'

Edith Cowan starts Vista planning early

Microsoft isn't planning to release the final versions of its new Vista operating system and Office 2007 suite until November, but Perth's Edith Cowan University (ECU) has already started planning its upgrade timetable. ECU supports over 3,000 desktop and laptop computers, which run a standard operating environment (SOE) based on Windows XP and Office 2003.

Microsoft isn't planning to release the final versions of its new Vista operating system and Office 2007 suite until November, but Perth's Edith Cowan University (ECU) has already started planning its upgrade timetable.

ECU supports over 3,000 desktop and laptop computers, which run a standard operating environment (SOE) based on Windows XP and Office 2003. But despite Vista's relative immaturity the uni's IT director, Mark Ridge, told ZDNet Australia a new SOE was already being planned for next year.

"Last week we had a couple of sessions with Microsoft, and I suppose did a checkpoint of our own environment, and where we're at, etc. They've come back with some thoughts on helping us and the issues we need to look at doing in our Vista rollout," he said in a telephone interview last week.

Ridge, who manages over 50 IT staff, said no firm date for the upgrade had yet been set, but there were several features ECU was looking forward to using.

"A lot of the changes are going to be maybe more towards the administration of machines and so on, maybe the user experience is not going to be that different," he said.

For example, he said a Vista feature that could give some advanced users better access to application configuration without giving them administrator rights could be useful.

However he added Office 2007's revamped user interface could generate a need to re-train some users.

"There are a lot of people out there who are very mechanical in the way they use some of these products ... they're going to struggle to understand the new interface," he said.

Phasing out Solaris
Other projects on Ridge's mind include a gradual migration away from Sun's Solaris server operating system and towards Linux and Windows.

"We've migrated quite a number of our applications onto Linux," he said. "I think we have one app on Sun Solaris, which will be going. The rest are on Windows."

Ridge noted both the Linux and Windows environments were fairly stable, with Microsoft having mainly overcome some of the issues it had historically suffered at the server level.

One of the most important items on ECU's list of around 400 supported applications is the e-learning solution Blackboard. "Hand in hand with that, we're looking at using a product called Click2Meet, which is an audio, video and collaboration tool," said Ridge.

On the networking front, ECU has run into some hiccups as it tries to replace some of its fleet of mobile phones with wireless handsets enabled for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony.

The issues related to the handover of connections as staff moved between access points, said Ridge, in addition to quality of service on calls.

The campus is also steadily adopting fixed VoIP telephony. "We have a number of new buildings going up on campus, and there will be some copper services, but most staff in those buildings will end up with IP handsets," said Ridge.

In a move tying in well with the uni's Nortel-based campus Wi-Fi mesh network which supports the VoIP handsets, ECU is also considering expanding a program which this semester is seeing over 200 students compulsorily use laptops in their study.

"It's our Bachelor of Education first years, and every student is expected to have a laptop. Now obviously they won't all buy laptops, so we actually loan laptops to them," said Ridge, noting ECU was being supplied with the hardware by Lenovo.

He said the success of the program so far meant in 2007 the program could be expanded to the first year Bachelor of Business class, for a total of up to a thousand students.

Ridge said the program -- driven by academic staff but enormously popular with the students -- had been successful, and students would have a much better technology skill-set when they eventually sought employment due to the move.

Just part of the business
In a wider sense, Ridge said he thought one of the most important issues facing IT managers and chief information officers in Australia was how to ensure the IT function was seen as part of the broader business.

"I think a lot of organisations really don't necessarily see IT as part of the business," he said. "In some sense they see them as an appendage rather than a core of it."

"Maybe that's partly our fault, because over the years we've been seen as the geeks etc, and people don't understand that."

Ridge said in actual fact IT departments were just trying to put platforms in place for their businesses to operate effectively.

He advised IT managers to build better non-IT relationships within their own organisations. "Get out there amongst the business," he said.

"Because you can sit in your office and make sure all the systems are up and going, but those relationships at the end of the day will become crucial, because like any other part of the business, the IT section has to bid and try and get dollars for projects."

"They have to be showing what they are actually doing that's enhancing the business, whether it's a uni making improvements that mean people can operate more effectively or a profit-making organisation where they're trying to reduce costs and improve profits."