CQU gets ahead in Vista planning

Central Queensland University (CQU) is well advanced in its plans to adopt Microsoft's new Vista operating system, which is due by the end of this year. The uni has redesigned its desktop standard operating environment (SOE) and hardware purchasing standards to take Vista into account, manager of corporate systems administration, Adrian Yarrow, told ZDNet Australia in a recent interview.

Central Queensland University (CQU) is well advanced in its plans to adopt Microsoft's new Vista operating system, which is due by the end of this year.

The uni has redesigned its desktop standard operating environment (SOE) and hardware purchasing standards to take Vista into account, manager of corporate systems administration, Adrian Yarrow, told ZDNet Australia in a recent interview.

Yarrow said that although SOE varied between different faculties, the base operating system needed to be compatible with CQU's plethora of applications, running on its approximately 4,000 desktops and laptops.

"We were into the level of release candidates for Vista already, so we said, let's look at how we can design this system so it can work on XP, XP service pack 2 and Vista," he said.

"The guys who are deploying it now out to the labs for term two, can actually deploy using a base release candidate source of Vista or a base XP, XP2 source, and you get the same applications, the same manageability over all of them."

According to Yarrow, the biggest challenge in adopting Vista will be its increased hardware requirements -- not all of CQU's machines make the grade.

"Since the beginning of this year, we actually set all of our desktop purchasing standards to be compatible," he said. Two of CQU's IT staff have also already undertaken Vista training with Microsoft.

Changing role of education
Yarrow has been with CQU since 1994, rising through the ranks from an entry level position in the uni's computer labs.

In that time CQU has expanded greatly and taken on an increased regional and international focus, which is driving Yarrow's current IT priorities.

"We've got campuses from Mackay right through to Melbourne, Fiji, here in Singapore, and then a whole bunch of other people actually studying from their home countries," said Yarrow.

"We've got about 7,000 Australians actually studying by distance education, so you can imagine how many different ways people access our systems, and also the different times they access our systems."

As a consequence, the university places a heavy emphasis on e-learning, with two geographically separate data centres in its Rockhampton campus hosting a variety of critical applications.

"How we got our second data centre was because of a UPS fire in our main building," said Yarrow, noting the facility lost power as a result.

"It was horrific, this building full of smoke, black acrid battery smell. We had no idea of the condition of the data centre."

However, the centre was fully operational just nine hours later, due to the extensive efforts of the uni's IT and facilities staff. CQU's administration consequently saw the light and funded an extra data centre.

Getting down to details
Those two facilities are filled with around 190 production servers, around half Hewlett-Packard and half Sun Microsystems. A mix of Solaris, Linux and Windows is used, with storage area networking and backup being provided from HP. Cisco kit is used for networking.

"We have Peoplesoft in there as our ERP," said Yarrow. "And we've got an application portfolio as long as our arm."

Just one of those applications is a video service which records lectures for students to download. "We're doing about 100 hours a week in video," said Yarrow.

And those lectures could soon be published in podcast form via a RSS feed, which could be played back via an iPod, for example.

Other current ICT projects include implementing the ITIL service management framework and a gradual move to Internet Protocol telephony (also known as VoIP).

"We pretty much made a decision about 18 months ago that we'd do no more traditional PABXs," said Yarrow. "And so where we have reached our capacity on our Ericsson PABXs, we then rolled out our IP telephones from Cisco. We've got all of our inter-campus trunks now all on IP."

The uni is also planning to take more advantage of advanced VoIP features for collaboration, building on its Microsoft Exchange mail and Active Directory identity management systems.

VMWare's virtualisation software is also in use, with Yarrow praising the program's ability to separate applications from hardware platforms.

The manager also gave credit to his team of nine staff working across many different areas. "It really is a nice place to work, because of the team. They're really talented and I think I'd die if we ever lost them," he said, adding he liked the model of having staff focused on different technical areas seated close together in one big room.

"We're really lucky in that we've actually been able to achieve a whole bunch, because all the technical expertise is in this one group -- it's a big think tank. The response times are great."

CQU serves around 30,000 students with around 2,500 staff.

Renai LeMay travelled to Singapore as a guest of Hewlett-Packard.

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