IT faculty revolts over UNSW overhaul

Tensions are rising at UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), where a plan by the university to centralise all IT services has met with a hostile response from staff and students.

Tensions are rising at UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), where a plan by the university to centralise all IT services has met with a hostile response from staff and students.

The plan, known as the OneUNSW IT Change Program, commenced in late 2007 with the goal of reducing costs and consolidating IT infrastructure and services. The plan is nearing completion, with new email facilities, a datacentre with 300TB of storage and tailored services rolled out to most faculties, schools and administrative units. It is part of UNSW's plan to rank among the top three G08 Australian universities.

However, staff and students have voiced concerns about implementing this plan at CSE. The school held a closed door meeting last Friday, attended by Head of School Paul Compton, to discuss the ramifications of the IT Change Program and co-ordinate a response.

Rumours are flying about changes IT Change might make to CSE. Some lecturers have voiced concerns that all computer labs will be required to run Microsoft as their primary OS, instead of Linux, which the school has long been a supporter of.

Also, the school uses a number of bespoke systems that some believe will not work in the IT Change environment. CSE creates custom-made exam environments that some feel will not work in the new system. Each school subject has its own directory which gives students access to all coursework and samples for the past five to 10 years; it is thought by some lecturers that this system won't be possible under IT Change.

A discussion paper written by staff member Peter Linich outlined some areas of concern. First, according to the paper, moving the email system to Microsoft Exchange Server will force users to use Microsoft tools to access some features (for example, email forwarding must be done in Outlook or via a request to the UNSW Service Desk). Also, the migration will remove dynamic mailing lists for at least a year, removing functionality like emailing all students in a class.

Another change involves personal home directories, which will be centralised in UNSW's datacentre. Linich says that staff or students will lose the ability to set or modify directory permissions, change user or group ownership of files or directories, provide less flexibility in recovering files from backups, and potentially remove the ability to publish public_html content from their home directory.

Linich argues that during the move to IT Change's system, the CSE help desk, mailing lists, lab booking system, permissions on home directories and the exam environment will all break.

CSE staff have been in negotiations with the IT Change team for some time, but the uproar at UNSW has grown louder as the implementation date approaches. "Sometimes they're responsive and they listen to what we say, and sometimes they don't," said Linich.

The OneUNSW IT Central web page states that "there has been extensive consultation across the university and this will continue as the program progresses".

Compton was unavailable for interview. UNSW is yet to respond to requests for information.