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Semester start preparations help make IT systems more seamless

Network Operations Engineer Christian Johnson and University Television student-worker Joshua Vasquez answer questions Friday, August 17, 2018, during a UIT help desk event at Heritage Center.

Network Operations Engineer Christian Johnson and University Television student-worker Joshua Vasquez answer questions Friday, August 17, 2018, during a UIT help desk event at Heritage Center.

By Larrisa Beth Turner

Although summer seems hotter than ever, life on campus is just heating up. University Information Technology (UIT), however, has been working months in advance to prepare for a new semester at the University of Utah.

Trevor Long, associate director for UIT Network and Communications Infrastructure (NCI), said that while the effort by technical teams to prepare for another school year has been a yearlong process, the start-of-semester task force he leads first met on May 30 "to make sure we understood what was needed and that any big changes were planned or scheduled accordingly."

Trevor Long, associate director of Network and Communications Infrastructure

Trevor Long, associate director, Network Communications Infrastructure

That includes:

  • Monitoring systems: The Monitoring/Logging team has deployed more than 50 devices across campus to measure and report back how long it takes to access and log into various websites. "If the numbers are low and it looks fast, then we don't worry too much," Long said. "If suddenly we see … a spike, then we know we need to investigate."
  • Testing applications: University Support Services (USS) has increased its level of testing and "invested a lot of time in some automated functional testing to evaluate application stability," Long said. Using an application called JMeter, Long said the USS load-tests ensure that the CIS portal runs smoothly. Teaching & Learning Technologies (TLT) also has done extensive work to make sure that Canvas remains stable and operational.
  • Upgrading wireless networks: Long's team designed a new wireless network for seven buildings — Gardner Commons, Garff Executive Education Building, Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, E.E. Jones Medical Research and Medical Research & Education buildings, the Student Union and University Campus Store — giving users there the best Wi-Fi experience on campus.
  • Adding more IP addresses: With an estimated 45,000+ simultaneously-connected wireless devices during peak usage time, sometimes two to three per person, Long said the addition of more IP addresses allows his team to scale to demand. "If we don't have enough IP addresses," Long said, "then that appears as an outage because people can't connect. The service could be up, but if you can't get on, then it looks like it’s down. So we have to make sure that we have enough room, call them seats if you will, for the devices to get online. And I think we're ahead of it."

"All of that effort is to make sure that when people show up, it just works, and that there're no hiccups," Long said.

Even with school now in session, the task force's work isn't done. This week, Long said, a team will continue to monitor IT systems, while a moratorium on major IT changes remains in place — efforts that are already paying off. When a vendor-caused issue disrupted Duo's two-factor authentication process early this week, a special monitoring and response team quickly implemented a workaround. That type of planning and response, Long said, helps make things a little more seamless.

"Bottom line is, we want everyone to have a smooth start of semester when it comes to IT systems," Long recently said at an IT Professionals Forum meeting. "We want all of us to have that experience, including all of you, because we know that a smooth start of semester makes for a lot of happy people."

Some other improvements made this summer include:

Course accessibility

The university recently improved user access to Canvas courses by introducing alternative course formats, including tagged PDFs, ePub files, electronic braille and audio files. Available via Blackboard Ally, the adaptive content provides students more control over their learning environment. Now, for example, students who prefer to read course materials on an e-reader or tablet can convert documents to an ePub file, and those who have a visual impairment or learn better by listening can download an MP3 file. Conversion from one document type to another usually takes only a few seconds and requires a simple download.

Visit the Blackboard Ally help page for more information.

Duo 2FA changes

Due to potential security risks and significant costs, the university on July 17, 2018, discontinued Duo phone call and text message options for the two-factor authentication (2FA) process that allows employees to log in to university applications like Canvas, CIS, and Box. To access university systems that require 2FA, employees can either download the Duo mobile app or purchase a Duo hardware token.

For more information on those methods, visit the 2FA webpage, Duo 2FA overview article or Duo tutorial video found in Pulse (U Health) or Bridge (campus).

Barb Iannucci, associate director of the Content Management & Usability team for University Support Services

Barb Iannucci, associate director, Content Management & Usability team, University Support Services

Google search engine update

At first glance, you might not notice a change in the university's search engine. The box in the top-right corner looks the same, after all. On the results page, however, the benefits of the July 15, 2018, switch from the Google Search Appliance (GSA) to the Google Custom Search Engine (GCSE) become more noticeable. Now, results appear within the university's website and return more relevant links — all at a much faster speed — leading to a better user experience overall.

"People are getting much more relevant results back, and I attribute that to the fact that it's using Google in the cloud so it has a lot more contextual data about the rankings of pages," Barb Iannucci, associate director of the Content Management & Usability team in UIT University Support Services, said during the August 1, 2018, IT Professionals Forum meeting.

You'll also notice you have the option of searching the entire university website or a collection pages hosted by a department, office or organization.

Those interested in learning more about the sunsetting of the GSA and transition to the GCSE can watch a related UIT Talks event hosted by Iannucci.

Notifications

If you haven't signed up for alerts about campus network outages or other IT problems, now's the time. Here's how to stay in the loop:

 

Last Updated: 3/29/19