Ad Hoc Committee's Final Report

MEMORANDUM


April 30, 1996


To: Dr. David Schrader, Chairman of the Information Resources Council

From: Bill Buntain, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Distributed Computing Support

Re: The Ad Hoc Committee's Final Report

With the attached report, the Ad Hoc Committee on Distributed Computing Support completes its charge. This final report does not replace, but rather supplements the committee's interim report. The appendix of this report contains some additional notes on the interim report recommendations based on the questions raised at the March meeting of Information Resources Council. It should also be noted that the support levels proposed in the Interim Report do not take into account future growth in the number of machines deployed or users in the various segments of the campus community.

Per the recommendation approved at that meeting, the Distributed Computing Support Management Group should now be constituted. It is our hope that these recommendations would be passed on to them for them to further develop and oversee their implementation. Per the comments in the IRC meeting, the new group should include a representative of the Microcomputer Maintenance Shop. The same is true of the Library. Their omission was an oversight.

I would recommend to the new group that they subdivide the tasks associated with these recommendations and parse them out to teams of central and distributed support staff to work on. For example, there should be a team charged with reviewing and making recommendations on an appropriate platform for a campus-wide help desk application, a 32-bit Intel operating system and desktop management tool, the set of applications to be included in the standard setup, etc.

The effectiveness of the Distributed Computing Support Management Group and its progress in accomplishing the recommendations put forth by the Ad Hoc Committee should be reviewed by an appropriate group identified by the IRC after one year. The findings of that review should be forwarded to the Steering Committee for evaluation of the success of the current management model.

I wish to express my appreciation for the participation of the members of the Ad Hoc Committee. I believe they have done an exemplary job of cooperating in developing a far-reaching set of substantive recommendations in a compressed time frame. I hope that their recommendations will be put to good use.


Ad Hoc Committee

on Distributed Support Issues

Final Report


May 20, 1996


Executive Summary

In addition to the recommendations contained in its interim report, the Ad Hoc Committee recommends the following steps to leverage the existing and proposed distributed computing support resources at the University:

Standardizing distributed server and desktop computing hardware and software by:

Building a software distribution scheme around common network and application software and a standard 32-bit desktop operating system and acquiring one or more appropriate network management tools, licensed on an enterprise level, to manage both desktops and network servers;

Establishing a plan for a three year rolling window for upgrading/phasing out desktop computing systems; and

Developing appropriate NetWare Directory Service and file server standards.

Improving coordination of the efforts of central and distributed support units by formalizing a two-tier support model with:

a central help desk function to support common applications and coordinate support requests; and

a common problem/service request tracking system to be used by both central and distributed units.

The recommendations contained in this report support two primary objectives:

1. Increased responsiveness to user demands for support.

2. Leveraging of limited manpower support resources.

These two objectives are complementary. If manpower resources can be effectively leveraged, the result will be an increased availability for user support.

The strategies identified to accomplish these objectives fall into two basic categories:

1. Standardizing server and desktop hardware and software.

2. Improving coordination of the efforts of central and distributed support units.


Standardization

Findings:

1. There is considerable unnecessarily redundant effort expended in:
Evaluating network and application solutions, including software compatibility

Installing and configuring common network and application solutions (such as word processors, spreadsheets, desktop drivers, etc.).
Note: This finding does not diminish the need in distributed areas for specialized applications that support their missions.

2. The diversity of desktop configurations complicates remote user support (i.e., answering user questions without an on site visit), desktop management, and migration to new application platforms. A prime example of the latter phenomenon is the complexity of migrating the Computing Center and Administration Buildings to Virtual Loadable Modules (VLMs), NetWare 4.1 and GroupWise compared with the relative ease of the same task implemented in the College of Business Administration, which has implemented a standard desktop configuration that is used by over 90% of its faculty and staff users.

Central support staff called in to look at distributed servers have a steep learning curve, because every academic and administrative area sets up their server differently. The same problem faces distributed support staff when they attempt to assist users.


Proposition:

Standardization of server and desktop hardware and software configurations along with appropriate management tools will significantly leverage distributed computing support resources while at the same time increasing the quality of support those resources provide.

Corollary:

The University must continue to permit diversity to support the unique computing requirements of individuals and units, but the cost of that additional support must be recognized and taken into account in the budgeting process of that unit.

Recommendations:

1. The Computing Center should set up a server that will act as a repository for pre-installed and configured standard application and utility software installations under the direction of the Distributed Computing Support Management Group (DCSMG). The server drive(s) thus configured could then be replicated to other servers throughout campus.

2. The DCSMG should identify a standard 32-bit operating system platform as a strategic direction for migrating Intel-based microcomputer desktop platforms and develop a standard desktop configuration/administrative model to support that platform. The Computing Center should play a leadership role in this effort. The standard desktop configuration should include:

network and video drivers;

a robust TCP/IP stack;

a LAN inventory client;

remote control software; and

files needed to enable applications (.INI files, etc.)

Distributed and central support organizations will be empowered to give priority to troubleshooting problems with the standard configuration on the premise that they affect more users than customized setups.

3. The DCSMG should evaluate comprehensive network management tools such as Novell's ManageWise and Microsoft's SMS with particular emphasis on desktop management, including configuration, inventory, and problem diagnosis. The Computing Center should pursue enterprise licensing (either a site license or a volume purchase arrangement) for the platform selected.


4. The DCSMG should look at establishing NetWare Directory Services (NDS) standards in the following areas:

object naming and definition and

tree structure, including hierarchical design, partitioning and replication.

These standards should be co-developed with the University's X.500 standards.

Furthermore, the following steps should be taken relative to NDS deployment at UNT:

Use of NDS directory map objects should be made a standard practice.

A plan for migration away from applications dependent upon bindery emulation should be developed.

The central support organization should be given browse rights to all objects on the tree for purposes of backing up the tree and performing troubleshooting tasks.

A policy should be adopted that no NDS or X.500 schema modifications should be made without the approval of the DCSMG.

5. The DCSMG should set NetWare file servers standards for the following:
drive names;

drive mappings;

print queue setups;

directory structures; and

UPS and monitoring software.

Each network manager should be required to document their server data backup and restore plan and execution of regular backups and test restores must be part of that network manager's Planning Guide.

6. The DCSMG should develop a plan for a three year rolling window for upgrading/phasing out desktop computing platforms. This plan should empower the Microcomputer Maintenance Shop to leverage the University's purchasing power through discounts available through placing bulk purchase orders. In the short term particular attention should be paid to phasing out support-intensive components such as problematic or obsolete network interface cards.

Coordination

Findings:

1. Both users and distributed support units are confused as to who to contact with particular needs/problems. In many cases, the basic cause of a problem is not clear. For example, being unable to connect to the administrative mainframe may be a microcomputer hardware or software problem, a data communications problem, a problem with the NetWare for SAA gateway, or a problem on the mainframe.

2. Users and distributed support units often must coordinate contacts with several units to carry out basic functions such as getting a microcomputer connected to the campus-wide network.

3. Because of the uneven distribution of first-line support resources in the departments and colleges, these units receive varying levels of support from the central organization.

4. Despite the recent sprouting of World Wide Web-accessible resources, there is not a standard and unified method for distributing information to users and network support people.

Proposition:

Users should only have to make one call to get their computer-related problems addressed and should be able to expect a timely response.

Corollary:

The coordination of the support efforts among distributed and central support units should be transparent as much as possible to users.

Recommendations:

1. The relationship between the distributed and central support staffs should be formalized along the lines of a two-tier support model.

The central organization should be charged with:

long-range, campus-wide planning;

support of shared LAN resources (faculty/staff mail servers, mainframe gateways, the data communications infrastructure);

high-level technical support;

common application support and training.
The distributed centers should be responsible for:

on site user support;

daily management and operation of distributed servers;

maintenance of NDS and X.500 directory resources for their respective units.


2. The DCSMG should oversee deployment of a comprehensive system to incorporate help desk documentation as well as problem and service request tracking. This system should be able to coordinate the support activities of central and distributed units involved in support of computing and communications and should include:

universally accessible documentation of campus computing and communications resources;

a list of currently supported revision levels of software, including applications, system utilities, NetWare Loadable Modules, and network and video drivers;

a referral list that identifies support responsibilities;

troubleshooting charts for common problems; and

a network connection request coordination.

Distributed areas should be able to use this system for tracking their own support requests, as well as routing appropriate support requests to the central support groups. The functionality of this system should include:

a World Wide Web interface for users and distributed support personnel to log calls and inquire on their status;

the ability to interface with an SNMP-based network management system for trapping communication network faults;

call prioritization;

call routing to individuals or to central or distributed support groups;

notification of calls via e-mail and a pager gateway;

automated call status tracking/escalation; and

a searchable call history.

These recommendations should not be viewed as comprehensive, but are intended as a starting point for the DCSMG to use in its evaluation of support system alternatives.

3. The central help desk function should provide:
application support for the applications included in the standard configuration propagated from the executable servers; and

logging of all computing-related problems and service requests with referral to the appropriate support organization.


Full-time staff roles and levels should be defined within the help desk function to support:
data communications systems, including remote access;

UNIX systems;

messaging systems;

microcomputer desktop operating systems and applications;

the administrative mainframe, including gateway access.

Particular attention should be paid to extending the hours support is available. (See Recommendation 4 in the Ad Committee's Interim Report).


Note: The above two recommendations should not be interpreted as proposing that distributed computing support organizations cease to support such functions. Instead they are intended to facilitate the coordination of the customer support function between the central and distributed support organizations and insure that a user can get assistance no matter who they contact. It is anticipated that the distributed support organizations will continue to take the lead in direct customer support functions.


APPENDIX

This appendix addresses several issues that were raised at the March meeting of the Information Resources Council (IRC), when the Interim Report was presented.

Classifications

In the March meeting of the IRC, a question was raised as to how the various classifications for the proposed new positions were determined. The classifications recommended for full-time positions by the Ad Hoc Committee were based on the Job Classification descriptions developed for Computer Support Specialist positions through the Human Resources Office, as follows:

Computer Support Specialist IV positions were recommended where the position had primary responsibility for support of a large and diverse network;

Computer Support Specialist II positions were recommended where the position has secondary support responsibility, i.e., the person in the position would be reporting to a higher classified distributed support person who had direct, primary responsibility for support of a network and its users.

The rates for hourly positions were derived as follows:

$10.00/hour for a position doing both user support and custom programming as primary job functions.

$8.00/hour for a position doing only user support.

As noted in the meeting, if the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendations are adopted, existing positions should be reviewed for pay equity issues.

Number of users/machines in distributed areas

The Committee was asked to review the numbers on which the recommended allocation of staff positions contained in its Interim Report was based. It was noted in the IRC meeting that some adjustments in the actual positions recommended might be in order depending upon the level of funding that was approved in the budget process. The Committee waited for some indication of the level of funding that would be available, but ultimately did not participate in re-evaluation of the distribution recommended. The issue was looked at by the deans, the Provost's Office, the Senior Director of Academic Computing, and the Director of Network and Microcomputer Services.

Comparison with positions requested in the Budget Process

The IRC requested that the Ad Hoc Committee reconcile the positions recommended in the Interim Report with those requested through the budget process. This was done.


Return to Distributed Computing Support Management Team Home Page.

Page last modified on May 05, 1997 by Philip Baczewski

.