While University of Winnipeg students took a break from their exams during the recent holiday season, its IT department was busy cramming in an upgrade.

The small liberal arts school is in the midst of a project that will

see it create customized portals, converge its desktop and application management while integrating student registration and account creation.

David Bell, the University’s assistant director of network services, said the entire undertaking was to be complete before the 2002/2003 school year began in the fall. Though progress has been made — the student portals have been completed, and six computer labs with 140 PCs have been upgraded — there’s still more to come. That’s why Bell and his team took advantage of the two-week reprieve during Christmas and New Year’s to upgrade another lab.

“”It’s difficult here, in an academic institution, if you miss a window,”” he said. “”You’ll have students coming in and you’ll have to sort of wait.””

Based on Novell’s eDirectory, the portals are designed to give each student 20MB of storage space for lab reports, assignments and e-mail, Bell said. All the portals will have a single log-on, allowing them to access them on campus or elsewhere.

“”It helps you deal with those crossover situations,”” said Ross Chevalier, Novell Canada’s director of technology. “”You could be student there, but you could also be a member of the faculty. You could be a teaching assistant. It’s also conceivable that you’re alumni — you graduated with one degree and now you’re back for another.””

The U of W will also use Novell’s ZenWorks for Desktops to allow the IT staff central management of PCs from a single console. This could save a lot of time and resources, Bell said.

In its technical services department, the school employs 32 people, but only 13 of them are directly responsible for the maintenance and support of the campus. “”We’re talking about a dozen people to support about 1,100 PCs, a dozen or so file and print servers, and half a dozen Sun boxes,”” he said.

Chevalier said the students’ profiles will follow them wherever they choose to log in on campus or in a computer lab. This will begin from the moment they register with the school and are given a new account, managed through eDirectory. Remote access to this data is critical to schools, particularly as they increase their expertise in distance learning, added Chevalier, pointing out that Maclean’s annual ranking of universities pegged Winnipeg as “”the best in the West.””

“”A lot of that has to do with the ability to provide services to students you aren’t there,”” he said. “”I think you would find that is true for a lot of success stories we’ve had in education around the world.””

The portals will eventually serve all 7,500 students and 800 faculty and staff members, Bell said. Novell has done similar projects with the University of Windsor and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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