Spent most of this morning in our User Group meeting - well attended with about 50 people there - a cross section of different roles and form different areas of the University.
We usually use the time to bring people up to date with what we're doing, give presentation on new services etc. This time we started off with an update of some big projects which are just coming to their conclusion - Google mail/calendar for students implementation which went really well, the review of our VLE which is almost complete and we'll be making a decision on which way to go very shortly, and the review of the portal software where we've decided to go with an open source product called Liferay.
Then we had a really interesting presentation on the network, focusing on the answer to the question - "how fast's our internet connection?" Of course the answer to that is - it depends! Bottlenecks on your local PC as systems running in the background such as updates or virus scanning can slow things down. Then there's congestion - very similar to that we experience on the roads, with local connections (roads) have a slower speed limit but not much traffic, and then as more and more people get onto the main network (motorways) the allowed speed is faster, but there's so much traffic you often go slower. There's also the type of service you're trying to access, as we give priority to academic traffic over things like peer to peer networking. And finally there the external service availability - the web site you're trying to access might just have reached its maximum number of connections. So "why is the network slow?" is a difficult question to answer and could be down to many factors, some of them outside of our control. Of course, ours never is, thanks to our network team who do a stirling job.
We also brought everyone up to date with some of the changes we're making in the area of telephony - a simplification of our charging system and of the way we are billed and pay for our services from the telephony companies should make considerable savings. Moving to VOIP (voice over IP - or running the telephone system over the data network) has meant we have much better resilience so when the bulldozer digs though one of our cables (apparently the driver is called the archbishop because he never misses a service...), our systems should stay up. Our telecomms team (or double act depending on how you look at it) then very bravely gave a demo of some of the features that we will be able to implement - brave because it was live and involved several bits of technology! Phone numbers that follow you around campus from deskphone to mobile, softphones on your computer, unified communication tools so that you can have emails, voicemails etc in one inbox, and a voice activated system which will put you through to the right extension even when the switchboard is not staffed. All very clever. And well timed as we had a case study published in Computing today: