Quality Manual of the Department of Computer Science
The IT unit of the Department of Computer Science produces high-end information technology services for the staff of the Department of Computer Science and the part of HIIT that operates at the department, as well as for computer science students. In addition, the IT unit produces some of the services offered by the Kumpula campus service unit to the whole campus, and partially to the whole university. Some of the services needed by the department are procured from the campus service unit. The IT unit of the department takes care of the service acquisitions.
The mission of the IT unit is to offer cutting-edge IT services for high-end teaching and research to the Department of Computer Science and HIIT. The unit may also offer its services to other university units.
The unit has set the following goals to actively strive for:
- The services offered by the IT unit must follow the highest quality internationally.
- The IT unit must be able to meet the special challenges of the field of computer science.
- A first-class computing environment must be available for the staff and students
- The user support must meet the needs of the demanding clientele of the Department of Computer Science.
- the It unit must constantly bring new innovations within reach of its clients.
- Any obstacles and limitations to the use of information technology must be removed.
Development of the IT environment
The successful development of the IT services requires a visionary IT strategy. The right timing of strategic decisions and an extensive enough implementation of them are key issues.
It is especially challenging to produce IT services for the research and advanced teaching of computer science. In practice, it calls for sufficient resourcing of the IT services on the one hand, and the deep commitment of the IT team to provide good service and to constantly update and renew their skills on the other.
The whole staff of the IT unit follow developments and innovations in the field of IT, both from a commercial and a scientific viewpoint. Special emphasis is naturally given to results from the research carried out at the department. The IT unit strives to bring its clients new It solutions at an early stage in order to gain experiences with them that can later be utilised in the whole university.
The practical work of the IT unit
Lifespan services of the workstations
The workstation system at the Department of Computer Science consists of over 500 modern PCs with the Linux operating system.Over 75% of the hardware is under two years old. As an alternative, users may also employ a local Windows system or remotely access a Windows server from Linux. Over a hundred of the workstations are laptop computers with a WLAN connection to the department network.
Acquisition of workstations
Workstations are acquired through suppliers with a basic contract with the university. If the basic-contract suppliers do not have the hardware we need, we follow the general guidelines for public acquisitions by either putting it out to competition or, for smaller acquisitions, by making a written price comparison. The lifespan of hardware is around 3-5 years. A 3-4-year insurance is purchased for the hardware, or a maintenance contract for the same period of time. After the insurance or maintenance period has ended, the hardware may still be employed for less critical tasks, but except for these special cases, they are no longer repaired. All hardware acquisitions are made by the head of the IT unit. The separate undertakings and projects on external funding at the department also purchase their hardware in this way. Workstation are as a rule better equipped than the average university PC, at least when it comes to monitor size and resolution, amount of memory, and capacity of processors. The 80% rule is followed in acquisitions, i.e. the acquired hardware does not represent the absolute cutting edge of capacity, but around 80% of that level of capacity. At least two separate disk units are acquired for each computer for personal use, so that it is possible to backup the user's information on the second unit. The energy efficiency of the workstations is especially considered when acquiring them.
Acquisition of peripherals
Various necessary peripherals are acquired the same way as workstations. We strive to minimize the different types of peripherals, so that the same supplies can be used in as many devices as possible. The supplies can be purchased through the campus service unit. For the time being, all printers are managed centrally by the Department of Computer Science, regardless of whether they are personal, team-based, or in general use. In principle, the university has delegated the acquisition and maintenance of all networked printers to the University Press.
Instatement and maintenance of workstations and peripherals
The normal installation of workstations at the department includes the possibility for dual boot. As a default, the workstations are booted to the Linux operating system. The department's own CSL ('Computer Science Linux) distribution is employed for the Linux system. Its current version, CSL2, is based on the Fedora Core 7 distribution. The Linux environment is constantly being developed in collaboration with the IT Department. The goal is to employ a Linux workstation service shared by the whole university in 2009. The working title of the system is CSL3. The alternative to Linux is Windows, in practice either Windows Vista Enterprise or, in older computers, Windows XP Professional. The newest possible Windows version is preferred for the workstations. The department will start to use the services of the IT Department for Windows users as far as that is possible with the dual boot devices. In addition, the systems of user IDs and printers and disk units of the Department of Computer Science and IT Department are being adapted to each other. The instatement of devices starts with registering them into the department's own hardware register. In addition, devices are registered to a name system and laptops are also registered to a DHCP configuration protocol. Devices are installed by installing both a Linux and a Windows image file and by making any necessary updates to them. Both workstation environments are updated regularly, once a week on an average. A special system designed for this purpose is used to update the Linux system, while the Windows environment is updated with the SUS system and our own MSI packages. The Linux system may also be employed to support Windows updates.
The maintenance of printers *) is based on notifications from the network and user requests. All printing is recorded, but quotas will not be employed except in extreme circumstances. The use of the hardware has been made energy-efficient. In addition to normal standby, all workstations that are standing unused at 16 o'clock on weekdays are automatically shut off. They are started automatically in the early morning for running daily routines, such as backup copying and updates. On weekends and holidays, they are left off. A monthly checkup *) is made on the computer classrooms used by the students of the department. An inventory is made of all the hardware triennially.
Disposing of old hardware
The safe disposal of hardware is centralised to the university in a cost-efficient way and without breaches of data security. The campus service centre coordinates the rounding up of devices to be disposed of and monitors the data security issues associated with the disposal. The IT unit at the department keeps the records for hardware assets as far as the Department of Computer Science is concerned.
The computing equipment of the department includes a number of servers: general-purpose computers, a computing cluster, file and database servers, and other servers with specific purposes (e-mail, webmail, ftp, backup copying, etc) and servers for various user groups. There are a total of around 50 servers. The centralised servers employ RAID technology and offer over 15 terabytes of disk space at the moment. In combination, these systems support a large number of services, languages, and software tools. The servers are located in a modern, protected server room in the Exactum building. Special attention has been paid to the reliability and security of the systems.
The department's own e-mail server implements e-mail services through the domain name 'cs.helsinki.fi'. The mail server receives mail using the unencrypted SMTP protocol, but also listens in on secure SMTPS connections. The IT unit tries to set the default for mail programs in all the workstations so that all mail in the department network will be encrypted. It is possible to use the mail server from home or, indeed, anywhere in the world through the MSA port that requires encryption and authentication. It is only possible to read mail with encryption via IMAP and IMAPS connections. It is also possible to read and send e-mail with the webmail feature. There are two user interfaces, IlohaMail and RoundCube. Special attention is paid to mobile and PDA usability when selecting user interfaces. A significant portion of the mail that arrives to the mail server is so-called spam. The spam is filtered efficiently.
Data communications network
The department's network consists of an optical cable trunk network with 1 Gbit/s Ethernet connections on work desks. There are also 100 Mbit/s Ethernet connections in the students' facilities. A WLAN network of type IEEE 802.11a can also be used by mobile workstations visiting the department. The manager of the IT unit is responsible for infrastructure acquisitions. The possibility of acquiring a necessary service from the IT Department (either directly or through the campus service centre) or as a separate service to be purchased from outside the university is always considered before making the decision. In the acquisition of infrastructure-related hardware, the same routines as for Information technology#Acquisition of workstations the acquisition of workstations is followed.
All the centralised storage systems used by the IT unit are backed up. All the main systems (such as user directories) employ RAID-assured disks. An incremental backup copy is made of all centralised systems once a day, and a complete backup copy once a week. The backup copies are stored according to a rotation system so that there are newer copies from more moments in time than older copies. The oldest backup copies to be stored are at least two years old. The Department of Computer Science and HIIT are in the process of acquiring a shared automated backup system to meet the backup needs of both units for the coming 4-5 years. For the time being, the system will be located in the Exactum server room, but it may later be moved to the new machine room planned on the Kumpula campus and transferred to the responsibility of the IT Department, if the building plans are realised. All personal workstations are equipped with two disks. One of the disks is used for backup by mirroring the work disk once a day onto the backup disk. The principle of incremental backup once a day and total backup once a week is used here, as well. The users can salvage files from the backup disk themselves. The system only works when the workstation is booted to Linux, but it backs up both Linux and Windows files. For users of mobile computers, there is a backup system in Linux, with which users can back up their files to their own workstations.
The IT unit produces the web services for the communications of the Department of Computer Science and the Kumpula-based parts of HIIT, as well as many other services accessed over the web. They include, among others, the ILMO system, the KURKI system, the Moodle system, and the Helsinki Open Source Laboratory - HOSLAB Web services are offered on demand for research groups, conferences, etc, either as part of the public www.cs.helsinki.fi tree, on a virtual server (such as gamics.cs.helsinki.fi), or in a web hotel on a virtual server (such as cinco.cs.helsinki.fi). The IT unit also provides all its clients the opportunity to make their own web page.
The IT unit offers all the employees and students at the Department of Computer Science and HIIT their own blog service in the department's blog system.
The IT unit produces Linux workstation services for the whole university to order from the campus service centre. The unit offers specialist work in its areas of expertise, not just to the Department of Computer Science and HIIT, but to the Kumpula campus and the whole university. These areas of expertise include the development of network services and electronic business, the infrastructure of electronic services, development tools and reference architectures, as well as various auditing services. Such operations are prganised in cooperation with the campus service centre.
The user support for the Department of Computer Science and the parts of HIIT based in Exactum is significantly different from the support needed by many other units at the university, and it entails many special features. Nearly all the users are professionals in information technology, or studying for a degree in IT, or at least taking courses in computer science. Students receive ample support in practical exercises relating to their courses, while researchers may have very advanced requirements that call for significant knowledge of computer science to meet them. A large part of the user support is available online, with instructions on e.g. workstations, user accounts, passwords, rules for use, temporary use of the workstations for everyone at the university, group IDs, problem-reporting, e-mail, the use of the web and web pages, use of disk space and backup copying, facilities in general, printing as well as programming and databases. In addition, the It unit maintains a list of frequently asked questions and publishes the occasional CS Department IT support blog as well as the CS Department e-learning support blog. Users are encouraged to send questions by e-mail and through the problem-reporting system. For mini-notebook user support, there is a mini-notebook clinic partially based on peer support in the moodle system Researchers and teachers often have very individual problems that require personal consultation to solve them.
Technology for teachers
The IT unit has a wealth of expertise on technologies for teaching, such as learning platforms, remote-access teaching, and video technology. One of the members of the IT team is an expert in teaching-technology services. In addition, the IT unit may sometimes produce teaching-technology services for the whole campus.
Administration of the IT unit
The IT Manager leads the IT unit, which is subordinate to the head of the department and realises the use of allocated funds and other resources for information technology as decided by the steering committee.The members of the IT team both collaborate and work individually as specialists. In all its operations, the unit follows the user and data-security rules of the university as well as good routines for data management. The staff of the IT unit networks with the Kumpula IT services network, and the IT manager regularly participates in the work to develop the IT operations of the Kumpula service centre. Each member of the team has their own area of responsibility, and most of the areas have more than one person in charge of them. For e-mail communications between the IT unit and its clients, the service addresses are employed.
Quality assessment for IT services
The quality assessment and constant development of the unit's work and the IT services it produces are an integral part of the IT unit's normal operations. The quality assessment of the IT unit is part of the quality assurance system of the whole department. The IT manager at the department is in charge of quality assurance of the IT unit.
Some important methods for quality assurance of the IT services are
- the quality manual and its constant development,
- the feedback system with which feedback is gathered from the users of the IT services,
- regular enquiries among students and staff to map client expectations,
- client loyalty, i.e. to which extent do students and staff use the services of the IT unit and to what extent the (almost) equivalent services offered by the IT Department to the whole university.
Faults and improvement
- More information is needed about privacy protection, IT security, encryption, anti-virus, and spam prevention.