RESTRUCTURING COMPUTING ACROSS PENN
Services for Providers Convention - 1 October 1997
Standards, Compatibility, and Emerging Technology
Value: Evaluation - Certification
Providers would like ISC to take the lead on providing a general set of planning documents (configuration rules of thumb, pre-purchase check-list, disaster recovery planning) as well as product recommendations (drives, backup hardware and software, utilities). These recommendations should, whenever possible, provide a range of options from low to high end. A more formal certification process for critical hardware and software would be good, but it better work. Recommendations, particularly for key components like servers, will help providers make the case for appropriate systems within their local budget process. Providers of support expressed a willingness to contribute to the development of these documents through PCNet/MacNet and campus teams. ISC should maintain an awareness of what is happening in schools and units in terms of current technology and strategic planning, and needs to factor this in as it sets standards for campus. Standard setting can not be as rigid as it has been, and should be responsive to the "wave effect" of new technologies. If ISC can provide rules of thumb for network administration as well as recommendations for supported products many of the providers expressed a willingness to comply, recognizing that this makes it easier for ISC to support them under the new model.
Consulting and Planning Services
Value: Paid and Full Service
In cases where many providers of support on campus need to deal with the same issue (e.g., disaster recovery planning, generic first install) they would like ISC to address it, providing general guidelines or recommended procedures which can be applied as appropriate within local environments. Local providers would like to be able to call on someone in ISC who knows more than they do regarding core issues, and would like ISC to leverage Penn's position with vendors to get them to address key issues within Penn's environment. In addition to generic planning documents, providers of support expressed an interest in consulting and planning services that would address their specific needs. Potential services discussed included help with system requirements or selection, system installation and configuration, platform migration, and system analysis. Two providers cited examples in which outside consultants were paid to provide these services for units at Penn. These providers expressed a willingness to pay for specific consulting services, and indicated that there was value in being able to call on someone who knows Penn's environment and technology standards.
Problem Solving (Escalation)
Value: Queue-FIFO - Emergency
Providers of support would like easy access to experts who can answer their tough questions. They are looking for ISC to provide this type of expertise, perhaps in the form of individuals with the appropriate certification(s). There needs to be enough of this expert resource to meet demand, with two staff the minimum that would allow coverage for this service within ISC. If Penn is unable to provide this service internally it could set up a service agreement with an outside vendor provided they know Penn's environment.
Providers of support would like their access to this expertise to be as direct as possible. They want to be recognized as providers of support, and to have their questions and problems handled accordingly. A standard troubleshooting checklist would enable providers of support to isolate and better document problems prior to calling ISC. In order to provide effective support experts in ISC will need some familiarity with the local LAN environments. ISC could develop a standard form to collect this information, and providers of support would be expected to maintain this information for each of their LANs. Access to a knowledgebase of common problems and solutions would be valuable, and providers expressed a willingness to help build this knowledgebase through their own experiences. Allowing providers of support to log their problems directly into a queue (using Apriori, for example) was seen as an attractive alternative to, but not a substitute for, phone access. Regardless of intake mechanism there was a desire to have a relatively short turnaround time and a way for providers to know where they stand in the queue. For larger issues affecting providers of support on campus (NT problem with DNS) ISC should play an advocacy role to get the vendor to address questions or problems.
ISC should continue to coordinate and facilitate collaboration and sharing of information among providers of support. The PCNet and MacNet teams should continue and there should be an effort to use these groups to produce results (knowledgebase, web site). Providers would like topics to be scheduled far enough in advance that they can plan to attend those meetings that are of interest. They would also like the minutes to be available on the web so that they can keep up with activities when they are not able to attend. Putting documentation for providers of support on the web is important, especially for Penn specific information. There is considerable interest in pursuing the idea of a knowledgebase built as a collaborative effort among providers of support.
Operations and Maintenance
Value: Dispatch and Contract Coverage
Most of the providers of support expressed interest in contracting with ISC to provide operational coverage at times when the primary LAN administrator was not available. There was a willingness to pay for this type of coverage, and recognition that SLAs for this type of service should include the pre-work (documentation and orientation) needed for ISC staff to understand the local environment. The providers of support did not express interest in full-service facilities management ("ISC runs your LAN server").
Value: External Referral, Coordination, In-House Delivery
Providers of support are interested in a variety of training services that are targeted to their specific needs. The generic classes offered by outside vendors (those needed for certification, for example) are a part of the equation, but should be supplemented by offerings which address Penn's environment. One option would be to pair generic classes from an outside vendor with a component that addressed Penn-specific issues related to the same topic. ISC should continue to leverage the aggregate need for training with outside vendors by coordinating course offerings, working with vendors to tailor classes to Penn's environment, and bringing classes on campus whenever possible.
Providers of support would like the training model and schedule to accommodate their day to day responsibilities. They have a hard time getting away for extended periods, and are interested in classes that can be worked into their regular schedules. Individual classes that address specific issues on the continuing education model ("recovery from a system disk failure under NT") are of interest. The FinMis training model and the traditional semester model for longer courses (two hours twice a week for 12 weeks) were also mentioned as possibilities. There was interest in having training piggyback on PCNet, and recognition that providers of support could offer training to one another on some topics. The campus experts within ISC were identified as an obvious resource for providing some of the Penn-specific training for providers. Periodic (quarterly?) LAN OS "boot camps" were suggested as a means of providing a baseline level of knowledge, with successful completion of boot camp an acceptable requirement for certification of providers of support.
Value: Tech Notes
Technical documentation for providers of support should be available on the web. Instructions on how to do basic configuration of a server at Penn and recommended procedures for recovery from a system disk failure under NT are two examples of the type of documentation this site could provide. Standard forms and instructions that help providers document their LANs would also be helpful. Copies of critical LAN OS patches should be placed on ftp.upenn.edu. This type of technical documentation helps providers of support prevent and solve problems on their own.
Value: Full range as appropriate for product
Providers would like ISC to coordinate shared purchases and leverage total purchase volume to achieve the best possible pricing for products. Where there are specific business-practice or technical support issues with vendors (Microsoft, for example) ISC should play an advocacy role on behalf of providers of support on campus.
ISC might also manage a shared parts library of critical server components.
Value: Designated Provider, Certified Provider
Providers of support felt it would be impossible to institute a specific competency requirement at the front end given HR issues. They did feel it was reasonable to expect providers to complete some type of basic training (boot camp) as a prerequisite to getting access to services. This would not guarantee competence but would indicate some level of commitment on the part of the provider.
ISC Management Role
Value: Facilitation - Owner
Non ISC Management Role
Value: Information Source
ISC Service Role
ISC is expected to take the lead in seeing that these services are delivered on campus. Providers of support expressed a willingness to contribute their expertise and effort in a number of areas, but want ISC to coordinate this collaborative work. They would like ISC to address common campus-wide needs, providing the resources needed to figure things out centrally on behalf of the providers of support on campus. They need people in ISC with the expertise to answer tough questions, and there need to be enough of these people to meet demand and to provide reliable backup and coverage for all ISC services.
When asked if they would prefer extensive services in support of a few technologies or more limited services for a broader range of technologies, providers of support indicated that they did not expect the same range or depth of service for all technologies. ISC might, for example, only support basic file and print services on some platforms while supporting a broader range of file, print, and application services on others.
Support Provider Service Role
Providers of support expressed a willingness to contribute their expertise and effort in a number of areas, but want ISC to coordinate this collaborative work. Sharing expertise and information through PCNet and MacNet and developing a shared knowledgebase and web site were of particular interest.
Vendor Service Role
Penn should leverage its position with vendors to get them to provide preferred pricing, provider friendly business practices, technical support, training seminars, demo and beta software, and assistance addressing specific issues within Penn's environment.
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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