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University Residential Network "Success" Stories

By fink in Internet
Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 01:12:35 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

This article discusses how the University of Melbourne's Whitley College has "handed over" control to volunteer residents, who maintain a large proportion of the local residential network.

This seems to be, at least in part, due to open minded college management and active participation from volunteer students. How does one go about getting this level of willing participation from all parties?

I am semi-responsible for the residential network spanning six colleges at Griffith University in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I, myself, am a student, but am also "lucky" enough to be paid a token amount to look after some of the basic problems and issues plaguing our network. I am the only one paid, and if Accomodation Services at my university were willing to pay for the basic necessities of a network -- such as server hardware and the like.... Hell, much of what I do doesn't fall under the category in which I get paid, so I am volunteering already...

A bit of background. There are 1200 student rooms at six colleges on two campuses. Of those, approximately 800 students have signed up for access. These six colleges are on six separate subnets. IPv4 is the only protocol supported by the routers separating the residences. The residences internally are wired using 10Mb broadcast hubs. This, and the other related issues (Windows being one of them), mean we need a WINS server in order to do cross-subnet browsing, in addition to the usual WWW/FTP/mail etc. For a while, LMHOSTS was used, but that became very cumbersome very quickly.

The problems plaguing our residences are as follows:

  • No server hardware to provide www/ftp/mail or other services. Currently, the web server (and DNS, and IRC, and DMB/WINS) is an i486 that used to serve as my workstation - nearly 10 years ago.
  • Poor (in-house written and maintained) software for controlling access to the internet at large. (I should mention also that we are limited to 90 hours per semester--6 months; this is non-renewable and non-extendable, and we may not pay for more). This software links to a NetWare box running some kind of LDAP-NDS link. It has a failure rate approaching 70%.
  • No form of support from management; they were willing to pay me to support the network, but only for one (relatively easy) task and only for the support of first-year students. The basic policy has been one of "students will volunteer if they want the services", and, as mentioned, this includes hardware donations.
  • A management policy that, in effect, blames everyone else for any problems. Accomodation are of the opinion that the network is IT-Services problem. IT-Services refuse to do anything support-related as they aren't getting paid for it, and besides, it's "not their problem". Students just want a damn working network.
Accomodation are going to need some serious pushing on this issue in order to budge, but at the moment there are 800+ residents who are getting a raw deal from the people they pay up to A$180/week to. Because I'm seen as the guy on the front line, and because most of the students assume that I'm paid big bucks for my job, I cop it whenever things go blam. Basically, I'm getting very sick of it very fast, and would like to see our university try something like this. The "good" news is, that IT-Services are happy to help, as long as it doesn't involve them shelling out money. This means that the only people who have to actively help, other than students, is accomodation management.

In order for this to work, residents and accomodation management need to take an active role. Evidently, Whitely managed to do it. Do any of you have ideas on how to accomplish this dual goal, of obtaining student volunteers and of obtaining some level of support from residential management?


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University Residential Network "Success" Stories | 7 comments (3 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Show them a cost/benefit analysis... (4.33 / 3) (#3)
by supine on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 06:45:49 AM EST

They are managers.

You need to talk their language.

You need to show them how they can benefit from providing certain services.

Then, seperately, you need to show how the students can do so with greater cost efficiency then any other way of implementing those services.

my 2 cents

"No GUI for you! Use lynx!!!, Come back, One year!" -- /avant
Magnitude of the project (5.00 / 2) (#6)
by RavenDuck on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 07:50:31 PM EST

One thing that you have to remember when comparing projects to that done at Whitley College, is that it's a fairly small college. With only 130 students, keeping everything working and everyone happy is a very different excercise to managing the IT resources for 800+ students. This doesn't mean it would be impossible, just a magnitude more difficult.

On the plus side, it means that there is a pretty good chance that there are a few IT-savy students who would be willing and able to assist.

I would imagine that the best way to start would be to form an IT comittee from the residential students who are interested in helping out. Work out what amount in in-house expertise you have and whether it's sufficient to tackle to problem. At least that way you can show management that the resources exist.

The problem you might run into is that, if they are already not spening any money on it, financially it's niether better or worse than it was before. I guess you've got to some how demonstrate that student participation and enthusiasm will make the system more efficient, but not cost any more.

Certainly I think the first step is to gauge the level of student interest and skills, because without that, you're not going to go anywhere.

FWIW, I'm a resident tutor at another small Melbourne University college, and am trying to instigate something similar here.

For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ.
We don't limit it to just the network (5.00 / 2) (#7)
by Pseudonym on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:40:01 PM EST

I'm the sysadmin at a larger University of Melbourne college (230 people), and we've been doing it for five years. We call it the Sugden Principle, and it's been happening in other parts of college life for over a century. The student body here regulates itself, and when we put in our network, we simply extended that principle the obvious way.

I'm nominally in charge (and I get paid well below market rates for it, but I consider it a small price to pay for having 10Mb to your house and living in a building with gargoyles), but in practice the students basicaly run the show. They have root access and keys to all the network cabinets, they determine most of the policy and hand out punishments if people break the rules. The only exceptions are for stuff like the network connections of staff members, such as tutors (the Sudgen Principle does not extend to student running of staff affairs), and the college web site (which, since it's an externally-visible publication of the college must be authorised by the administration).

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University Residential Network "Success" Stories | 7 comments (3 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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