HICS update

With half term approaching, I thought an update on HICS may be a good idea:

Bandwidth upgrade for primary schools

Most primary schools on the HICS network currently receive their internet through a 8mbps copper connection. The HICS’ broadband provider, Updata, carried out some analysis and believe they can deliver faster connections to many primary schools as a result of BT’s rollout of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). Connections through FTTC will offer greater bandwidth access for these schools at no additional cost, as the cost of moving to this type of delivery will be borne by Updata.

Schools continue to be migrated over to FTTC and we now have 60 primary schools enjoying download speeds of up to 80mbps. For a primary school to upgrade to FTTC, their local BT exchange will require a specific type of router. When the local BT exchange has this deployed, schools will then typically require two visits to switch them over to the new connection. The first appointment will be BT coming out to configure one of the existing copper pairs (lines) to make it ready for the new service. Then shortly after this visit, Updata will despatch one of their engineers to complete the migration by installing the required router. Only the second visit will incur downtime and Updata will work closely with the schools to make sure this is as convenient as possible.

Please note that the availability and speed is entirely dependent on BT Infinity’s local presence. We would love to be able to roll this out to all schools but Updata’s analysis on FTTC availability has indicated that, for the time being at least, BT’s FTTC is not available for 66 primary schools. HfL are committed to delivering the best possible service to all schools and we are exploring alternative methods of improving school’s internet speeds. HfL senior management have agreed to fund BT site surveys for all the 66 primary schools at approximately £400 per school to determine the cost of upgrading them to fibre circuits (in line with all secondary and ‘difficult to connect’ schools). These site surveys are ongoing but most have been completed. When we upload our procurement documentation, we will provide accurate upgrade costs to all tenderers. We will have to see what comes out of the procurement process and we can then advise schools on what options they have.

Price reduction

When the HICS network was developed 5+ years ago it was agreed that the setup costs were to be spread out over the first five years. This was to prevent schools from paying a lump sum in the first year. The setup costs were paid off at the end of the last financial year (31st March 2016)  and from 1st April, schools are seeing a 25% saving to their HICS charge.

Procurement update

The existing contract with Updata runs out in September 2017. Shortly, HfL will be commencing the procurement process and we will be going out to the market to see what provider we will work with going forward – this could be Updata or another company altogether. We hope to be able to communicate with schools what the provision and cost will be this autumn and we naturally hope that as many schools as possible continue to partner HfL going forward.

If anyone has any queries on any of the above, please get in touch on this email address: sitss.internet@lea.herts.sch.uk

Thanks,
Kevin Crawley

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High response times through LD4 this morning

This morning there was an increase in response times for schools connected to the LD4 data centre. Located in LD4 and LD5 is a server is constantly connecting to 20 popular websites (BBC, Google etc) and the response times are monitored. Updata are contracted to make sure these stay below 1 second (1k). As you can clearly see from the below, the user experience graph reports that the it was taking over 2 seconds for approximately 30 minutes this morning. This is currently under investigation but please do contact me if you have any queries. Thanks, Kevin Crawley

UEG

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LD4 slow internet

Schools connected to the LD4 data centre may be experiencing a slow internet performance. Updata are investigating. Thanks

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Network Downtime

As part of the roll out for primary schools to increase their bandwidths using fibre to the cabinet circuits, additional hardware needs to be deployed into some of the local BT exchanges. This does mean there is a possibility of downtime but this work will be carried out in the evenings between 8pm and 10pm. Whilst this disruption is outside of normal school hours we are aware that sometimes staff do stay onsite to work into the evening and you may have other staff and students who access school-based systems from home and elsewhere. This remote access to school systems will also be affected by this planned maintenance.

We are told that any downtime will typically last 20 minutes but we will of course keep an eye on this to make sure this is an accurate assessment. I appreciate no one wants downtime but as many of you will be aware, lots of  primary schools have outgrown their 8mbps connection and I am hoping you will be as understanding as possible. Please note that the downtime has been carefully arranged and we have liaised carefully with HCC Corporate as they also have sites on the network that may also lose connectivity (such as blue light services and hospitals). We hope that this essential work will not be too disruptive for you and as ever your ongoing support is appreciated. If you have any queries relating to this, please get in touch in the usual way. Thanks

Work schedule:

Potters Bar Thursday 28/04/2016
Stevenage Tuesday 03/05/2016
Ware Thursday 05/05/2016
Berkhamsted Tuesday 10/05/2016
Hitchin Thursday 12/05/2016
Bushey Heath Tuesday 17/05/2015
Rickmansworth Thursday 19/05/2016
Elstree Tuesday 24/05/2016
Hatfield Thursday 26/05/2016
Lea Valley Tuesday 31/05/2015
Letchworth Thursday 02/06/2016
Royston Tuesday 07/06/2016
Waltham Cross Thursday 09/06/2016
Welwyn Garden Thursday 09/06/2016
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The Transparent Proxy

As per my previous communication, the transparent proxy for LD4 and LD5 went down on Friday for approximately one hour.

This also happened last month and everything is pointing towards it being the same issue. The root cause of last month’s incident was the transparent proxy located in LD4 running out of memory. The service then (correctly) diverted the traffic, as designed, to the LD5 Transparent Proxy, but the load at the time was too great for the service to handle and within minutes this server also ran out of memory. This caused a complete outage of the transparent proxy service for both the education and corporate Wi-Fi users (HCC corporate route their traffic through this service). To fix this, on both occasions an Updata field engineer was despatched to LD4/LD5 and a ‘hard reboot’ was required to both Transparent Proxies.

Updata have identified this as a memory issue and have advised us that the CPU on the proxy servers that deal with the transparent proxy traffic, need upgrading from 32bit to 64bit. There was an upgrade on the horizon for the proxy platform pencilled in for the summer but this obviously now needs to happen ASAP. The matter has been escalated to senior management at Updata and HCC. HfL senior management have also been made aware. I expect to hear more from Updata by the end of the week as to how they intend to deal with this.

Thanks,

Kevin Crawley
Schools Connectivity (HICS) Service Coordinator

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