Sun Ray (part 4) Day 2 in the FOH

Despite the challenges of Monday everyone was in high spirits Tuesday morning as we went over to continue our work. I think we had all been surprised how quickly we had got through the offices, with nearly half the building done in the first day despite the hold ups.

The first port of call was the admin offices on the ground floor. We had electricians in there most of Monday fitting extra power sockets so the first thing on the agenda was to re-cable most of the admin staff Sun Rays and get them all powered up and running. I spent the first hour of the day under various desks in there trying to make some sense of the cabling. Despite the extra power we still had some really long runs where our standard power leads were too short. This lead to much debate from myself and the other techies as to how we could get everything plugged in. Krypton factor challenges have nothing compared to lying on your back under a desk and trying to visualise the power requirements of the desks above you while running the cables around. I think a few of the admin staff had a surprise when a techie suddenly appeared from under their desk!

Solstice Sun RaySte in solstice
It didn’t take us too long to get admin up and running with quite a few of us working at it. I decided to take a wander downstairs and see how Solstice were running and check on their printing. When I got there I found out that because of issues with floor mounted power being in the wrong place they still had nothing up and running!! I got on my mobile and called for backup and started plugging in the Solstice (and LTD) computers. I should mention at this point that as the staff there do a lot of development work they have some quite fancy computers and these were moved over from their offices in the LINC. With the work they do it wouldn’t have been appropriate to use Sun Rays but I still felt that they should get the chance to use some so I spoke the Derrick and we arranged to have three sent over. By the time I had spoken to Derrick my re-enforcements had arrived in the form of Ste, Paul, Neil and Adam from Core Services. The left photo shows Ste doing some cabling under one of the desks, you can see the floor mounted power units on the right. Before long we had most of the computers up and running and I had used the lessons from Monday to programme most of the telephones in the office. We had some lunch and then went over and put in three Sun Rays in the Solstice office (pictured right), I’ll be interested to see what the staff there think of them.

Printing was the name of the game in the afternoon. I have come to the conclusion that there are several tiers of IT requirement for most users, the bottom tier consists of a computer and a login, the next tier is email and internet. The next tier calls for office applications and other software, after that the tiers include things like printing and usb pen drive support. Think of it a bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the computer user! The fact that we had reached the printing stage so quickly suggested to me that everything was going well so far and that the Sun Rays were working as expected.

Printing on the Sun Rays works a little differently to a normal computer. Usually you would have just the printers you use installed on your computer but because the Sun Rays are actually using printers from a server we need every printer that can be used by someone on a Sun Ray to be available on that server. Originally we had just manually installed all the printers on each server, having to do it six times as we have six servers! As we started deploying the Sun Rays to some of our own staff we decided that having every printer available was confusing so the Core lads came up with something new. Using Novell Iprint we can assign users to a printer, this printer can follow the user to any pc (or terminal server) and will always be available if Iprint is installed. This works really well and means that you can have people all sharing a big office but only able to print to their teams printer. Installing one of the other printers for a user is as simple as adding them to the specific group for that printer.

JennyNeilSte, Tony and PhilPaul
By the end of the day we had virtually all of the Sun Rays installed in the building. Thanks to all the help from the different teams with IT Services and the ease of deploying the Sun Ray workstations we had got through an incredible amount in such a short time! We still have a lot to do before we are finished with wireless access, information screens and all sorts of other things left to do over the next few weeks but I hope that we have made the transition a little easier for the Aintree staff by getting them all setup so quickly. Above are a few more photos of various colleagues from our different teams at work around the FOH, as I mentioned it was a real team effort from the whole department.

Sun Ray (part 3) – To the desktop! Day 1 in the FOH

It’s 8.05 on Monday morning and despite my best efforts it appears that no amount of coffee or toast can prepare me for the day ahead. I’m stood in a large store room literally surrounded by telephones, specifically there are 150 Alcatel voice over ip phones covering every available surface within sight. Next to me is Pete Stein our telecoms guru (he’ll like that guru comment.) who is somehow getting all of these telephones into a trolley with amazing TARDIS qualities (in that it is obviously much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside!). You might wonder what I’m doing messing around with phones when there is a whole building crying out for Sun Rays, well the answer is very simple. Now that we use VOIP technology the network for your pc (or Sun Ray) will be run through the telephone. So if we are deploying any kind of computer or terminal that needs a network connection it makes sense to put the phone in first rather than have to turn off the computer when the phone needs installing.


More phones!

Pete’s magic trolley

So we packed up our trolleys full of telephones and headed over to the Faculty of Health building. I was instantly amazed with how much it had come along since Friday night and there were teams of builders and cleaning staff frantically tidying up the little bits and bobs. Our first port of call was the admin office on the ground floor, we popped all our phones in there and I headed upstairs to the Deans office to try and get them up and running. So I unboxed a Sun Ray and plugged in the telephone… and… nothing! The phone couldn’t connect! In went the Sun Ray… it couldn’t connect either! Disaster! It was the perfect start to the day… I made my apologies to the staff there and got on the phone to the rest of our guys. It was quickly determined that we had a network connectivity issue and Chris our Network manager was contacted to take a look. Chris quickly determined that it was a problem with the 10 gig Fibre optic connection between the FOH and CMIST (sidenote time.. the link between CMIST runs at 10000 megabits a second, our usual desktop speed is 100 megabits and most home broadband is only 2-8!). Chris was able to resolve the issue and we were up and running.


I went down to admin and found colleagues from the IT Services Helpdesk, Core Services and Learning Services all busy shifting Sun Rays and phones into the building and starting to get them out on the desks. Unfortunately we had another problem.. In the admin office power and data (network) points had been mounted on the pedestals under the desks so that the staff could have an open plan office. Usually this is fine but in this case there were a number of desks where it was literally impossible to make a power cable reach from the wall socket to the Sun Ray. Soon we had an electrician in there working on changing the sockets around to sort it out for us but at the expense of us having no desktop power in that office for the majority of the day.

Gary under a desk

With nothing more we could do there our teams split up and we started working on the smaller offices for the FOH academic staff. I was working with Tony (our techie for the Aintree site) and Gary (from our Helpdesk) installing Sun Rays and telephones for the majority of the day. Here is an exciting photo of Gary doing some under desk cable management!

There is still a lot to do but with our small teams working like crazy for the whole day we managed to get the majority of the offices set up and running with their Sun Ray desktops and a lot of the telephones installed and ready to go. There is still a lot to do and tomorrow will be the real test when we finally have a large number of users running on our Sun Ray system. Expect another update soon!

Sun ray (part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post IT Services staff have all been working their cotton socks off to get our new Sun Ray system up and running for the new Faculty of Health building. The project got into full gear a week ago when our servers finally arrived. I was spent all Saturday locked in the CMIST basement seconded to assist my colleagues from Core Services get everything ready for a week of insanely hard work. While they racked up the new servers and got everything ready I worked on some of the network cabling which involved running meters and meters of cables from the new servers back to the main network core. Here are a couple of pictures of our work. The first one shows the cable management system all opened up and our boxes of 15meter cables that we had to feed in. The second picture shows our nice new Sun Fire servers all racked up and ready to install.

server roomSun fire servers

I won’t bore you with the details of what we had to do but by the end of Tuesday we had 6 Terminal Servers up and a load balancer running. By the middle of Wednesday they were all talking to our 3 Sun Ray servers and the load balancer was spreading our users out so that no server is taking too much traffic. We were finally able to plug in our first Sun Ray workstation and give it a try. I have to admit I’m very impressed with them, they look fantastic and the server performance is exceptional. Racing one against a desktop computer was interesting. Needless to say with only minimal load on the system from 2-3 users the Sun Ray left the pc for dead and I was logged in and checking emails before the pc had reached the login screen. So here is a look at one of our new Sun Ray stations for all those of you who were wondering what this magic box was all about:

Sun Ray with monitorSun Ray

The left picture show the Sun Ray workstation (which is around 12 inches high when sat on its base) it’s very compact compared to a normal computer and takes up hardly any space. I’ll try and do a one for one comparison with how it compares to a computer in my next post but suffice to say that it doesn’t really process anything, rather it just connects your keyboard, mouse and monitor to a remote server which does all the hard work instead. The second picture shows a full Sun Ray workstation with a Sun keyboard, mouse and monitor all attached. I think they look very nice myself!

In reference to some of the questions I’ve been asked about the Sun Rays and those on the previous post from Jeannette, to the best of my knowledge:

Each Sun Ray has usb slots on it for taking pen drives. We had tested it with lots of different makes and models and they work really well.

The Sun Rays do not have any CD or Floppy disk facilities. I gather there will be CD Writers available to staff by other means but I don’t know the details at this stage.

Each Sun Ray connects to a Windows 2003 server which runs a desktop almost identical to Windows XP. Because the server is share between users we have to restrict the software to essentials and users won’t be able to install their own packages on the server. More details will be available about that as we deploy the Sun Rays next week.

Printing is an interesting one. Again I’m not certain of all the details but there will be printers available on each floor and all the staff printers will be available from the Sun Rays. Smaller printers are also being looked at, especially in terms of small desktop colour printers and we hope to have support in place for these soon.

reception desklecture theatrecafe

Next week the nearly the whole of IT Services will be in someway involved with the new building deployment. We have 150 Sun Rays boxed up, labelled and ready to go! It’s quite scary the amount of work involved so I hope everyone will bear with us and we get it all sorted. The good news is that we took several trips over to the new building and our Network and Telecoms guys have their stuff all sorted so we can just drop Sun Rays and telephones on the desk and get everyone running. For those of you who are interested I took a few snaps of the new building last week while I was over there. It’s not quite finished in these pictures but it’s already looking really impressive! Expect a (tired) update in a few days.