that use Blackboard (Keele, Liverpool, Manchester, and Leicester); sharing experiences and best practice and facilitating comparative tests from other campuses to our Blackboard environment in Amsterdam.

As a result of investigations, a number of performance issues have been resolved which related to the configuration of the hosted server environment in Amsterdam.

However, more recently on-going testing has established that there was also an issue relating to a network device within the University. This has recently been resolved and the latest tests undertaken this week indicate a very significant decrease in the time taken to download files from the Blackboard server. Further monitoring and investigation will take place to ensure that performance is at the optimum level possible.

Information Services appreciate the support given by colleagues across the institution during the investigation which has proven very difficult to resolve.

Why has the IP telephony system made such an impact?

QUESTION:
I would be grateful to know if Executive are aware of the impact the current telephone setup at the University has on day to day operations. While the IP phone system used more than likely provides cost savings, the call quality when making calls is inconsistent, with lags and poor lines being a common occurrence.

Additionally, mobile users cannot see our number when they are called, and colleagues in some departments need to make outbound calls requiring replies that are at worst ignored, or at best delayed by the individual having to check voicemail and call back.  Additionally some commercial and residential landline users block callers that are unknown. This may seem like a small problem but at grass roots level it adds up to a big issue for any institution wishing to make its practices more business-like.

 
ANSWER:
Information Services are currently in the process of deploying IP telephony across buildings at the University. This system was installed to replace the current phone system which is 13 years old and no longer fit for purpose. There is currently a fault on the system that is resulting in a delay of approximately 3 seconds when connecting external calls. This fault has been logged with our service providers who are working with us to resolve this. We are not currently aware of any issues with this system that that have resulted in poor call quality. If issues with quality are being experienced then these should be reported to our service desk for investigation.

The University system does not currently advertise a telephone number outside the University so anyone with a mobile phone or caller display feature will see the incoming call displayed as “unknown”. This has not been a conscious decision by the University but this has always been the case since the system was installed 13 years ago. It is possible to advertise a telephone number externally but progression of this would need to be approved by the University.

Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

QUESTION:

Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

On 18 December staff in the School of Computing received an email announcing that Blackboard would be unavailable on 5/6 January and were told that this had been scheduled from the start of term. This was the first that I, and as far as I know other members of teaching staff had heard of this.

Exams began on 7 January which meant that students needed access to revision material. My students were scheduled to hand in via Blackboard on 6 January. Term had finished on 14 December which meant a scramble to email students to ensure they knew they had to download in advance/that the assignment hand in had been extended.

Can IS: (i) avoid scheduling downtime for the week preceding the January exams, the week preceding the start of the summer assessment period, the week before the referral week.  (ii) email teaching staff well in advance to inform them about downtimes so that we can make sure our students know.

 
ANSWER:
Information Services publishes a calendar of planned maintenance via the web and also provides updates of this regularly via RSS.

The first weekend of every month and the last weekend following the end of term was approved by Deans/Directors (at the Information Strategy Group) as the agreed period when IS may need to schedule planned IT maintenance.

The work on 5th and 6th January was the essential replacement of end of life core network equipment which would become unsupported if not replaced. This upgrade had been scheduled to utilise one of the defined maintenance periods and was publicised as follows:
•The downtime was first notified via RSS on 1st October as part of the published schedule to August 2013.
•A reminder was published on RSS on 23rd November and again 18th December.
•It was also included on the IS blog.

RSS is the University’s communication mechanism and we use this to publish information about planned downtime. We have added the following message now to these communications asking that staff consider the impact of the planned downtime and let colleagues and students know if they think it will have an adverse impact:

We do publish the details of this Scheduled IT maintenance unavailability in as many places as possible to give advanced warning, but appreciate it is sometimes difficult to inform everyone especially distance learners. If you feel the work detailed below may affect your colleagues or students please can we ask that you pass this information onto them too, to ensure all are aware of any interruption to their access to resources and services. As always if you have any queries please contact the service desk

Moving forwards, a cross University group is in the process of being formed to refine the principles agreed by ISG to minimise the impact on University activities.

When will students get a fully working wireless network?

QUESTION:
When will our students get a fully working wireless network to work with (wireless printing, wireless mapped H-Drive, wireless student login), rather than just a wireless internet connection?

 
ANSWER:
The Airnet wireless service allows students to access the internet, email via Webmail, access H drives and print documents. Further details can be found within the Airnet User Guide.

We are constantly striving to develop our mobile offering to all of our staff and students as is illustrated by the recent launch of the new AirNet-Secure service.

*This is a question that we did not have time for during the last Executive Question Time.