VIU undergoes large scale network update

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VIU experienced a full network outage January 19 and 20, affecting VIULearn, administrative systems including student records, library systems, VIU WIFI, and all VIU computers. The shutdown was to give IT Operations the ability to conduct the Network Remediation Project (NRP), a project designed to improve VIU’s technology infrastructure. VIU received funding for the NRP from the Ministry of Advanced Education Skills and Training (AEST), this combined with VIU investment is funding the project. The NRP will be a multi-year phased project to update VIU’s IT infrastructure.

Darren Eveleigh, Co-Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of IT Operations at VIU, sat down with The Nav to answer some questions about the project and what students and faculty can expect with the update.

Who will be conducting the NRP? Are Computer Science program students able to be involved in the process?

The NRP is being conducted by VIU IT Professional Staff working with expert consultants to ensure we deliver a stable, high-performance network that will meet current and future student needs.  In addition to the IT department, the entire VIU community has pulled together to assist in this ambitious initiative and are helping with communications, testing, and collaboration. Given the complexity of the project, all work is being performed by these groups. However, the university is also ensuring they include additional benefits to VIU students and are working with student programs such as Information Technology Applied Systems (ITAS). An example of this is making use of retired hardware that may no longer have the capacity to support VIU’s growing student population, but still has a useful application on a smaller scale. This will be available to ITAS programs for students to have direct hands-on experience working with enterprise-level technology. This includes items like enterprise-level firewall hardware and WIFI access points. This gives ITAS students hands-on direct experiences to take into their careers.

What can students and staff expect to see once the initial NRP is completed? What changes will there be?

We are already seeing significant benefits to students that have been a result of our long-term vision to provide an excellent digital experience. Some examples of this are greatly improved WIFI in new areas like the new Health and Science building and Automotive and Trades buildings, along with the back-end upgraded network components that support these services. In addition, over the past two years, we have performed significant upgrades to our internet connection providing a large speed increase and growth capacity for network traffic such as VIUTube, VIU Learn, research, and internet traffic along with a more stable connection that can handle the demands of the 2019 learning experience. As we continue the improvements, students should see increased performance when accessing digital resources. In addition, we are laying a solid foundation for the future needs of our students.

Students and faculty have been advised that other outages will occur during February and March. What steps might these outages involve? Are they in case of any troubleshooting that must take place or are there secondary updates that will need to take place?

Given the exciting, but large, undertaking that a complete network re-architecture entails, it will take a number of outages to replace the major networking components. In order to meet ministry funding deadlines, our timelines are extremely compressed and as such, this project has an ambitious timeline in the next three months. We will create a full communications plan for the subsequent outages, which will be smaller, with shorter outage periods and impact to end-users will minimized as much as possible.

Some have pointed out that working on this at the beginning of the semester is causing excess stress on staff and students, while others have argued that anywhere else in the academic year would only cause greater hiccups. What was the factor that lead to the choice of dates?

There is never a good time for a large IT outage, so when deciding on time frame we have to consider a number of factors including but not limited to time constraints of the funding, impact to students and classes, registration considerations, exam schedules, payroll, business operations, security considerations, and availability of technical support vendors and consultants. We worked with major stakeholders to determine the least-impact time, understanding that there is no time that will have no impact. I often compare Information Technology upgrades and maintenance to that of a standard vehicle. As much as we would like to change the oil and the tires while the car is on the road, sometimes we have to pull it over for maintenance to ensure smooth operation and longer engine

Is there anything more you would like our readers to know?

The VIU IT staff are committed to working diligently to provide an excellent digital learning experience. As mentioned above, IT maintenance and improvements are similar to a car in that they require maintenance and upgrades for smooth performance and long life. Our goal is to provide a solid network foundation that will serve learning needs well into the future and we are continually appreciative of people’s understanding while we perform these critical tasks.