Behind the firewall
How U.Va. handles adding 3,000 new student computers to its network in one day
Photo by Jack Looney
|ITC's Marty Peterman assists UVa student Christian West in getting his lapton computer connected to the Cavalier network.
By Brevy Cannon
The typical first-year student has three priorities on move-in day: meet the roommate, make the bed, and get the computer online. That seems simple enough, but adding 3,000 computers of all kinds to the University’s network in a single weekend involved more than 100 support staff on move-in day and months of preparations.
Just as in previous years, this year’s move-in day on Saturday, Aug. 19, involved SWAT-team style coordination of technical support to make sure that each student’s first connection to the Internet went smoothly. Every dorm was assigned one student computer adviser, fresh from two days of technical training, along with one professional “troubleshooter” from U.Va.’s department of Information Technology and Communications, and another ITC staffer at a table outside the dorm who refereed the whirlwind of questions, requests for help and computer-related frustrations.
If the student computer adviser and the troubleshooter couldn’t fix a problem, they called in reinforcements from ITC’s move-in day headquarters in Gilmer Hall, which monitored and oversaw the staff of about 75 ITC staffers plus about 30 student CAs.
Both the ITC staff and the CAs were trained in how to reassure parents that even if a computer problem was not resolved by the end of move-in day, they could say goodbye to their son or daughter and rest assured that the problem would be solved in the immediate future by the IT team.
“Students are coming to school with more and more computer skills. What we see is students really get it, or they really don’t. For those who don’t, they really need these computing advisers,” said Janet Belew, ITC student services coordinator, who oversees the CA program.
In addition to the on-the-ground operations on move-in day, there were numerous other ways in which the students, their computers and the IT infrastructure were prepared for the onslaught.
Nearly all incoming students have a computer; 99.4 percent of the 2005 incoming class had one, and 92.1 percent of them were laptops, according to data collected door-to-door by CAs, said Teresa Lockard, director of ITC Computing Support Services. (For comparison, in 1997, only 74 percent of incoming students brought a computer, and only 16.4 percent of those were laptops.) All dormitory network connections are protected by centrally administered hardware firewalls that can recognize and isolate any computer carrying certain viruses that ITC has identified as a high-risk threat. The standard suite of antivirus and antispyware software provided free to every student (under a U.Va. site license) handles remaining cyber-security threats.
Upon first connection to the U.Va. network, every incoming student must read the U.Va. Computer Usage Policy, pass an online test reviewing the policy, and then agree to abide by the policy, which requires that all students must protect their own passwords and accounts, must not access or misappropriate the account of another user, and must not access confidential data or violate other applicable laws.
Approximately half of incoming students purchased a computer for school through the University’s Cavalier Computers store, which includes with each new computer, for no additional charge, a customized bundle of software, including antivirus and anti-spyware, along with proper settings for networking and keeping software properly updated against emerging security threats, such that the computer is as “ready-to-go” as possible for use at U.Va., right out of the box.
For those students with financial difficulty purchasing a computer, the Laptop for Students program provided a loaner laptop for the school year. Dell donated 50 laptops for the program, Apple provided 10, and U.Va. purchased 25, and all came with a printer.
To learn more about how things went at this year’s move-in day, read the Aug. 20 Washington Post story: “Move-In Day at U-Va./ 3,000 First-Years, All Searching for a Connection/ Tech Squads Ease Computer System’s Huge Hookup Test,” by Susan Kinzie, available online at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/ content/article/2006/08/19/AR2006081900628.html.