Although the process has been ongoing for a while, the upgrade of Odessa College’s mainframe and data management system will be complete March 19 when students return from spring break.
OC is closed from March 12 through March 16.
While the upgrade is underway, services such as registration, payments for tuition and Sports Center memberships and course lookup will not be available. Director of Information Services Tom Glenn said the language the system was built on is old and outdated and not really used outside of a small bubble.
“The project that we’ve been working on is migrating that entire system, which is pretty big. We’re talking 3.5 billion data records and taking all of that and moving that over to a new database system based on … SQL, which a lot of people have heard of because that’s kind of the standard,” Glenn said. “We’re in the process of moving that over.”
Glenn said the project has been ongoing for four years.
“The reason it’s been going on so long is it’s not just that 3.5 billion data items that I was talking about that have to be moved, but also over the last 30 years our department’s written between 2,000 and 3,000 custom programs to pull reporting, or data or things that we want to do. That’s going to improve things for students. … All of those programs in one way or another have either had to be rewritten, or some of the code in them has had to be modified so it will work with the SQL language.”
Vice President of Information Technology Shawn Shreves said the project has been four and a half years in the making. The only differences users will see are cosmetic.
“The big changes are in the underlying structure,” Shreves said. He added that the process has allowed the college to “clean house” program wise.
He compared it to putting a new motor in a car.
SQL, or Structured Query Language, is more of a universal database language, he said. He added that Glenn already knew it, so that was helpful.
Shreves said the cost of the migration was around $50,000 and the college had to buy new servers and a couple of pieces of hardware to run the software, which also cost approximately $50,000.
The existing server probably had about another year of life left in it, Shreves said. He added the big servers OC runs are good for about five or six years, but if they are retired, they can be repurposed or used by computer science students.
Shreves said the college keeps its critical systems up to date to make sure they are reliable.
“This is probably the largest upgrade that we’ve gone through in the last 20 years. That’s why it’s taken so long we’ve had some staffing changes,” Shreves said.
Glenn previously worked in IT at Midland Independent School District and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He has a degree in history from UTPB, but got a job in information technology as a student worker and the vocation stuck.
He arrived at Odessa College in 2016 as a systems analyst and became director of information services in November 2017.
“There’s been so much about IT here that I’ve really valued since I’ve been here,” Glenn said. “What I’ve noticed is most IT departments tend to be very reactive, kind of that traditional IT role that people expect. It’s a service support-oriented type, so that when something breaks we’ll fix it. Otherwise, you don’t really hear from IT in traditional locations, whereas OC’s very different in that IT takes more of a progressive approach where we’re actually out there with departments seeing what they do so that we can give recommendations (and suggestions).”
Getting out from behind his computer makes his job easier because it helps him remember why he’s at OC, which is to take care of students and work with departments.
When IT fixes or upgrades something, Glenn said they want to be there to take care of it no matter what time it is. They also try to repair things when there are the least amount of people on the system.
Usually IT personnel are around during breaks “We always have someone on call 24/7 and (during) breaks,” Glenn said.
This spring break, IT will be on the job.
“We have a very big all-hands kind of attitude, even across departments. If something’s going on in the network services group and they need extra hands and they call me, I will come up and work on that area, too, even though it’s not my normal area. We’re all on the same team, so (there’s) a big focus on doing everything we can to keep our services up as much as possible,” Glenn said.
“With the college upgrade in particular, the system is actually going to be down for spring break so it’s finding a time where we can possibly have it down again where it’s going to have the least impact,” Glenn said. “It’s such a work-intensive environment when we’re doing that sort of thing so we want to do it when we’re not getting all the normal calls we get on a daily basis just from being open” and work undistracted on the project.
The IT department also tries to communicate enough with users to let them know what’s going on with the system, but not overcommunicate.
There also is a team atmosphere because of the programs and initiatives started by the administration. This allows communication across departments, so Glenn can call the registrar or director of student life and discuss ideas.
“One of the things I try to communicate to all our other department directors anywhere on campus is that anything that involves serving our students I’m all in. … I want them to know we’re not the IT department that only comes and fixes something when it breaks a week after it broke. We’re here to make to make sure that you can take care of students, and if that means you need us to fix your computer then we’re going to do that as quick as we can,” Glenn said.
It also means that if they have an innovative idea about how to display or present something, Glenn said he’ll help with that, as well.
- Average daily network traffic: 120 MB/s.
- Average daily peak traffic: 200 MB/s.
- This traffic varies by time of day, with a little before lunchtime and early to mid-evening most often seen as the peak, Director of Information Services Tom Glenn said in an email. There is also a surge in network usage certain times of the year such as around finals.
- OC can have upwards of 1,500 computers online at one time across campus while also supporting 1,200-plus simultaneous wi-fi users.
- Mb/s stands for megabits per second. It is a term used in network traffic. 200 mb/s would mean that the network is currently handling a load of 200 megabits per second. A bit is a very tiny piece of data and a megabit represents a million bits.
- “If you were to picture our network as a giant water pipe, then the mb/s would be like the water pressure,” Glenn wrote.
- Last year out network traffic totaled over 96 terabytes. To put that in perspective, 1 terabyte of data is the equivalent of about 17,000 hours of music playback. For the first time in more than three decades, Odessa College is upgrading its data system.