In his first post Derrick mentioned that we are looking to install more “Touchdown” computers this year so I thought that I would elaborate a little and explain the concept of Touchdown.

From when I first started at Edge Hill the LRC always had a number of computers dedicated to searching the library catalogue. These computers were greatly locked down so that the Internet could only be used on certain Edge Hill pages that were part of the library system. The idea was to provide students with a quick and easy way to find the books they wanted without having to go to the trouble of finding a computer, logging in and waiting for all of their applications to load. These computers proved a really big success for Learning Services and it wasn’t long before we were looking at how we could provide something similar in other areas.

When the Faculty of Education building was under construction IT Services were asked if we could provide “cyber café style” computers for the Waters Edge Café. Working with the library catalogue computers as a basis, my colleague Stephen Timson came up with a way to provide full Internet access via a very cut down browser interface. Students or staff could login and would have immediate fast access to the Internet without all of the background applications associated with a normal computer. While we expected these computers to receive a lot of use we had no idea how popular they would become.

touchdown 2

Since then we have installed more and more of these computers around the campus to the point where we have nearly 30. The renovated ground floor of the LRC is probably the biggest success story for this type of computer with 12 installed down there. It’s nearly impossible to go in there during the academic year and find them not being used.

The name Touchdown comes from the concept of easy to access areas where students can walk in, sit down and use an IT service right away. These areas are designed to encourage social learning and provide a comfortable environment where students can study away from the traditional rows of desks. With use of wireless technology in these areas we can also provide access for students own laptops and increase the flexibility of the learning space.

Touchdown PC

I’ve always been a big fan of social learning and the prospect of providing more of these spaces around the campus is very exciting. There are a lot of plans to develop these areas and you can bet that where-ever they pop up there are sure to be some Touchdown PC’s following close behind so keep an eye open for any developments.

WSUS – Windows Server Update Services

One of our aims for this blog is to provide more information on our current projects and some of the things that we have planned for the future. In this entry I’d like to talk a little about one of the projects we are currently working on, a system called WSUS.

In a world where our computers are only as secure as the last patch, it can be a nightmare to keep all of our workstations safe from the numerous threats roaming the internet. While the majority of this battle is fought by our Anti Virus software, Windows Updates are still essential to ensuring a truly secure Windows environment.

The only problem with Windows Updates comes from their annoying inconsistency. Some patches will interrupt you in the middle of you work and insist on rebooting your computer right there and then while other sit uninstalled for weeks waiting for you to click the little yellow shield.

From a business perspective there is another flaw. In an institution like Edge Hill we have hundreds of computers contacting Windows Update every single day. While not all of these connections will be downloading files this still accounts for a lot of traffic. Now consider the release of a new patch, even a small one such as a 5meg file, this same file is being downloaded hundreds and hundreds of times over by computers nearly all located within a single square mile of Lancashire. Obviously this isn’t efficient.

The solution lies with a software package called Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). This software can be installed onto a Windows Server and provides a local source for all Windows Updates throughout the network. Instead of hundreds of connections all going out to Microsoft we have one server that downloads the file and then distributes it internally to all of the computers around campus.

That in itself is pretty neat but WSUS has a lot more to offer. The management console imports information from all of the client computers around the network. This allows our technicians to see areas that need updating or where there are potential security risks.

WSUS is a very powerful system and we hope it will provide a much better way for us to manage the Windows Update process. We are currently in the process of performing testing and so far everything looks good. Hopefully we will be able to install a permanent WSUS server over the summer and provide for all of our Windows Update needs.

Its now or never!

At last, I thought it would never happen. After 17 years as an IT professional, I have finally succumbed to the blog.

As a 40 something this whole Web 2.0 stuff has passed me by even though I have 2 IT savvy kids who hog the home PC each night on My Space or whatever the latest trend is, and forward looking enthusiastic colleagues around me, I never imagined I would be submitting my thoughts and ideas for all and sundry to read.
I am embarrassed to say I only used Windows Live Messenger for the first time in anger yesterday and have only just been introduced to You Tube. OK, one reason for this resistance is down to the lack of time to look at these things but to be honest I never had any interest and used the web purely as a tool. But, I have seen the light.

Anyway enough of me! Welcome to the Technical Services Blog.

We’ll use this space to keep everyone who’s interested informed on our present and future developments, plus I’m hoping the team will use this medium as a sounding board for their thoughts on present and future technologies, ideas for improvements and comments on the service as a whole.

It’s exciting and changing times ahead for IT Services. The creation of a new Core Services Team to manage the server infrastructure, an extended Network Services Team to manage the wires and black boxes and a new Customer Services Manager to manage the front of house support will all hopefully be in place by the end of August.

Developments planned for the summer include the extension of the EdgeNet wireless service throughout the Ormskirk Campus, additional wireless and “Touchdown” cyber cafe style PC installations in social learning spaces. Large-scale replacement of PCs in open access and classroom spaces are also planned..

We are asked almost on a daily basis whether we are upgrading to Windows Vista soon. The standard answer is, not yet. Ask any techie and they’ll tell you “don’t touch it until the first service pack” so we’re not, yet. All PCs we currently buy are Vista ready so we’re almost there, we’re just waiting for the software and hardware vendors to catch up.

If you have any questions or queries for the team please feel free to post a comment.

Derrick Brown
Head of Technical Services