September 2, 2013
A year in, and I'm still not used to the oddities of how the academic environment works.
It is currently the end of August, and summer break is nearly over. Early this coming week is "Move In", when all of the students descend upon Boston and move back into their dorms after a summer full of...well, doing whatever students do during the summer. Study, no doubt. ahem
Anyway, classes start on Wednesday, and as the faculty and staff gear up for the start of semester, the number of administrative tasks assigned to IT matches them step for step. Offices get reassigned, port changes get requested, new workers come online, and we have a hand in it all. It's a lot of work, still, and the process isn't nearly so automated as it should be. We're working on improving it though.
The big win is going to be in account creation, but there are a lot of pain points:
Manual account creation
Until this very week, every part of the account creation was painful. We don't have unified accounts that are shared with the Central IS, so for a new user, after you created your university account, if you were affiliated with the College of Computer and Information Systems, you had fill out a paper form, sign it, then go to a web page and run an "account program".
The reason for the paper was the perceived need to have a user's signature on file. We've decided that to eliminate that step, so we can save trees AND time.
Getting new faculty and staff computers
Getting a computer to faculty or staff has been a pretty ad hoc affair, and we're working on fixing it. Up until recently, when someone got hired, we found out about it when they showed up, when we'd give them a machine that was imaged if we had one, or would freshly image a spare for them if we didn't.
We're working on building much more of a depot environment, where we have a place to go where there's a reserve of imaged machines, along with all of the peripherals that you would need for a machine. That way we don't have to hunt for a mouse and keyboard that works, and all of the monitors and associated cables and the like.
We've also worked with management to get earlier notice of people being hired. By knowing before someone gets here, we can work on having their environment much closer to ready. There are still some difficulties that we're ironing out (like knowing where someone will be working - we're so overcrowded that we're literally not sure where people will be able to sit).
Network Port Changes
This is kind of related to the "running out of space" thing above, but it's hard to tell who will be where, so typically, someone will start, and we'll learn where they'll be, so we need to drop a computer and accessories off and run the ethernet cable...but you've got to run the ethernet cable to somewhere.
Our wall ports are set up in quads, essentially:
You can see that there are six ports, but the top two don't count. One is phone, the other is a connection to the Central IS network. Take those away, and we've got four ports to work with. We've got a decent number of VLANs, and the VLAN that the port is assigned to is essential to getting the user's machine on the network.
Although we have a "standard" network jack layout, over time, the port assignments change in response to user needs. So if a person has their office's network jack in a custom configuration, but then they move out of their office, both their original office and the new office needs changed.
I'm toying with various ideas about how to manage these kinds of changes better than I am right now. There's a lot that I can automate, if only I know what to change and when. It's something that I'll improve over time.
It's funny how none of the hard problems in IT have to do with computers, isn't it?