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A look back at 2013


2013 is just hours away from being history. With the upcoming year less than a day away, it got me thinking about the course of 2013. In February 2014, it will be 5 years since I started at my current job, and this has made me a bit nostalgic about all the things that have happened over the years. However, let me focus on 2013 for this post.

2013 started off with my ex colleague and I moving into our own office, but only after a delay due to Telkom messing us around with moving the phone line for the ADSL connection. The upside was that we now had an office of our own, with safety for our possessions, and the ability to close our door if we didn’t want to be disturbed. The downside was that the room doesn’t have air conditioning, which is something I got very used to over the years sitting in the computer room. It’s not so bad in winter, but in summer time it is a bit tough to stay cool and focussed.

The start of March saw my ex colleague not have his contract renewed, and he was subsequently let go. He was absolutely stunned, but it was something that was coming for a long time. A combination of an honest lack of skills and severe personal issues ended up in him burning all the bridges at the school. As such, I spent roughly 2 and a half months working on my own again. I managed it, but it is a highly draining situation to be in. Luckily we were able to find a very decent and competent replacement, and my new partner and I have had a good 7 months together. All the staff enjoy working with him, and his work ethic has also inspired me to keep my game up.

After a long drawn out process involving lots of red tape, our CCTV system was expanded throughout the school. A new server was installed to handle the demands of the footage, while the CCTV company installed the extra IP cameras. Compared to the first time cameras were installed 3 years ago, the procedure this time went pretty darn smoothly. I guess it also helps that I’ve become very familiar with Axis Camera Station, so I was able to do a lot of the work myself. Changing the camera compression from MJPEG to H.264 also saw a radical increase in the amount of days footage we could store, at a higher frame rate to boot. Colour me happy on that project.

Our Avaya VOIP system continues to run like a tank, with the exception of the DECT handsets. These have dropped out numerous times this year, usually completely randomly. Our telecoms company have been unable to resolve the issue, despite firmware updates and extensive troubleshooting. The best guess anyone can come up with is that we simply don’t have enough base stations around the school, and this is somehow triggering these utterly random disconnects from the phone network. Apart from that however, the normal phone base stations are as solid as a rock and just keep working and working.

The core network got some upgrades in the way of some new HP POE switches, as well as some new 6U swing frame cabinets to replace the old gnarly 4U fixed cabinets that cannot close with our existing switches installed. The POE switches eliminate cable clutter in the cabinets, cut out points of failure by needing to use POE injectors, and will make life a lot easier once we start rolling out campus wide Wi-Fi at the end of 2014. We did have 2 switches go faulty on us, but thankfully they were replaced under guarantee without too much fuss. Cabling to classrooms and venues continues to be cleaned up slowly, as time permits.

Apart from the CCTV server, no new physical servers were purchased this year. I decommissioned 2 older servers, so there is less heat and noise in the server room. My MDT 2010 server was shut down, and I made use of the old CCTV server as my new deployment platform. MDT 2012 took what was great about 2010 and polished it 6 ways to Sunday. As a bonus, since it now uses the Windows 8 kernel, it looks like some machines that refused to connect to the server will now do so, thanks to having a network driver it can actually make use of. My old school admin server nearly died on me with a faulty hard drive, a week before reports were due. I stayed late and virtualised that machine. Took a long time, but it was worth the piece of mind.

Desk printers had a bad year, thanks to the Samsung ML-2160 fiasco. 5 out of the 6 printers we purchased have had to go in for service to have the PCB replaced. One machine has had to go back in for a second time. Suffice to say, my partner and I have not been impressed at all, despite the fact that the little printer is actually a decent machine, when it works.

Our internet connection was upgraded in February to an 8/10Mb ADSL line, which is 80% stable. There are times when the line still struggles, or the router locks up, requiring a hard reset. As is usual, with increased speed comes higher usage. Although I haven’t run the stats, I think we’ve used over 2TB worth of traffic for 2013. We’ve been looking for alternative connections that are faster and more reliable than ADSL, but so far we’ve had no luck. There are options, but the prices offered makes your hair want to turn white, when you consider the fact that we are a school. We will continue the search in 2014.

Software wise, the number of computers still running Windows XP continued to decrease as we did our best to purchase new machines, or to upgrade existing machines with RAM and get them onto Windows 7. There are about 5-6 PC’s still on XP, but they should be gone by April/May, when Microsoft kills support for XP. Thankfully this also means the end of creaky old Pentium 4 and Celeron computers.

After some lengthy investigations, we’ve decided to move over to a cloud based school administration package called Staffroom. Our current package, EduAdmin, has not really been going anywhere, not to mention the constant frustration we have suffered with the package. I’ve also voiced numerous times that I need to take a step back away from generating reports and so on, but I guess I’ll know by the end of the first term if that comes to pass.

On another note, my partner and I have been reaching out to other schools, trying to start a little movement for IT admins and managers in schools to talk to each other, swap ideas and information, and perhaps even form some sort of consortium to purchase hardware or negotiate internet connections. With the growth of BYOD, it’s also vital that we talk to each other and learn from successes and mistakes. 2014 is going to be very interesting year in regards to that I think, and I look forward to growing our little group of connections.

While there is a lot I haven’t touched on, I would say that 2013 was a pretty decent year for IT in the school. There were no major system crashes, no malware outbreaks, and internet downtime was beyond our control. Equipment got replaced and upgraded, the network expanded and grew and so did our skills and knowledge. I look forward to 2014 and continuing the growth and change in the school. A number of exciting things have been budgeted for that will allow for growth and improvements, so let us see how well 2014 turns out. I for one and quite upbeat about the coming year Smile

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