IT News

Systems and operations: What’s it all about?

By Shandon Bates, Director of Systems and Operations

When I agreed to profile the systems and operations department for DoIT News I had no idea what a large task it was going to be. It’s fairly easy to describe my job in a social setting (“I lead a staff that handles computing services such as email and Banner at Western … ”), but expanding on that and defining all of what we do without the techno-jargon becomes more of a challenge. In this article I will try to describe what we do in understandable terms and introduce you to the department’s members.

Who we are

The department was originally part of the networking and systems department, headed by Scott Swartzentruber. As the infrastructure expanded and the demands on that position grew, the two areas were split in 2007, with Scott taking on the networking duties. I was then hired in August 2007 as the director of the systems and operations department.

Systems and operations team members

The department is comprised of the director, two managers, a SharePoint administrator, and five systems analysts. Mark Murphy manages the five analysts—Brian Bard, Matt Bibens, Josh Bright, Carla Luker, and Wagner Parente; Patrick McGraw is our digital identity manager; and Jeff Kiska serves as our SharePoint administrator. Shortly after I was hired application server responsibilities also were added to the department.

What we do

What we do can be broken down into three main categories: servers and data storage, services and applications, and security and identity management. Each member of the team fills a role in the different areas, and members back each other up when managing vital or complex systems.

Servers and storage

The department is responsible for managing all core computing operations for the campus.  This includes managing the physical servers and storage that run applications in support of the University. We currently manage a total of 197 servers (62 are physical, 135 are virtual).

Server virtualization is a technology that allows us to run multiple instances of the operating system on a single physical machine, which gives us the ability to more efficiently utilize the computing power of that physical server.

We began implementing this technology in mid-2007 when the available power and cooling in the data center were maxed out. In doing so we have saved over $400,000 in server costs, eliminated over 230,00 BTU (British Thermal Units) per hour in heat output, and cut power consumption by roughly 440 kilowatts per hour, saving WCU over $15,000 per year.

The server count includes the servers that run Banner, Exchange, and a host of other applications that are detailed below. Wagner and Matt manage the infrastructure that runs our Banner and My Cat environments, as well as our data backup systems. Patrick, Josh, Mark, Brian, and I manage the infrastructure for the virtual environment and the servers that run the various applications.

We currently manage over 20 TB (terabytes) of data in support of WCU. This includes the databases that house information for Banner, Exchange, and R25, housing and police applications, health services scheduling applications, and a host of other applications. Mark and I manage the application server side of the data while Matt and Wagner handle the Banner and My Cat storage. Matt, Wagner, and Carla are responsible for the backup of all institutional data that is managed by systems and operations.

Services and Applications

In addition to well-known services such as Banner, Exchange, the campus web servers, and the H:\ drive, we support dozens of departmental application servers and several underlying technologies that are vital to WCU. As well as the application servers noted above, we support several database servers and servers that support digital scanning, the Print Shop, CatCard services, library applications, event ticket purchasing, survey software, and a host of other services. We also manage servers and appliances that register WCU Internet resource names with other name servers on the Internet so that users can find our web pages and other resources. The service, known as Domain Name Service or DNS, is managed by Wagner, Matt, and Josh.

Two other major services that we manage are messaging services and the eBriefcase.  Messaging encompasses Exchange, the Blackberry Enterprise Server, and our SPAM filtering mechanisms, which are handled by Josh, Mark, and Brian. We manage over 3,700 mailboxes and by utilizing a series of applications and devices we blocked over 390 million SPAM or phishing emails in the month of July.

The eBriefcase, which is a SharePoint-based application and a vital part of WCU’s QEP initiative, is managed by Jeff, with Brian and I serving as his backups. Jeff has worked closely with many members of the campus community to make the revisions to the eBriefcase that were requested after last year’s pilot. Lack of available support for students who are using the briefcase delayed the pilot for the fall semester, but we are looking forward to the next available rollout window.

Security and Identity Management

Scott Koger

Another important role we are charged with is the security of the data and applications here at WCU. We work closely with Scott Koger (right), the campus security analyst, to insure the security and integrity of our systems. In addition to handling security patches for campus server systems and following best practices when installing new applications we frequently perform various scans to insure that sensitive data is not at risk. The entire team is involved in security patching, while Brian is responsible for vulnerability scanning.

Finally, identity management is one of the most important functions that we perform.  We handle account provisioning and de-provisioning and rights assignment for access to digital resources, as well as insuring that access to hosted applications is handled in a secure fashion. We are in the process of streamlining and automating processes such that a recently hired or transferred employee is automatically granted the rights required to perform their job function. As digital identity manager, Patrick is the lead in this endeavor, with assistance from Carla, Jeff, and several members of the applications staff.

So that’s the Reader’s Digest version of what we do here in systems and operations. I hope you found it interesting.