What have I been working on recently?

At the end of February, we completed the installation of the three wireless network masts. I’ve added a fourth, too, to account for a ‘dead spot’ around some of the doctors’ accomodation.

The new Kisiizi IT 'cupboard', with server, satellite modems other equipmentSince then, Edson and I have been working on ‘phase 2’ of the IT project: moving all of the equipment into a purpose-built cupboard, and installing the linux server. That involved a lot of scrambling about in roofspaces, pulling network cables from various offices to our new cupboard in the staffroom. Previously, the routers and satellite modems were shoved in the corner of the Medical Superintendent’s office: Dr Tonny didn’t fancy the idea of the server being in there too.

The server is actually a high-end Dell PC, running Ubuntu Linux. When we were looking at installing it, we quickly realised that running Windows Server—while being arguably easier to install and operate—would be far too expensive for the hospital, with its onerous per-user (or per-computer) licencing. With linux, we are able to build a really robust machine which fulfils all the functions of a Windows server (and more!) for merely the price of the hardware.

This is new stuff for the hospital. Up to now, the IT has been a piecemeal arrangement of computers, with data stored locally and backed up—if at all—on USB memory sticks. Not great. Now, everyone will have their own username and password, their own personal storage space, department drives for shared documents, and an email address if they want it, too.

In summary, here’s what the server does:

  • File and print server (and domain controller for the network)
  • Time server, to keep computers synchronised to the right time
  • Authentication server (using LDAP), to allow users to have one username and password to access things on the network
  • Web proxy, to ‘cache’ information downloaded from the internet. With so many people using the internet at the same time, many internet requests are the same. We can save a lot of bandwidth if common requests (e.g. website logos etc.) can be delivered from the server. We’re blocking adverts too.
  • Email server to allow email address for those who need them
  • Virus scanning
  • DNS
  • DHCP
  • Monitoring various things on the network and presenting nice graphs
  • A web-based admin interface to control everything

I’m sure there are more things I’ve forgotten, too. With all of these services being in the control of a single computer, we’re obviously being careful to back it up regularly. It’s got two hard disks which are ‘mirrored’ (RAID1 in the jargon) to provide a safety-net in case one fails. The server will carry on running and we’ll get an email. Much nicer than a horrid crash and huge data loss!

Of course, Kate and I are only here for a few more months, so the central point of this exercise is to hand over to Edson. He’s grasped the challenge and is already happy configuring things, adding users and machines and troubleshooting. Fortuitously, I’ve discovered that it will be possible to help him from the UK by connecting to the server remotely, too. Marvellous.

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