August 17, 2021

Ken Reinertson

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Texas A&M Division of Information Technology and how it provides and supports services around the clock.

On any given weekday, thousands of Texas A&M students and employees rely on campus Wi-Fi to check email, log in to learning platforms, connect to video conferencing software and utilize other services. But what if it all failed to work one morning? The Division of IT works tirelessly to prevent this from happening.

Housed in the Computing Services Center, the Incident & Operations Center (IOC) monitors the division’s data centers, campus networks and wide-area networks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The IOC, which resembles a small-scale military command center, often discovers issues (and emerging problems) before they cause any headaches by keeping an eye on network health, IT services, student record processing, learning management systems and infrastructure. If a student or employee has a technical problem in the middle of the night, the IOC also provides after-hours support for Help Desk Central and Tarleton State University.

IOC Manager Ken Reinertson has been a first responder for the division since 2000. One of the biggest challenges the university faced during that time was the shutdown of Texas A&M due to COVID-19. 

“Overnight, the university went from working and learning on campus to working and learning from home or other remote locations,” he pointed out. “With over 75,000 students, faculty and staff, the health of our IT services became more critical than it already was. I believe we, as a division — working together — overcame the challenge and were able to provide the necessary services to all our customers and campus members.”

In addition to the IOC, four other “front-line defenders” work together to ensure web and computing services remain available across campus, including systems engineering, networking and telecommunications.

And then there’s IT security. Since cybercriminals don’t sleep, or at least not on our schedule, the IOC provides after-hours security monitoring of campus and the data centers. When a security threat is identified, the IOC immediately alerts IT security personnel so they can intervene to prevent further damage or theft of valuable IT data and resources.

“We always work closely with other groups within the Division of IT and across campus,” Reinertson explained. “We constantly refine our methods and processes to ensure we provide excellent service and communication with them,” Reinertson explained.  “They are our customers in that we provide service for them, but they are also our partners in providing quick resolution to any issues that may creep up.”

From four campus buildings wired with Ethernet in 1988 to the upcoming Next Generation Aggie Network supporting a minimum of 10 gigabit connections, the Texas A&M network is integral to education, research and innovation. This means even a tiny amount of downtime can cause great problems across campus.

“I sometimes compare the IOC to emergency services such as fire, police, or EMS,” Reinertson pointed out. “When the world is quiet and nothing bad has occurred, that is a good thing. But with the nature of our work, we know that something will break — that an event will eventually happen. So, while it is quiet, the IOC’s skilled operators are preparing for the moments in which our unique skills and abilities are needed. Natural events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, historic winter storms, major flooding and now the pandemic have always provided unique challenges for IT to overcome.”