Please take note that ICT Services will be running the following patches during this week's maintenance window (Thursday evening from 22:00 until Friday morning at 04:00).

ICT Patchy Thursday
Communication Date 18 October 2019
Execution Date14-15 November 2019
Downtime Duration22:00-04:00
# Description Impact Business Areas 
 1 MS and Kovsie Domain ServersUFS websitesCommunication and Marketing
 2Non-Domain ServersSome non-essential services may be down during the reboot normally required after the installation.Internal



ICT Services System Maintenance: Patchy Thursdays

The UFS ICT operations are constantly under threat from external parties in the form of digital threats, hacks, and associated malware attacks. These attacks are not friendly and have the potential to literally switch off the entire organisation or result in a massive loss of data. These attacks are constantly managed and up to this point, we were able to effectively ward them off; but this might not be the case in future if we do not have the opportunity to ‘harden’ our systems and associated infrastructures on a weekly basis. I realise what I am requesting might not be easy to accommodate, but we really do not have any other solution. Please bear with us.

ICT Services approached the Rectorate in October 2017 and had the concept of PATCHY THURSDAYS approved. Here are the details:

  1. ICT Services is allowed to perform critical system upgrades and the implementation of system patches every Thursday from 22:00 to 04:00 the next morning.

  2. The agreement with Rectorate is as follows:

    1. On the Friday before the actual next Thursday, ICT Services will determine exactly what needs to be patched during the next Thursday session, and also determine the impact thereof on the business processes of the UFS.
    2. The intent and impact are then formally communicated to the UFS leadership (Rectorate to the level of deans and senior directors) via individual emails, web notifications, and the Digest on the following Monday morning.
    3. The UFS community will have until Wednesday at 12:00 to respond to the proposed ICT actions.
    4. Pending any objections to the proposed patches, ICT Services will consider the extent and impact thereof, and collaborate in areas where we are obliged to apply patches as per vendor specifications.
    5. Approved patches will be prepared for the time frame as mentioned earlier.
    6. On the Friday after the patch session, ICT Services will report on the process of the previous evening and determine the effectiveness and status thereof.
  3. ICT Services will still have major shutdowns twice a year, normally over the Easter weekend and one later on during the academic breaks of the UFS. These are normally comprehensive upgrades and not smaller tweaks as catered for by Patchy Thursdays. These events are well planned and communicated widely, as we did in 2017.

 
Please note:

  • Patches are pre-determined system upgrades prescribed by the vendors of systems. We do not have a choice in deploying these patches. Failure to do so can result in system failure or being ‘open’ to digital attacks. Patches are received from vendors on a weekly basis and need to be implemented as prescribed.

     

  • Maintenance. Also contained in the notion of Patchy Thursdays, is the ongoing maintenance of our platforms and systems, which we are not permitted to perform during operational hours. In many instances we perform small upgrades, and implement new configurations as requested by business during these times. They are as important as patches, but less threatening in terms of digital attacks.

  • It is not implied that we plan a total shutdown of all systems and platforms during Patchy Thursdays, only the proposed systems are affected by this. In many instances, these patches and upgrades only last a few minutes, but, if and when we suffer a major ‘catastrophe’ (which is always possible) during the patch or upgrade, we need time to recover, hence the proposed time of 04:00 the next morning.

     

  • We are acutely aware of the impact this has, especially in relation to our on-line platforms. Students will be pre-warned when it affects them and this communication will be done through the office of the Dean: Student Affairs, CTL, as well as through Blackboard and UFS4Life.

  • The longer we postpone a specific patch or upgrade, the more serious the digital security threat becomes. ICT Services cannot accept the responsibility for not implementing the patch on its own, and the associated business partner will have to accept co-responsibility if we fail to ensure system stability and safety if the patch process is frequently postponed.

     

  • There might be Thursdays when we will not perform any patches or upgrades – miracles do happen!

In closing, I am very aware of the impact this has. However, there are no real workable alternatives; please be assured that ICT Services will not abuse the opportunity in any manner. As always, we pre-plan, plan again and to date, we were very effective (lucky) in maintaining the operational integrity and digital security of the UFS systems. This remains our intention and we rely on your kind co-operation in this regard.

Regards

Dr RV Coetzee
Senior Director: ICT Services


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