The ICT Development Office was established around the summer of 1996 through visionary leadership a few individuals who realized that the AAU would be wise to join the information age by adopting the technology that has been transforming the world.The newly formed office initiated a project named AAUNet that has resulted in a wide area network (WAN) whose first phase of construction was completed in November of 2001. The network, which connects all the 14 widely distributed campuses of the university, has been growing since. The services delivered through the infrastructure have also been increasing.
Despite the pioneering role AAU has played in the deployment and use of ICT and the fact that it now has a relatively sophisticated infrastructure, however, it is still far from a point where it is adequately served by ICT. At the same time, AAU’s need for and dependence on effective ICT support is now greater than ever.
The national attention given to the expansion and improvement of higher education as critical factors in the country’s development has explicit and implied requirements for the use of ICT in realizing the objectives. AAU’s role as a major contributor to these expansion and enhancement efforts, along with the imperatives contained in its own ambitious strategic plan, call for the speedy improvement of the efficiency and quality of its academic and administrative functions. This is hard, if not impossible, to accomplish without adequate ICT support.
There are currently various initiatives underway, both at the ICT Development Office and various quarters around the university, to meet the growing demand for and address the ICT support needs of the university.
Network Infrastructure (LAN/WAN)
AAU has fourteen campuses with a wide geographic distribution in and around Addis Ababa. All but the recently acquired Akaki campus have had inter-campus connection in the form of a hybrid wired and wireless connection for at least three years. There is a current effort underway, in collaboration with ETC, to convert the somewhat limited wireless connections to fiber. The main campuses (Sidist Kilo, Amist Kilo, and Arat Kilo) serve as the core of the network with redundant high speed connectivity.
The connectivity devices (routers, switches, etc.) which were predominantly CISCO devices in the past were upgraded and converted a year ago to more capable, predominantly Huawai (a Chinese brand) devices through a donation form the Chinese company.
The internal network (LAN/WAN) is connected to the internet via a 6Mbps link to the ETC exchange. The connection is managed internally through a gateway and protected from intrusion and virus and other attack by two firewalls.
Within the various campuses there are numerous existing and new buildings that do not yet have access to the network. Connecting more and more buildings (and rooms within the buildings) is an ongoing process. Today there are about 6,000 nodes connecting end-users to the network. These nodes include administrative and academic staff offices as well as computer labs.
The servers used to run the network and that provide other services (such as mail and web services) are housed in two main datacenters. The approach followed under the recent network upgrade was to have one main datacenter at Sidist Kilo with a backup and disaster recovery center at Amist Kilo.
While there are about 35 servers (Sun & HP) of various specifications operated by the ICT office there are numerous others scattered throughout the university under different faculties, institutes, and administrative offices. This situation, while justifiable in rare cases, is not in line with best practice. The AAU ICT Development Office (ICTDO) is making attempts to consolidate server maintenance by trying to persuade the various stakeholders that they are better served by having their servers hosted in the main datacenter.
The ICTDO has an ongoing project, with a £50,000 donation from Ethiopiaids of the UK, to upgrade its main datacenter and its backup and disaster recovery datacenter.
The services delivered by and through the ICT infrastructure, aside from the provision of connectivity, may be grouped into two. First, there are technical services that provide indirect support to the user community. These are services such as Domain Name Service (DNS), proxy servers for facilitating managed internet access, LDAP for identity management, and firewall for security. The second set of services is made up of services that provide direct support to end-users in their normal day-to-day activities. These are such services as email, internet, automation, e-learning, etc.
At AAU all the essential technical services are in place and operational. Of the direct support services, the most widely used and the ones that have been in place for some time are email and internet access. There is limited automation in the form of registrar automation and library automation. There have also been previous attempts at finance automation that have not been successfully implemented.
There is an initiative that has been underway for a little over a year to select and deploy an integrated and enterprise-wide automation (business process and student administration automation).
ICT Organization and Management
The ICT Development Office at AAU which has been in existence for about six years under various designations has played the lead role in the adoption and use of ICT at the university. In particular, it has been the entity that has initiated and managed the build-out of the university wide network. Its efforts have been supplemented by various initiatives at the faculty and institute level as well as initiatives from government entities such as the Ministry of Education and the Ethiopian ICT Development Agency.
The ICTDO is staffed by about 35 employees headed by the ICT Development Officer who reports to the president of the university. Many of the staff members have second vocations as teachers or students. The office is currently organized into three units: System Administration, Computing Services, and Help Desk. The system administration unit is responsible for the design, implementation, and day-to-day operation of the network. The computing services unit is responsible for the acquisition, development, deployment, and maintenance of applications and web services. The help desk unit provide wide ranging support to the user community. There is a reorganization plan under consideration (see below).
In spite of its lead role in the development, deployment, and management of ICT at the university, however, the ICTDO has yet to be incorporated into the permanent university governance structure. As a result, its mandate has yet to be clearly defined. The office does not have an ICT budget and funds most of its activities through donor money. There has also been an absence of an ICT policy to govern the acquisition and use of ICT at the university,
By assigning a number of responsibilities to the ICTDO, the AAU strategic plan has gone some distance in defining the role and mandate of the office. The office itself has also presented a draft ICT Policy as well as a proposed organization planin order to address two major shortcomings and impediments to its proper operation.