Skip to main content

Starting a new academic year

We always plan to have the IT systems run smoothly at the start of the academic year.  This is the time when many new students first come to the university and find their way around, when personal tutors discuss their students' academic plans, and when the new systems we have implemented over the previous year come into full use. 

It is usually this last point that can throw a spanner in the works.  This year, we installed a new learning environment, replacing the aging WebCT with Learn 9; we applied the annual upgrade to the EUCLID student record system (which is needed to cope with changes in government regulations, let alone improvements in functionality); we rolled out the first version of software to support personal tutors; we upgraded several databases from Oracle 9 (which is no longer supported) to Oracle 11, and we continued to upgrade our Cold Fusion servers. Although we test each of these systems, we can be caught out when staff and students start to use the systems in earnest.

This year, we had problems on three separate systems - our main database server, our main application server, and our main hosting server.  These combined to give less than satisfactory performance.  People will mostly seen this as the MyEd portal taking a long time to log them in.  The problems had several different roots.  The hosting server failed to reboot properly following a network problem, which meant that some MyEd channels were very slow.  The database server was slowed by a rogue indexing process related to Learn 9 and also from some other applications using too much memory.  The application server seems to have had an unrelated hardware glitch.

Our support teams have worked hard to resolve these problems and keep everyone informed.  My development staff have helped to debug some of the issues.  The major issues seem to have been dealt with and we should be back to business as usual.

We will also be reviewing the situation to see what we can learn for the future.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…