An inside look at UST's Central Systems

An inside look at UST’s Central Systems

From Information Resources and Technologies

Have you ever wondered where your e-mail comes from? Or how those ever-present Blackboard courses automatically pop into your MyUST Courses tab?

Day in and day out, Information Resources and Technologies (IRT) maintains a fleet of 250 servers that connect to 40Tb of storage to provide you with the technology you use every day. To give some context, a new Dell or Apple computer comes with, on average, a 100Gb hard drive. It would take 10 personal computers to equal 1 Terabyte of storage. The enterprise storage IRT employs is about two to three times faster then commodity "personal computer" storage.

Two hundred and fifty servers also require a pretty massive backup infrastructure. We maintain multiple types of backups, but the long-term option is to backup to a magnetic tape drive. This tape storage is updated on a rotating cycle, where we keep some on-site and also at an off-site location in case of catastrophic failure in our data center, fire or other unforeseen catastrophes.

IRT strives to maintain an up-time of 99.999 percent, otherwise known as "the five nines," for mission-critical systems. This means in a 24-hour day, all our critical systems are online and available an average of 23.99 hours in the day. The term "uptime" is used to describe the percentage of time the server fleet has been online and available. Yes, we keep them up and running for night owls and for early morning larks!

We have servers that perform a myriad of functions, some that you may know about, others that support administrative functions you may never have heard of. Listed here are a few of these functions:

  • The exchange servers host all the student, staff and faculty e-mail. Our e-mail systems are responsible for processing over 1,000,000 e-mails every day!
  • Take that number listed above and guess what percent of these e-mails are not SPAM. … you'd be amazed at the ever rising number of SPAM UST users receive every day. Our systems identifies between 70 to 80 percent of all e-mail we process as SPAM. IRT has implemented systems to not only minimize the number of SPAM you receive through our MailMarshal servers, but we also maintain systems that check every incoming and outgoing e-mail for viruses.
  • On the topic of viruses, you may have noticed the little blue shield icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen – that is the Sophos anti-virus application that communicates with a server dedicated to keeping up-to-date on the newest virus threats. Once this server has learned of a new threat, it will send a file to the application running on your computer, this file helps the program identify and quarantine a virus if one were to infect your PC.
  • Our Blackboard servers make your online learning possible. These systems are integrated with many other Web servers, but Blackboard is our primary learning management system.
  • Where would we be without the Web pages? UST hosts our campus Web site on a set of 25 servers, we also have a series of Content Management System (CMS) servers in place called "Serena Collage" that are used to edit the pages that are displayed on each departmental Web site.
  • You may have attended a meeting in a virtual room maintained on the Breeze servers, these servers provide a virtual shared workspace and the ability to save your voice and video interactions with a room full of people located all around the world.
  • Our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Banner, is housed on a series of servers, which provide redundancy, scalability and test environments. This system runs the majority of our administrative functions such as class registration, financial aid, human resources information and the most widely used part of Banner – the Murphy Online Web site.
  • UST users can access their network files on any number of our file servers both on-campus and off-campus via the "WebDAV protocol" most commonly known are the MyStorage, Deptstore and Courseweb servers.
  • Clearly, there is a lot going on behind the scenes in IRT! We work diligently to ensure that you have the help you need to succeed in providing a world-class learning experience for our students!

    If you have questions about any of the systems IRT maintains, call the Tech Desk, (651) 962-6230, or e-mail us.