How fast is my sunray?

Channel 5’s Gadget Show have been running a campaign to get internet service provides to be more honest about how fast your broadband connection really is, they often use terms like “up to 8MB” where you pay for 8Mb broadband but in some cases you my be lucky to achieve download speeds above 2Mb and then your upload speed is usually less than half you download speed.

While it’s true that the actual upload and download speeds you can achieve varies based on a number of factors including, in the case of an ADSL connection, how close you are to the telephone exchange but also how many internet connected devices are sharing the available bandwidth both at your local exchange and in the home, these days there can often be several internet connected device in the average home.

In a corporate environment the number of network attached devices is even more significant as everyone shares a finite amount of network bandwidth for not only browsing internet but also local network traffic, file and print sharing, VOIP, web services, the list goes on.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to see what the Gadget Show’s broadband speed test made of Edge Hill University’s JANET connection from one of our new Sunray terminals on an average day.

After a number of tests throughout the day I managed to achieve around 15mb – 16mb download and even as much as 17mb upload speed which seems to me to be a pretty respectable score considering we have several thousand network attached devices form desktop PCs and thin client terminals to VOIP telephones and multiple servers supporting various services.

Each Sunray user will be connected to one of eight Windows Server 2003 terminal servers which are actually doing all the work, each server has a 1GB Ethernet connection direct to the core of the network, two Alcatel OmniSwitch 9700 located in separate machine rooms with 10Gb redundant fibre links between buildings.

An analogy for those less familiar with this terminology is that it’s like every workstation on our main campus having there own 16mb broadband connection only with twice the upload speed you would normally get at home.

There are a number of broadband speed test websites you can try often giving different results however two examples are listed below, the Gadget Show speed test which was used for this test and speedtest.net which achieved significantly higher results to London and the Washington DC, between 40 – 60 Mb. And of course you will never transfer data faster the network at the other end is able to. Why not try your home broadband connection for your self.

http://gadgetshow.five.tv/jsp/speed_test.htm

http://www.speedtest.net/

Posted in Green Computing, Random, Sunray | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sustainable IT in Universities and Colleges

Sustainable IT is a subject that is going to be more and more important for all Higher Education institutions.

I must admit I didn’t realise how important Sustainable IT was until I attended an energy efficiency workshop at Cardiff University. The workshop is part of a series of events, all of which are part of the Managing environmentally sustainable ICT project by JISC and Sust-IT

All of the presentations were really interesting, Cardiff University also arranged a tour of their brand new server room and High-performance computing (HPC) cluster. It was really good workshop and I’m already signed up for the next event about New Ways of Working

Apparently the use of natural gas in power stations is decreasing and the use of coal is on the increase. When one of the panel described computers as being ‘Coal Powered’ it certainly made me look differently at IT. I’m now planning a complete review of our server rooms and an investigation into exactly how much electricity we use, and where the inefficiencies are. The panel also made the point that going green is not only good for the environment, there are also huge cost savings that can be made by adopting greener practices. As students become more and more interested in the green credentials of an institution the electricity usage, efficiency and carbon footprint of an institution will become a factor that students begin to consider when selecting an institution.

The rising cost of electricity means that we all have to start taking notice of the electricity we use, if we don’t then energy bills will spiral out of control and cuts in other areas will have to be made to enable institutions to pay their bills. This might sound like doom mongering, but the panel explained that in the private sector decisions to cut staffing and other resources are already being made because of the high cost of electricity.

The British Computer Societey are working on an EU Code of Conduct for server rooms / data centres. Institutions will be able to sign up to the code of conduct when a final version of the document comes out later on this year. I will be looking into this Code of Conduct, and if possible I would like to get Edge Hill signed up to the document. Institutions signing up to the code will be given some EU marketing materials to display withing the institution. Signing up for this EU recognised Code of Conduct would further enhance the green credentials of the institution.

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Core Services: One year on

The Core Services team was formed in June 2007, which makes the team one year old! It doesn’t seem like a year since my first blog post.

The past year has been really interesting and challenging, and in all honesty I’ve enjoyed working on all the different projects. The team has come together quite nicely and we now have a wide range of skills available within the team. This summer will see our most ambitious plans to date, I just hope we can keep up the momentum we have built up over the past year. In the next few months we will be looking at virtualising more services and reducing the amount of physical servers in use. We will also be looking at improving the SunRay thin client service and reducing the running and support costs of the Core IT Services. We will also be rolling out more SunRay devices to some key areas of the institution, one of the bigger projects for the summer will be to implement a new institutional data backup system.

Looking over the previous blog posts I realised that I haven’t been at an external event or conference for some time. I thought it was about time I attended a conference as so far this year the rest of the team have been having all the fun!

The blog entries show that members of the team have attended Infosec 2008, a Salford Software Technical Update Event , and I’m sure there have been more events that haven’t been blogged !

I’m visiting Cardiff University on the 19th June for a ‘Sustainable IT in Universities and Colleges’ workshop. The workshop will explore issues around energy efficient configuration, cooling and power supply in computer server rooms, I’ll be looking for ideas or changes that will make our computer room more efficient. I’ll try and blog something about my thoughts and ideas tomorrow evening.

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InfoSecurity Europe 2008

After leaving Edge Hill in a Grab and Go Clio in the early hours on the 22nd of April, our trip began to London Olympia’s InfoSecurity Europe 2008. Surrounded by some of the most prominent researchers, developers and consultants in the IT Security community and over 12,500 visitors, we knew there would be some cryptic conversations ahead.

In an aim to gather as much information as possible we set out to grill dozens of distributors, sellers, resellers and strategy groups. While gathering a good understanding of what is being sold and offered, there is a huge variance in the market. But some of the most informative demonstrations came from companies proving really how easy it is to gain your data.

infosec5infosec6

One particular talk covered the prospect of stealing security data directly from the volatile memory of a laptop. If the user was to leave the computer in a powered on state (including hibernation), the thief could remove the memory – keeping it cool (thus reducing the degradation of the data) using a can of cooled gas – and simply dumping this data to a file for interrogation. Using this data, the thief can access vital information, including master encryption keys (stored in active memory) and essentially any information which may be required for a secure access to the victims’ company computers. The moral of that story was to never leave your laptop alone; especially powered on.

Another interesting discussion talked about how easily an attacker could spoof a Wi-Fi provider in order to monitor everything a user does and sees – this is basically known as a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack. In order to protect against such a situation, it is down to the user to be vigilant and self manage your own trusted connections.

infosec4In a world of deceit, lies and cynicism we are surprisingly trusting and accepting of our computers even when they try to alert us. In a strange twist of irony, we make every effort to cover our pin numbers when withdrawing money from a cash machine and would hesitate to even complete the operation with a stranger standing over our shoulder watching; yet when searching for a free Wi-Fi connection we’d happily pass them every detail, username, password and even keystroke!

Even more ironically, if someone were to suggest you download and install a suspicious file, most people would have enough sense to reject the offer. However, if you found a USB pen drive, how many of us would connect it to our computers? Whether out of greed to keep the item for ourselves or in an aim to find the owner; the result could be the uncompromisingly devastating. Programs can be preinstalled on these small devises and when the unsuspecting opportunist/advocate connects the devise, it could gather a terrific amount of data from the terminal – including usernames, passwords, logs, configurations and running services – which are then automatically emailed to the real owner.

Thus we are faced with the prospect of not only protecting our systems from direct attacks, but rather challenging our policies and the reconsidering the way we think, in order to safeguard users against themselves. With so many threats present, it is clear we must have controls in place. There are so many steps which can be taken and nothing will provide a perfectly secure system, but burying our heads in the sand will guarantee disaster.

infosec7infosec3infosec2infosec8

After spending two tiring days investigating dozens of products and all our options, we left the arena pondering possibilities, musing over threats and contemplating how to implement and utilise this acquired knowledge… along with the burden of our pockets filled with complimentary pens!

infosec1

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Fancy a Rant?

The 23rd – 29th March is “One Big RANT Week”, the Mental Health Foundation runs Mental Health Action Week every year and this year the foundation is focusing on Anger Management. It’s an emotion that everyone feels at some point in their lives, and some people deal with anger better than others.

The One Big RANT Week is to raise awareness about the destructive power of anger and to promote some methods of dealing with anger. I must admit that sometimes a rant is good for me, especially if others join in on a group rant! While most people will admit to getting angry, lots of people find it difficult to admit they have a problem dealing with anger. There will be a number of sponsored events across the country to raise money for the foundation, some of the suggested sponsored events include ‘A Rant-athon’ where groups of people come together to vent their spleens on a subject, or a ‘RANT-off’ where people are given the chance to engage in a war of words to see who has the most entertaining rage.

If you want further information about Anger Management, any other aspects of mental health or to get involved in the One Big Rant Week visit the Mental Health Foundation Website

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Well Hi!

Firstly let me introduce myself I’m David McCallum (not the actor in NCIS!) and I’m part of the Core Services Team.

Recently I’ve been involved in a new printing system pilot in the Faculty of Health Building. What is interesting about printing I hear you ask? The traditional model for printing has always been to put small desktop printers into offices, the printing pilot works on a more centralised model. We have 3 Hewlett Packard (HP) Safecom Multifunction Print Copy Scan devices (PCS) on loan.

9500mfp.jpeg

The magic of these devices is that where as the traditional model required users to print to a specific printer (for example top floor lrc printer), in this centralised model users print to just one printer queue and then go to any PCS device and request their printing. Users can also scan documents or photocopy at any of the devices.
The devices require users to login with a four digit unique PIN Code to access the photocopy or scan services, users can also choose which of their documents from the queue they want to print. These devices can also be used with the University smart card system so that users could potentially use their swipe cards to login to the devices.
card.jpg

This system is secure and this means that no one else can walk away with your printing (or bin it!). Print Jobs will stay in the queue for 5 days and the day before will email you to remind you it is about to be deleted. You can retain print jobs which means that it you need to print it again you just go to the device and re-print it

There are currently one of each device on each floor of the Faculty of Health building

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VMWare 2008

“In a world of dreams, we are but Gods limited by imagination”.

As technology evolves, concepts change and users adapt. We find ourselves challenging our systems to do more and more with less and less. In an effort to minimise overheads and maximise efficiency, we are presented with complex problems and demands to ensure availability, improve quality and reduce our carbon footprint. Parallel to all these demands; costs, implementation time frames and learning curves are expected to be nominal.

To set up a conventional system there are many costs involved, including (but not limited to): research, strategic planning, environmental preparation, physical setup requirements, hardware costs, setup of hardware, installation of software, staff costs, time, maintenance and not forgetting replacement costs.
This cycle of expenditure is conducted every time a new server is purchased and partially replicated for systems which are reused.

Obviously as companies develop, using these same old techniques of purchasing numerous, bigger, faster and more powerful servers is going to snowball exponentially and eventually reach an unmanageable, unsustainable terminal limit of growth.
It is at this point we must realise, it is not that the services that should control the necessity for resources, but rather the inevitable obligation to consider how the services are governed themselves. In short, focus on how and why we run our services.

From this seemingly simple concept, it is all too easy to get lost in the inexorable complexity of modern networks and common practises. The essence of the requirement is obvious; we need to consolidate and share resources, allowing for the inescapable fact that no computer is perfect and systems will fail.

When considering the solution, one may be reminded of the renowned William Gibson and his literature, but that future fiction is here and now.

Thus we arrive at the proposition of a virtual environment, mimicking all the behavioural characteristics of a standard network, but existing theoretically, in a world constrained by the same rules of our physical networking reality.

Virtualisation After all, we must remember that computers are fundamentally just a network of circuits and components themselves, so why can’t we have a host which imitates a larger network internally.
VMware offers us exactly that. VMware, Inc. is a publicly-listed company, founded in California (1998), with revenue of US$1.33 billion and more than employees 5,000 in 2007.

VMware virtualisation is becoming rapidly accepted and it does not take long to understand why. In a world driven by hundreds of factors, requirements and demands it simplifies to equate into efficiency and cost. As everyone knows, to make money, a service must be provided and an investment must be made. Thus there is a drive to resolve the problem with the most cost effective method available.

This technology has grown from typically being used in a development environment; allowing for testing without persistent changes. The modern approach of a virtual infrastructure allows us to deploying dozens of virtual machines on a single host, allowing mass redundancy of servers which are only active during certain periods of the day and systems which do not require the full power of a dedicated server.

VMware The infrastructure is deployed across several high performance machines which are clustered together in a synchronous group. Within this cluster they pool and share the available resources which enable maximum efficiency of system CPU and memory utilisation. This clustering technique also means that we can assure high availability of these services; imagine a process is running on a particular box and this host has a power failure or hardware fault. Each virtual machine previously running on that host can be restarted immediately (even automatically) on a different host within the cluster and maintain the same state as before the glitch.

Even more excitingly, assuming one of the hosts in the cluster requires some downtime, we are able to migrate (VMotion) the virtual machines without any interruption to service between the host machines. This maintenance mode allows for minimal downtime and continued service.

Having all these services running centrally also provides fantastic management and control opportunities, allowing remote control across the whole system, automatic events, dynamic resource scheduling and the ability to create a virtual machine (a server) from a template in a matter of minutes.

This might all sound fantastic in theory, but you may be wondering how and if it is possible to convert your existing system into this world of fantasy. Most standard operating systems are supported in this virtual environment, including Microsoft Windows, Linux and Solaris to name a few. VMware converter allows a physical machine to be copied (while running) onto the virtual environment giving us an identical copy of the physical machine and with a few minor setting changes, we can begin running the services almost immediately.
The process of moving the physical servers to a virtual environment is known as ‘virtualisation’.

With all of these benefits, it is not difficult to see where the future of hosted services is leading. Virtualisation provides manageable, reliable, efficient and effective systems which are cheaper to run both long and short term. Due to fewer physical servers, we need less energy to power them and with a reduction of heat generation, these systems really are good for our planet!


“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.” – William Gibson

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Ultra Low Price Laptops, where is it all going?

Just as I started thinking about buying an Asus EEE PC, a company called Elonex have recently released a £99 laptop aimed at education users. Just like the first Asus EEE PCs they run on a cut down version of Linux. The standard model of these PCs have a 7″ screen, 1GB of onboard storage, usb port, network port and even wirelesss internet. The installed softare packages include word processing, spreadsheet, pdf viewer, mp3 player and even 11 games. There’s an upgraded version of this laptop that costs £119, this version comes with 2GB of onboard storage and bluetooth ! The full overview of the PCs can be found here.
elonex-one-ice-white.jpg

So where is all this going?

With the aim of giving one laptop to every child I’m sure that in the future we will see the price of this kind of laptop fall well below £100. What I do find really interesting is not just the price of this type of laptop, it’s that these laptops are running Linux. These laptops seem to be setting a trend for Linux based OS and applications. Does this mean that if the one laptop per chld inititative takes off in the UK that children will be more familiar with Linux than with Windows? In the not too distant future is Linux going to become more popular on desktops in school classrooms, further/higher education and eventually offices ? That’s not really Microsoft bashing or even just a geeky day dream, if every child gets a Linux based PC then they will already be familiar with Linux which will be the norm to them. It’s not only laptops and PCs that are using Linux as an OS, mobile phones based on Google’s Android will be running a version of Linux too. Is the future looking like Linux will take a bigger share of the OS market, or is it only a matter of time before we see sub-£100 Windows based laptops? Given the hard drive, memory and software licensing requirements of most of the flavours of Windows and Microsoft applications, is it even possbile to create a sub-£100 Windows laptop?

Elonex won’t be shipping these laptops until June 2008, but they are taking a deposit of £10 that will ensure one is reserved for you when they do start shipping. I’ve just put a deposit down on the upgraded version, I’ll blog something when it arrives.

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Edge Hill University’s open access Sunray implementation – Part 1

Student open access Sunray terminal project

We have recently completed our initial roll out of some 150 Sunray terminals for support and academic staff within our new £14m Faculty of Health building on the Edge Hill University Ormskirk campus.

Facalty Of Health learning Pod

The specification for the FOH also included initially around 25 Sunrays terminal for student open access use located in a number of learning pods located around the building.

As the requirements for staff and students are different, including different software and printing facilities this requires the Sunray terminals to provide different working environments based on the location of the terminal.

So how do Sunrays work then?

A Sunray is a “thin client” terminal, this means there is no hard disk, memory or operating system within the unit itself so both noise and power consumption are significantly reduced compared to a desktop PC. Another feature of the Sunray terminal is that because files are not stored on the device it is highly secure, if your Sunray breaks or is stolen your data is safe.

When you connect a Sunray to your network it will make a DHCP request to try to acquire an IP address and the IP address of a DNS server.

Sunray Terminal

It will then use DNS to resolve the IP address of a Sunray server by looking for two default DNS names, “sunray-servers” and “sunray-config-servers”. If it is able to resolve this it will open a session based on the configuration of that Sunray server.

In most cases if no smart card is present the default action would be to enter “kiosk mode” possibly to provide restricted web browsing or as in the case of our staff implementation, a menu allowing the user to select their screen resolution or open a Windows Terminal Server connection.

It was decided based on the popularity of our PC based cyber café style “Touchdown” stations around campus that it would be desirable to provide further functionality and choice, giving the user the option of light weight web browser for quick authenticated access to the internet, or a full network login including word processing and printing facilities. It was also identified that it would be desirable that if the terminal is not in use it could deliver information to the students.

So what will the students see?

On start up the student Sunray terminal presents a dynamically updated and centrally managed information screen that could display news, exam timetables or any other information that can be delivered via the internet. Users can then press a button which will launch a menu giving the user authentication options including a full Edge Hill University student desktop, an Internet Explorer only session or the option to change the screen resolution. Once the user closes the Internet Explorer window or logs off there university desktop session the terminal will revert to the information display.

Sunray Menu screen

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Edge Hill University’s open access Sunray implementation – Part 2

So how does it all work then?

The whole system is based on multiple Unix shell scripts. The Sunray kiosk mode (which in our case is set open a “Generic X Session” launches a shell script called “kiosk.sh” which firstly launches Mozilla Firefox from the Sunray server the terminal has connected to with a Firefox kiosk mode add in called r-kiosk making Firefox open full screen mode.

When launching Firefox we also open a simple locally stored html document. This html document contains an iframe which opens page stored on a web server, this is where you store your centrally managed content, and a java button which will simply exit the browser.

In the event that a user presses the “Edge Hill University Login” button the browser will exit and the next command in the script is executed, in this case a shell script to launch a menu adapted from our staff Sunray implementation using “wish8.3” called “menu.sh”.

If the user selects “University Network Login” from the menu a script is executed that will open an RDP connection to a Windows 2003 Terminal server allowing the user to login to the Edge Hill University computer network using the full Novell client. This gives users access to their home and shared folders and a range of desktop applications. When the user logs off the “menu.sh” process is terminated returning the user to the original “kiosk.sh” process,.

Full Edge Hill Unuversity Desktop

If the user selects “Browse The Internet” a script is executed that will open an RDP connection to a different Windows 2003 Terminal server, this time the user authenticates using LDAP rather than the full Novell client but launches only Microsoft Internet Explorer. When the users closes the browser the “menu.sh” process is terminated returning the user to the original “kiosk.sh” process.

Just Browse the internet

The “System Preference” option allows the user to set their desired screen resolution, but how this is achieved on the Sunray system a subject for another blog.

The physical setup

This student Sunray implementation, currently in an evaluation phase is fully virtualised on a cluster of VMWare ESX Servers, there will initially be two Sunray Servers running on Solaris 10, two student terminal servers running on windows server 2003 standard with the full Novell Client and two Windows 2003 terminal servers using the pGina client with the LDAPauth plug in to provide light weight authentication against our eDirectory tree for the browser only delivery.

The pGina / LDAPauth based terminal servers double as application servers for our Sun Secure Global Desktop implementation which is also within a trail phase, which again is a subject for another blog.

Student Sunray Network Diagram

How do you run two separate Sunray environments?

There are a number of ways to achieve this, some more complex than others. In this case I took a fairly simple approach. The student Sunrays terminal firmware is updated with the gui version which should available when you install your Sunray server software. This allows them to be configured to connect to a specific Sunray server rather than the default as used by our staff implementation.

This allows us to provide a completely different selection of services for our students from out staff whilst the Sunray terminals themselves are connected to the same psychical network and use the same DHCP and DNS servers.

How do I update the firmware on a specified Sunray terminal?

To update a sunray terminal with the “gui” firmware login as root on one of you default sunray servers and enter:

/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utfwadm -A -e mac_addr_of_sunray -f /opt/SUNWut/lib/firmware_gui

Next time that Sunray terminal is rebooted it will be updated with the gui firmware. Once this firmware update process is complete you can press “stop” + “m”, this will give you access t the Sunray’s configuration menu where you can specify a different Sunray server.

How do I setup Mozilla Firefox to display my content?

To launch Mozilla Firefox from a shell script while opening a local html document is a simple command however, when you do this from a Sunray session you will most likely need to address number of issues. The first is that Firefox will always ask you if it should be the default browser, by default the close browser java button in your html document will not work and your r-kiosk addin needs installed for the Sunray kiosk sessions.

To resolve these issues I did the following:

* Login to you sunray server as root.

* Open Mozilla Firefox.

* Enter “about:config” in the address bar and change the following settings:

dom.allow_scripts_to_close_windows true
browser.shell.checkDefaultBrowser false

Install your r-kiosk or any other required Firefox plugins and set any requited preferences and exit Firefox. All your preferences are now set for root, not your Sunray kiosk users so you need to copy them so they are part of the default profile for your kiosk sessions.

The Sunray kiosk sessions seemed to be generated, at least in our implementation, based on “/etc/opt/SUNWkio/prototypes/generic-session”, an educated guess at the time, so copying roots Firefox preferences there seemed like a good bet, and low and behold it works.

Copy root’s Firefox preferences to the kiosk users:
cp -R /.mozilla /etc/opt/SUNWkio/prototypes/generic-session

To launch Firefox form a script opening a local html document:
/usr/bin/firefox -url file:///opt/SUNWutMenu/info.html

And finally to undo all restrictions you have just applied to root’s browser sessions launch Firefox on safe mode and disable them:

/usr/lib/firefox -safe-mode

I don’t have the option “Generic X Session” for my kiosk mode?

It should be noted that when configuring “kiosk” mode within the Sunray administration interface the session type “Generic X Session” dose not appear to be available by default, in this case I copied the session type from our staff implementation.

The kiosk session types and session type configuration files however are located at /etc/opt/SUNWkio/prototypes and /etc/opt/SUNWkio/sessions. You can create a new kiosk session type by copying and re-naming an existing session type and editing the corresponding configuration files. If you require assistance with configuring the kiosk session types you should contact your Sunray support provider.

Our “Generic X Session” configuration file “generic.conf” looks like this:

KIOSK_SESSION_EXEC=$KIOSK_SESSION_DIR/generic-session
KIOSK_SESSION_LABEL=”Generic X Session”
KIOSK_SESSION_DESCRIPTION=”Provides a blank X session for running a Kiosk script.”
KIOSK_SESSION_ARGS=”/path/to/kiosk-app”
KIOSK_SESSION_PROTOTYPE=generic-session

That all sounds cool but what about a look at the scripts?

Some of the scripts I’m using at the time of writing this blog are Available on the downloads page (see the tabs at the top of the page), if they provide some inspiration for anyone then you are welcome however you do use them at you own risk.

Posted in Green Computing, Team News | 3 Comments

GO – How was it for you?

In the second week of January we will have to review the success/failure of the changes I talked about in my post on Keeping GO going. The load balancing software is still on evaluation and the Core Services Team will need to make a decision quite quickly to either purchase the product or find another solution. I’ve checked our information systems and it seems that none of the GO servers have crashed or had to be restarted since the new software was put in place, I will double check this when my all of my team is back at work. A quick look at the logs shows that users have been using the system every day since EH closed for Xmas. There were even users logged into GO on Christmas Day!! The new software and all the changes we made seem to have made things better but it’s time for some audience participation (well it is Panto season).

Do you feel the availability of GO has been better since the changes were made?
Is the site any faster? Does GO work any better?
Did anyone notice single sign on is back for webmail?

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Want One?

Fancy getting out the office? …What you want is a cool, ultra mobile gadget to keep you connected, after all you don’t want to miss any Ebay bargains …err I mean important e-mails from the boss!

There are lots of notebooks and PDAs of various shapes and sizes on the market however why not take a different approach? …A company called Datawind have unveiled their second-generation PocketSurfer handheld web browser.

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The device it’s self costs around £180 in the UK which includes one years free airtime, As you might expect its not quite as free as it sounds as your are restricted to 20 hours airtime per month, for the second years access you will need to pay somewhere in the region of £40. or you could go for Datawind’s £6 a month unlimited access package.

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The device measures 15.2 x 7.5 x 1.5cm when closed and has a 640 x 420 display, proper web browser and a flat QWERTY keypad. The device works by allowing you to access web pages via Datawind servers, the data first compressed to minimize the data that is downloaded by your device and there for speed up your browsing experience increased compared to browsing over GSM with for example a PDA.

There is a more detailed review of the Datawind PocketSurfer 2 on The Register

Or check out the Datawind web site at http://www.datawind.com/products.html

Watch hands on PocketSurfer 2 videos on YouTube here And here

My interest however, apart from that fact that its a cool gadget is how you can take this technology a step beyond Ebay and Facebook …There is a growing movement towards delivering applications and even full operating systems to your web browser with companies such as Google delivering on-line applications such as Google docs and Google maps, Why not to ultra portable devices that fits in your pocket.

I for one however would be interested to see how a device such as this would perform if you take the concept a step further and point it at Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Server web client or Sun’s Sun Global desktop?

Posted in Cool Stuff, Gadgets | 7 Comments

Keeping GO going

The GO service relies on Novell Access Manager to make it work. As the popularity of the GO services increases it places more and more load on the servers that keep GO going. We have been slowly adding in servers to the Access Manager configuration to improve the reliability of the GO service, we are also currently trialing some load balancing software that will make GO more resilient. Last Friday we added another Access Gateway, these Access Gateways serve up the webpages to users (all of the GO pages). If one of the three Access Gateway servers stops running, the load balancer will automatically redirect the users to one of the other servers that are still running.

This week we will be adding in another Identity Server, these servers check usernames and password when users log in, they also mange user permissions and group memberships. This will bring the number of Identity Servers up to two. The last change this week will be to add in another LDAP server, the LDAP servers hold all the usernames and passwords. The two LDAP servers currently in place sometimes struggle with all the authentication requests for GO, WebCT, Blackboard and the Library system. Adding in another server will speed up login times to GO etc. Once the work is complete we will have a far more resilient GO service. There will be 3 Access Gateways serving up the pages and the contect to users, 2 Identity Servers checking user details and 3 LDAP servers storing the usernames and passwords. This brings the total servers that will keep GO going up to 8 servers. Towards the end of this week we may turn the ‘single sign on’ services back on, it depends how smoothly the work planned for this week goes.

In the new year the Core Service team will be working with the Web Services Team to make the servers that provide the content to GO more resilient.

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Who’s Interested?

I’ve been asked a few times by staff if they can see the computer server room, if I can explain what all the machines do and how they work together. Is this something that you, some members of your department, or even your students might be interested in? You might not want to see the machine room, but you might want to know more about the Cores Services team or the Core IT provision at Edge Hill.

If your interested in knowing more please contact me and I’ll arrange for a tour / introduction of the Core IT facilities for you. Due to current projects I won’t be able to arrange a tour/introduction for this year, but I’m more than happy to arrange a date for late Jan/Feb 08. Email me at paul.cheeseman@edgehill.ac.uk and let me know what your interested in knowing more about.

If you just have a quick question about the Core Services / IT Provision please post a comment here or email me.

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Faculty of Health, Sun Rays and Virtualisation

The Core Services Team have a lot of work on in the next few weeks. The FOH building goes live in around 12 days and the IT provision needs to be ready quckly, we are also starting a virtualisation project in early December. In place of regular PCs the FOH will be fitted out with new Sun Ray Devices. This is a significant move away from the PCs that are usually deployed onto staff desktops, but the new devices will offer a number of benefits including;

  • Less space taken up on desks
  • Lower power usage compared to a normal PC
  • Silent Running – no moving parts or cooling fans

The Sun Ray devices require new servers and new software, and while there is a lot of work we are all looking forward to the challenge. We are planning on deploying around 150 Sun Ray devices into the new FOH building. I’ll post more about the Virtualisation project nearer the time.

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