Posts tagged ictblog

What happened?

On Sunday 9th September our monitoring noticed that the Gateway site had become unavailable. Analysis provided by monitoring narrowed the problem down to the DNS not resolving correctly; our entire lncn.eu domain had been rendered inaccessible. The root cause of this was a DDoS attack against our DNS providers for the lncn.eu domain, PointHQ, causing their upstream provider to temporarily remove all their servers from the routing pool to mitigate damage.

What was affected?

PointHQ provides DNS services for the lncn.eu and lncd.org domains, meaning that any services using these domains were potentially unavailable. The most visible of these services are the lncn.eu address shortener, and the University’s Gateway service, although other services were affected.

As DNS caches expired any services using the affected domains were left unable to be resolved by end users, meaning that the services were inaccessible. Since gateway.lincoln.ac.uk implements a redirect to a lncn.eu subdomain, accessing Gateway using this domain was also affected.

What was done to fix the problem?

PointHQ were working to mitigate the problem throughout its duration, and DNS servers were restored later in the day. Essential records from the lncn.eu domain were also duplicated on the Rackspace Cloud DNS service, with the Rackspace DNS servers being added to the lncn.eu domain record to serve as a backup in the event of PointHQ becoming unavailable again later.

What is being done to stop this happening again?

  • The lncn.eu domain will retain at least one backup DNS server in its record, protecting essential services against a single failure.

Today I’ve been looking over some of our stats for service uptime, and realised it would be handy if we could let you (the staff and students using them) know when things were broken.

Now you can, as I’ve just added another three of our core services (Portal, Email and Library Catalogue) and one non-core but useful service (Blogs) to our Pingdom monitoring system. They now join Blackboard on a brand new public status page. Even better, because we like being open with things like this, you can see the history of our monitoring as far back as it goes. For the new ones this means you can look over history back to today, but for Blackboard this goes all the way back to February.

Pingdom’s monitoring is from a variety of locations around the world, meaning it reflects ‘real’ availability and not just what we can see from our own internal network.

See what’s up and what’s down, any time, at stats.lncn.eu.

It is with great and unreserved pleasure that I announce the grand opening of one of ICT’s latest projects, which has been occupying a surprisingly large amount of my time over the last two months and which has led to me wrapping my head around some quite interesting bits of JavaScript.

Zendesk is here. Or, as we prefer to call it, the Support Desk. It’s a one-stop shop for all your ICT and Estates queries and requests, managed by our crack group of support agents and backed by the combined centuries of knowledge and experience offered by the ICT and Estates teams.

It’s been an interesting journey thought the backwaters of the University’s policies and processes, a less than enjoyable romp through bits of law which I didn’t even know existed, and an exhilarating codathon whilst I wrapped my head around slinging JSON across the ether and inserting it into some HTML elements which don’t exist on a page I don’t control using nothing more than a well-crafted bit of JavaScript and a paperclip. All that is behind us now, so it’s time to tell you what’s new and awesome in the world of getting ICT and Estates support at Lincoln.

First of all, we’ve taken the best bits from both, ditched the worst bits and then streamlined the whole process. From the moment you call or email your request it’s placed directly into Zendesk from where we can monitor how it’s doing. Even better, why not submit your query online using our new request form, now with even fewer annoying questions which you don’t know the answer to than before. It’s a simple matter to sign in using your normal University details and skip the whole process of telling us your name, email address, room code, phone number, line manager, inside leg measurement and what you had for lunch yesterday.

As soon as your request is logged you’ll get a request tracking number within seconds, followed up by emails every time we update your request with something you need to know. You’ll never be out of the loop again, and you can even go online and check all your requests to see how we’re getting on. Leave comments, upload files, tell us that it’s solved and more all from right within your browser.

We could have left it there, but we weren’t done. It only took a few minutes of looking to realise that our how-to guides, instruction manuals, FAQs and more were scattered hopelessly around the Portal, Blackboard, paper help sheets, PDF files, student guides, posters and more. This wasn’t good enough, so we decided to bring them all together into Quick Answers. It’s the place to find solutions to your problems both common and esoteric, guides to walk you through getting things done, information on what’s going on and all kinds of other things. Just type your question or a few key words into the search box and see what we can tell you. Think something’s missing? Just drop me an email and we’ll get it added.

At the end of Phase 1 we’re really excited about the changes and we hope that they make everyones lives a lot easier, as well as helping you to get your problems solved faster than before. Support Desk: now open.

Yep, it’s happening again. This week we’ll be making some tweaks to LUNA, the network which is behind internet access in Student Village and Riseholme Park. Don’t throw things at us though, this is an upgrade to the internet in student accommodation which is all good. During the changes you won’t experience any interruption in network access.

How things work won’t change at all – the process for getting online will be exactly the same as it is at the moment. However, we’re putting some shiny new equipment in to replace the old stuff as well as updating all our software, meaning that the entire network will be more reliable (no more random dropouts at 2am when you’re catching up on TV), more robust (you won’t be able to break it by using something we’re not expecting) and generally a bit snappier.

We’ll also be revamping the look and feel again to bring it in line with our new web design. This will be even faster than before, as well as offering top-notch accessibility and browser compatibility. At the same time we’ll be taking a close look at how to make some bits of the process easier to work with, such as adding games consoles.

Finally, once we’re happy that things are stable, we’ll be turning on some new features such as optimised scans (which are even faster) and an at-your-convenience scan which you can perform when it’s best for you without losing internet access, unlike the current system of being unceremoniously booted from the network.

We’ll be removing the feedback box so many of you have used to complain at us (and in one case wish us several unpleasant diseases, for which we award a bonus star for creativity) since we think it’s served its purpose, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s successfully helped us to resolve a great many problems which we wouldn’t have been able to spot without you. Thanks!

As a few people have requested, our magical URL shortening service at http://lncn.eu now comes with a delicious API. It’s directly compatible with the is.gd API, and is so simple that even a monkey could use it (providing the monkey was familiar with the basics of HTTP GET and URL encoding).

Its usage is very simple. All you need to do is call http://lncn.eu/api with the GET parameter ‘longurl’ set to a URL encoded version of the URL you want shrinking. For example:

http://lncn.eu/api?longurl=http%3A%2F%2Fexample.com

The site will then return (in plaintext) the shortened URL, or if you’ve broken it a HTTP 500 error code.

http://lncn.eu/uv

It’s really that easy. More changes are in the pipeline, and as always I am taking requests.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Online Services Team (the nice bunch of people in ICT who look after – in broad terms – websites that do things) has acquired a shiny new server to muck around with and develop on. For the most part this involves Alex and myself slamming bits of the University together in weird and wonderful ways that nobody has thought of yet and seeing what sticks, what falls apart and what makes people complain. We’re calling the server (and the whole process) Labs.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Don’t we already have the Learning Labs?”. The answer is “yes” – we’re not reinventing the wheel here. What we’re doing is looking at new and better ways of building what we should be doing anyway, things like integrated search for the Library, improved room bookings, unified preference systems, improved customer support and sensible listings of the University’s websites (I think the most esoteric thing we’re working on is Touch, which uses RFID to enhance the Digital Signage project. Learning Labs, on the other hand, looks at pushing boundaries in new and interesting ways (as well as hopefully providing a platform for people to develop things which use the data we’re exposing).

Want to see something cool come from ICT? Let me know and we’ll see if it lines up with anything we want to try.

Last week I headed off to a conference in London called Dev8D, where I met a few hundred other developers from the HE sector (and others) and spent my time brainstorming ideas, messing about with RFID tags, mashing data together, attending workshops on the future of data representation, writing an iPhone app, learning to use the Force, drinking far too much complementary tea and coffee and fighting the mess that is the Underground on a weekend. In short, it was awesome fun. Out of it I’ve gleaned loads of useful bits and pieces which I can now use to push the bits of the University that I can get my hands on into the future with impunity, because somebody else has already done the research and I now know who.

Next up, Posters. We’re still waiting for our new development server on which the Online Services Team can develop, stage, test and show off our latest inventions. Once that’s up and running you’ll be able to have a go at breaking it and we’ll be open for feedback. Posters will also be the first production University site (albeit beta) to use our new CWD 2.0, and will also be providing data as RSS in the initial release, with JSON and XML further down the line. The ability for groups such as student societies to add posters, along with a streamlined online approval process, will be in place ready for once Posters leaves beta.

(more…)

I’ve got the LUNA feedback server working, after a bit of prodding and getting other helpful people to fine-tune file permissions. Hopefully I’ll be able to requisition it for a few more things LUNA related in the future, like videos walking people through remedial actions and so on. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also been mucking around with quick concepts for a set of posters, reflecting the ‘fresh’ ICT style you may have seen in the Gateway 2 mockups. Sadly the change.lincoln.ac.uk address doesn’t exist (And 1st February is an arbitrary date, nothing’s actually happening then) but I can dream. See what you think.

'Changing...' poster for LUNA Phase 2

Today, I attended some training. I also have a headache, need to do some washing, and need to pack for a weekend in London (off to see the Lion King!), but that’s another issue.

Other things that happened today are good:

  • I updated the jQuery framework which lies behind LUNA and PFMPC to the latest version, giving several speed increases which will be completely unnoticeable for most people but which make my benchmark tools very happy.
  • I updated some of the CWD CSS to fix a niggling bug in IE6 and improve appearance on browsers supporting the CSS3 specification. This brings CWD to version 1.3.7.
  • I updated the HTML in PFMPC from CWD 1.2 to 1.3, bringing more cross-browser goodness, better semantically valid navigation, improved printing and a liquid layout to make best use of bigger screens.
  • I hacked some regex into the game console registration pages in LUNA, which now forces people to enter a valid MAC address when they’re registering. Unfortunately they have to enter uppercase letters (a true MAC address can be either) to keep our network access software happy, but tomorrow may include fixing this so some clever JavaScript converts it to uppercase for them.
  • I’ve got a server to play around with where I can put a nice LUNA feedback page.
  • Kirsty has managed to do some more work on the ICT team blog, so I’m seeing if this post will cross over successfully.