A migration of a different kind

Three weeks into the fall term and many of York’s faculty and staff are now used to a change that has been made to the way they login to their computers. Gone is the standard “Novell” login prompt, which for some 20 years greeted most York computer users. It has been replaced by Microsoft Active Directory.

The change required a silent “migration” of hundreds of personal computers. While seemingly simple, the work to move users to Microsoft Active Directory from Novell required an enormous effort. In fact, some 50 people in the University Information Technology (UIT) Department have worked on the project, which took several yeChris Russel ars to complete. The entire process – which in computer-speak is referred to as a migration – involved a design phase, followed by extensive testing and then a staggered move of groups of computer users over to Microsoft Active Directory.

Why is this important? Chris Russel (right), director of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and York’s information security officer, says the migration brings with it many benefits for computer users because it improves computing at York and has added “green” benefits, associated with eliminating the multiple servers required to run the previous configuration.

“The entire project was specially designed so as not to add a whole lot of difference to the desktop [computer] user,” says Russel. “Behind the scenes is another story, as everything is different.”

Microsoft Active Directory is a File Access Service (FAS), which is now the way most of the University makes use of network-based file shares, printing and desktop login. It also provides improved authentication and access control, and better and faster file/print services (important for the average user). It is designed to allow local information technology groups to provide and manage their own resources while still maintaining the benefit of a single YORKU domain name.

The change has meant that more than 100 assorted servers on campus that were running obsolete technology and were managed by information technology groups from different Faculties and business units have been replaced with a single consolidated, centralized infrastructure. For the desktop user, that means better performance, increased services and the ability to retrieve “lost work” in the event of a disaster (by way ofi a power failure or other unexpected event).

The previous computing environment, says Russel, was the equivalent to a patchwork quilt with isolated servers, file sharing, access controls, “quick fixes” and accounts managed by many groups. “It was unnecessarily complicated,” he says. The project involved unraveling the threads of all of the University’s computing and processes, assessing each one and then taking all the  A patchwork of servers, spare parts, patches and fixes dominated the previous environmentinformation and designing a solution that would work well given the different needs and priorities.

Right: A patchwork of servers, spare parts, patches and fixes dominated the previous environment

Now everything is “virtual” and takes advantage of the latest version of Microsoft Active Directory. This brings York’s computing environment out of the patchwork age and into the de facto industry standard. A computer user’s desktop is now a web-based, virtual desktop with application streaming. This in turn improves asset management, and lowers costs through automation and remote management.

“It is also easier for everyone because it moves us closer to a single login environment that is in line with Passport York,” says Russel.

Keeping York’s computing environment secure is another benefit of the change, says Russel. Large complex systems are subjected to a daily barrage of never-ending attacks, abuse and threats and the move to FAS brings the advantages of centralized logging and monitoring, access management and reporting, computing policy enforcement and a host of other benefits of identity management.

And that green benefit? “We are now running one server rather than a group of servers,” says Russel. “The cost of power alone to cool the servers was huge and was our primary electrical draw. The A retirement cake celebrates the end of an era change has produced a savings of 18,600 kilowatt hours per month, which translates to about $1,000 per month in savings at current energy rates.”

Left: A retirement cake celebrates the end of an era 

There will be some things that will require getting used to, says Russel. Users will notice that working remotely is different and there are some subtle differences behind the scenes that mean that things may not work exactly as before.

For the most part, Russel says he is very satisfied with how the change has been rolled out.

“We had a bit of a party with a cake and gathered in the machine room to turn off the last server,” he says. “It is really the end of an era.”

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor