Posts tagged ostblog

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.

In the past few weeks I’ve been dabbling (in between my ‘real’ projects of Jerome and Linking You) with the concept of ‘dashboard’ displays and information radiators. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept they are fundamentally a place which presents information in an easy to digest format. Some are pinboards, some are whiteboards, some are clothes lines with bits of paper pegged to them and some are displays or projectors.

What I’ve opted for is the display method, in no small way inspired by the guys at Panic. However, since between ICT we have what is generally referred to as a metric shedload of information that we want to get hold of I decided that instead of crafting a display for each individual group’s specific needs I would instead come up with a sexy looking framework for rapidly building dashboards. These are designed to live on large screens dotted around the office, visible all day to anybody who happens to look at them.

There’s already an example in use at the Service Desk, where a trusty old iMac is proudly displaying various stats from Zendesk (our ticket manager) to the support team. Initial feedback is that people really like being able to get an overview of what’s going on in one place, as well as any urgent jobs and their feedback averages.

Down in the depths of OST, on the other hand, we’re not massively bothered about our ticket stats in such an immediate manner. Instead we’re far more interested in things like our server availability, response time and load. This means that the modules on our dashboard currently pull data from our Nagios monitoring tool, informing us with the red alert klaxon from Star Trek if things go horribly wrong (causing much turning of heads towards the board to see what’s happened, and everyone else in ICT looking at us in confusion).

Hopefully as time goes on more people will find data which can be represented using these boards, meaning that they will start popping up in more places and exposing data which lets us make faster, smarter decisions about what we’re doing. I’ve already started working on a dashboard for getting the data from the agile development tracker that Alex and I use into a really easily digested format, and I’ll be talking to the Projects team to find out exactly what they want to see with regards to more overarching project management.

Easier? I think so.

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.

One thing we frequently wrestle with in Online Services is browser compatibility, and making sure that our latest and most awesome web apps (just wait until you see Total ReCal) behave properly. Predictably, as web developers, we face a daily battle to make things work in Internet Explorer when it decides that “14 pixels” actually means “8 pixels, in blue, flashing and dancing the bolero”.

In the past we’ve been told to make things work in Internet Explorer to the extent that compatibility with other browsers has been an optional extra. I still find corporate websites which break in Firefox (with it’s Gecko renderer) and the WebKit-toting Safari and Chrome, but with the recent addition of awesome analytics tools to most of our key web services we can now prove that ‘alternative’ browsers are actually the mainstream. In fact, Internet Explorer only makes up 56% of visitors to University sites and once we remove the bias of corporate desktop machines it drops to 43%. Internet Explorer is no longer the sole target of our HTML and CSS massaging affections.

However, we’re still tasked with supporting Internet Explorer 6 and 7 because apparently these old versions (IE6 is actually a decade since release) are still absolutely perfect in the eyes of certain bits of Her Majesty’s Government, and certain suppliers of software the University uses. This is a complete falsehood, and using IE6 to browse the modern internet is roughly equivalent to navigating down the Colorado River in a shoe. It’s slow, lacks support for modern standards, is monumentally insecure and costs absolutely nothing to update to a newer version.

What we’re doing now is taking a step forwards along with a few other small names such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others in saying that IE6 support is no longer an option, and any new services we create or services which we update will no longer have support for IE6. They may work, but it’s not through design. If you’re still using IE6, for the love of all things upgrade. If you can’t upgrade because you’re using a corporate system, write a daily email to your IT team demanding they either update or install an alternative browser.