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Center monitors campus computers


In a small room in the basement of Phillips Hall sits the new nerve center of the University's computer infrastructure, one that was designed to keep all systems up and running day and night.

The Information Technology Control Center opened in January, the result of significant reorganizing and revamping of the University's computer operations and response services.

The enhanced control center is staffed round-the-clock with technicians who can check various systems around campus and quickly identify trouble spots before they create full-blown crises.

"Having a centralized station helps technicians be more proactive in providing for and maintaining mission-critical services," said John Oberlin, executive director of Academic Technology and Networks.

Nearly a dozen people work three shifts, seven days a week, to monitor the 85-plus systems and more than 2,000 network devices on campus.

According to Oberlin, everything from payroll to e-mail to professors' research is bound up inextricably in this net of technology. He said the control center is on constant watch for things such as:

* Excessively high or low use on any of the links across campus;

* Unusual activity at any one switch;

* How much e-mail is in the queue and delivery time;

* How many phone calls come in and the average hold time;

* Changes in temperature and other environmental factors;

* Physical and system security;

* Maintenance needs; and

* Disk and CPU utilization, load, number of jobs, and other parameters to indicate how the systems are performing.

Looking much like a space center with a central large-screen monitor flanked by smaller monitors stacked three high, the control center runs on a power supply that can't be interrupted and performs redundant monitoring systems so if one goes out, it always has a backup.

"It's the most fail-safe environment on campus," Oberlin said. "[Operators] have a connection environment which ensures them direct access to all the systems day and night."

With the University being extremely dependent on technology for its day-to-day function, managing the control center is a big responsibility that falls on the shoulders of R.C. Teal.

"This time of year, keeping up with the storms makes the job more difficult," Teal said.

Another challenge he pointed out is the continuous evolution of tools to monitor equipment as technology changes. One side of the room contains many different operating systems and is devoted to troubleshooting.

The Control Center also is continually logged into the 2-HELP number and picks up all calls outside of normal business hours. More information is available at http://help.unc.edu/operations/



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