Zanesville campus upgrades network, joins central Active Directory
Move saves money, frees IT staff for better faculty/student support
January 23, 2009
By Sean O'Malley
The Zanesville campus recently expanded network storage for its faculty and staff, implemented cross-campus resource sharing, improved its ability to maintain lab computers, and deployed a brand new wired network, all while reducing administrative overhead.
These gains were made possible by a collaboration between Zanesville IT staff and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to install a Cisco-based wired network and migrate Zanesville campus personal computers and servers into a new, centralized Active Directory structure.
"The Zanesville Campus had a very positive experience collaborating with OIT on these two major integration projects," says Zanesville IT director Larry Tumblin. "By centralizing utility functions, it gives us more freedom to meet the specialized needs of our campus."
Zanesville worked with OIT to install a complete, "core-to-closet" wired network. Using Cisco technology, the new infrastructure takes advantage of the university's central network management and security tools. "I get e-mails now when there is a change in the status of any switch," says Tumblin. "Power disruptions and even a change in environmental conditions are reported to me automatically."
Security was a major factor in going with a centrally managed network as well, according to Tumblin. "OIT can provide a higher level of security in personnel and tools than I could provide locally."
Active Directory belongs to a class of IT infrastructure known as middleware. As the name implies, middleware sits 'in the middle' and helps coordinate communications between workstations, small servers, and large, centralized systems. By maintaining a directory of authorized users, their various roles at the university, and the rights associated with each of those roles, Active Directory makes managing logins, shared storage, and even remote desktop computer configuration much simpler.
Oracle Calendar, Blackboard 7.3, and many departmental "domains" all depend on Active Directory to manage their logins, while lab and kiosk computers in Baker Center use it to control not only logins but also the software available on those computers.
Historically, the university did not offer a centralized Active Directory solution. As a result, individual campuses, schools and departments developed their own, taking advantage of the university's Microsoft licensing agreement to bring Active Directory servers online for their user communities. These stand-alone solutions provided local control but did not facilitate university-wide services like shared storage. They also were not very efficient with resources, since each department, school or campus needed to maintain its own Active Directory servers and structure.
Designing for Everyone
When OIT began developing plans to create a single, centralized Active Directory for the entire university, it was clear that such a system couldn't be "imposed from above," says project manager Allen Gattis. Instead, it needed to be designed from the ground up to meet the needs of both central and distributed IT.
To that end, OIT asked campuses, departments and schools who were running their own Active Directories to be a part of the design team. According to Zanesville's Tumblin, that collective design process worked. "This has been an ideal collaboration," says Tumblin. "OIT didn't come in and tell people what to do. We worked together to find a balance between what we support and what they support."
Because Zanesville's conversion required a personal visit to every computer being joined to the new directory, OIT sent a transition team to help. Their job was twofold: train Tumblin's IT staff in migration and system administration processes, and hit the ground side by side with those staff to help migrate 120 facutly, staff and lab computers to the new domain.
The process was a learning experience for both groups. "Larry's folks came up with some great refinements to our migration scripts that really sped the process up," says Gattis. Tumblin was impressed with OIT's willingness to help. "They put themselves at our disposal and went all out to make this a success," says Tumblin.
The Zanesville campus reaped multiple benefits from its conversion to a central Active Directory. Faculty and staff now have access to shared network storage with much larger quotas than their old, local system could provide, and that storage is available from any university computer, not just those on the Zanesville campus. Managing access to services now is easier as well. "We have a much better understanding of the Ohio domain and can manage our users and shares utilizing the Oak ID," says Tumblin. "This creates a very logical structure for us to manage our network access."
On the administrative side, Zanesville was able to replace its aging, locally maintained AD servers with two new, centrally maintained, redundant systems. Tumblin sees this sort of shift from local to centrally provided utilities as a step forward. "With OIT providing industry standard solutions and taking care of maintenance and security, our staff can devote more energy to supporting the specific needs of our faculty, staff and students."