ITS’ Technology Support Services staff have spent the last year focused on improving service to our community in two key areas of desktop computer support. What follows are some updates on those efforts:
- Move to a more routine computer replacement cycle
- Roll out of a common desktop management tool that advances our efforts to adopt industry-standard tools to assure you and your information, as well as the College and its information, are protected.
1. What is this new computer replacement strategy?
For those who require a College-provided computer for their position, we are making our way to a more predictable and planned 4-5 year upgrade cycle.
Faculty: For many years, approximately 25% of the Faculty have been upgraded annually, usually in the Fall/Winter time period. In 2015, we started to spread the upgrade throughout the calendar year, still touching 25% annually. This process is facilitated by CIRS (Committee on Instruction & Research Support) in partnership with ITS.
Professional Staff: In the Summer of 2015, ITS began upgrading staff/admin computers by department, at an advantageous time of year, (typically May-July). In the first year, ITS upgraded (9) departments, equalling roughly 25% of the staff/admin. This will continue, and within 3 years, we will have completed a first cycle. Collectively, this will put the entire community on the same upgrade path, assuring staff have reasonably contemporary hardware and up to date operating systems, enabling all employees to leverage the software needed to perform their work.
Classrooms & College-supported labs: These units will be on the same upgrade path, with units being replaced on a regular schedule every 4-5 years.
‘Other’ computers, such as student office work stations, public machines, both departmental and programmatic: We will largely continue our existing practice where these units are not guaranteed a replacement other than through the re-use of ‘used’ equipment, However, with a regular upgrade schedule, as described above, we expect we will be able to update these units with 4-5 year old machines, returning from FPS and classroom/lab upgrades. This will extend the life of a machine for 1-2 years, while providing a serviceable computer to departments and public areas.
What does ITS do with equipment once it might make its way through this 6-year lifecycle?
Equipment returned to us has all data removed and then the equipment is either recycled, or donated to a qualified charity organization. Details about our e-waste program can be found under the Technology Resources of the ITS web page.
I have some older College-provided equipment stuck in a closet, is there any way to get ITS to take it away?
Sure! We expect, over time, there will be no need for anyone to feel they need to keep “older” machines in closets ‘just in case.’ If you have computer equipment, purchased with College funds, that you no longer need--let us know and we’ll arrange to pick it up. We cannot take home/personal computers.
2. Desktop Management Tools, what’s that?
In addition to a strong replacement cycle, which guarantees robust hardware and an up to date operating system, managing the actual desktop has become a critical but time-intensive endeavor with so many computers on campus. The continual increase in operating systems and software upgrades, including browser upgrades, virus updates, etc. make for a never ending “touching” of actual machines; usually annoying and frustrating you. Currently, we have no way of identifying whether your F&M computer is fully updated. It might be too old to update and no way of installing updates other than sending emails, asking you to look and see if your computer is vulnerable and then ask that you attempt to apply an update or wait for a helpdesk staff member to visit. As an example, when the ‘Heartbleed Bug’ hit the media with a firestorm in April of 2014, we had no way of understanding what workstations on campus might be vulnerable, who might have had their workstation or password compromised, and where an individual’s personal data or College data could have been exposed to a hacker.
Desktop management tools allow us to know what operating system is running on a particular machine and provide a self-service page tailored to you, allowing you to update with little or no disruption when you choose. And for those more rare occasions when there is a critical and time sensitive situation, such as the Heartbleed example, we can push out an update that would prompt anyone who needs to apply the update, or indicate that a critical update will be applied when you restart your computer.
Ok, so I understand WHY...what about HOW?
To address this, most campuses have implemented a desktop management tool. To provide the very best support, you need a tool optimized for Windows computers and another tool for Macintosh computers. We have started this process with Macintosh computers, as we have more of these, but will later add a similar tool for Windows users.
That’s nifty, and probably helps ITS and provides some important protections, but what’s in it for me?
Beyond further assuring that you and your data are protected, the most significant benefit for you will be the access to a “Self-Service” Page - allowing you to download software (the latest version of MS Office), updates (the latest version of the Mac operating system), printer drivers, etc. -- at your convenience, when you need them.
What is this tool for the Macintosh, and when will I see it?
It’s Casper...and he’s a friendly little ghost.
In-late 2014, we purchased a management tool called Casper Suite, which was funded as one of our most significant security initiatives. Phase 1 of our work focused on the public arena, (classrooms, labs, public areas). Results have been positive. We’ve been able to simultaneously update over 200 computers with the latest operating system patch and add applications like Adobe Creative Cloud to all of them. Beginning in the Spring of 2016, ITS will begin Phase 2, which will mean adding the client to FPS machines. How?
1. Beginning with Summer computer upgrades, the Casper client will be installed on all new set-ups.
2. After the 2016 Spring semester, FPS will be notified and then have access to enrolling and adding the Casper “client” to their machine.
How does Casper work on my Mac?
Somewhat like CrashPlan for computer hard drive backup, Casper consists of a management server and a client on each computer. The computer periodically ‘phones home’ as well as the server periodically ‘touching base’ with computer. But what do they talk about?
- Inventory: Hardware and software inventory collected by the Casper client will assist ITS staff in prioritizing machine replacements--how old is this machine? Software renewal questions such as--should we get a site license for this product?
- Software deployment: The Casper client might inform you that there is software available that you might want--do you need Mathematica? --it seems you need the new SPSS software license key as your version is expiring.
- Software updates: The Casper client might inform you of a critical security update that the ITS staff has pushed out, and that your computer is vulnerable--upon restart your computer will apply a critical security patch, would you like to restart now?