Constant phone patching causes some interruptions

November 4, 2005

Two weeks ago Brandeis University campus phones were patched in an effort to fix an upgrade from the summer. Phone patching is a process of updating hardware or software that runs the university phone switch. Two types of patching occur: critical updates, which are designed to address a security concern or fix a problem, and planned updates, which add new features and fix problems.

Patching is somewhat similar to updating computers, but harder than a Windows Update. Generally it is done when students are not on campus, such as during summer or winter break. If a critical issue arises, however, it will be done late at night during off hours when the system activity is low.

John Turner, Associate Director for Networks and Systems, explained that we have developed techniques that keep the impact of patching to a minimum. The patch, put in place on Monday, October 24, took roughly six hours to apply but the community was impacted for only about ten minutes. In the past, patches have been very effective, although many factors exist that can cause problems when implementing these fixes. Primarily, these upgrades are tested in the Technology Services lab, but as Mr. Tuner states, since we do not have 4000 phones connected to our test equipment there are sometimes issues when we put it on the production system.

In the summer there was a major upgrade to the phone switch software. A bug, or error, was found which caused message waiting lights to behave incorrectly. Many people complained because important messages were being missed. The Universitys switch vendor, Cisco Systems, was aware of the problem and created a fix for Technology Services to install. However, several problems existed in that patch so Brandeis worked with Cisco to fix them. Four attempts were made, and the last attempt seems successful thus far.

Mondays patch was designed to have no effects felt until 3:00 AM. Campus phones upgraded their firmware after resetting with the process not taking much more than five minutes. Additionally, the voicemail system was inoperable at roughly the same time for four to seven minutes. Campus emergency phones were also affected by this, but only for about thirty second intervals two times. Public safety is always notified when patching occurs and alerts can be found on the LTS webpage. More information on these and future patches can be found online at the LTS web site.

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