COMMUNIG8’S OPEN-SOURCE EXPERTISE AND VAST INFRASTRUCTURE KNOWLEDGE A WINNING COMBINATION FOR COMMUNITYUK
“CommuniG8’s expertise has been fundamental, enabling us to successfully implement a number of the very latest and very best open-source tools available. As a result we are now in a position to take our ground-breaking concept ‘community networking’ to other areas of Britain as a proven and viable option.”
Steve Gaskin, Operations Director, CommunityUK
CommunityUK established in 2009, is a new, innovative, social enterprise working with Central and Local Government to raise educational attainment and bring communities together online. CommunityUK is pioneering a brand new concept – known as ‘community networking’, a powerful, localised spin-off from social networking, but one that focuses on bringing people - who live, learn and work in close proximity to each other - together as a united, online community. It’s primary aim is to make the tools of the modern world accessible and affordable to all, in order to improve learning, job creation and community spirit, for neighbourhoods regardless of their location or financial means.
The Leigh Park CommunityUK Project is a great example of this. Leigh Park in Havant, Hampshire is one of the largest council estates in Europe and falls within the top 30% of the most deprived areas of England. The project is a collaboration between a number of local community based organisations and businesses and offers free WiFi Broadband and email to the 27,000+ Leigh Park residents. The project also offers further paid-for telecommunications services as well as marketing opportunities, through online advertising, to businesses wishing to promote their products and services in the region. All of this comes together via it’s Web Portal www.communityuk.net.
CommuniG8 Limited, founded by Richard Gate in 2009, specialises in infrastructure, IT related project management and technical consultancy. With over 30 years experience of IT systems management, facilities management and hosting, CommuniG8 offers solid expertise for both open-source projects and more traditional proprietary projects in environments ranging from Mainframes to servers to desktops.
CommunityUK’s Board of Directors collectively have a strong networking and telecoms business background, so had a good idea at the outset what was needed technically to get Leigh Park up and running. They put a team in place to build a cost effective, robust wireless network to provide free broadband internet access for 12,000 homes on the Leigh Park council estate plus a number of paid-for services for the wider community. The structure was pretty complex and involved a number of backhauls (ADSL lines coming in at certain points – e.g. schools) as well as transmitters receiving and repeating signals across the neighbourhood’s 6 zones. For each zone they created a mini network with 2-3 backhauls in each.
The topography of Leigh Park presented a number of challenges for the team, with it’s many tall buildings and trees. It was this, combined with the complexity of the network structure that led CommunityUK to recognise they needed a means of monitoring all aspects of the network 24/7. They were also keen to take advantage of the very best Open-Source applications available as cost effectiveness was paramount.
CommunityUK found Managing Director of CommuniG8 Ltd, Richard Gate through the power of Google. Richard is portrayed widely on the web as an open-source solutions expert and with his vast experience of networking and infrastructure, a powerful combination. He was just what CommunityUK needed.
Richard Gate, Managing Director of CommuniG8, said, “The open-source movement is the most exciting thing to have happened in the technological world for a long time. All the major success stories of the last 5 years have all been open-source, e.g. Facebook, Twitter and even the more traditional IT giants like Oracle are getting in on the act. They recently bought MySQL, the defacto-standard database server for the open-source world! The growing acceptance of Open-Source technology is bringing enterprise-class systems to the masses but at a fraction of the cost. This means growing SME’s, like CommunityUK, get the kind of quality and resilience that was traditionally only available to the very large corporate organisations with huge IT budgets.”
Steve Gaskin, Operations Director for CommunityUK, said “Of course, we were very impressed with Richard’s networking experience, his overall knowledge and his client testimonials. But what struck a chord with us from day one was that he totally got what we were doing. Not only from a social networking point of view, but he totally got what was required from a technical perspective to make all of this work.”
CommunityUK invited Richard Gate to work with them, in a consultancy role, as a member of their technical project team, to provide network monitoring and advice on the design of the core network for Leigh Park. They also asked him to provide a dedicated webmail service for the people of Leigh Park as part of the project.
Steve Gaskin added “Richard’s enthusiasm was clear from the outset. He was immediately interested in what we were trying to achieve and felt he could contribute. He went out of his way to help us.”
THE COMMUNIG8 MONITORING SERVICE
With a complex infrastructure such as the CommunityUK set up, every component has to be configured and the data within the system needs to be recorded and stored so the infrastructure can be adjusted for optimum performance. Richard Gate specialises in Zabbix – an enterprise-class, open-source, distributed monitoring solution. For CommunityUK he expertly tailored Zabbix to meet their needs providing advanced monitoring covering every aspect of the Leigh Park network, including a robust alerting service and functionality that provides an on-screen map of the entire network around the clock.
Steve Gaskin explained, “We can see our network and all the individual boxes, feed components, repeaters visually now and how they are all joined up. If there is a problem we are alerted. The system shows what has gone down, when and records when it comes back up again. It monitors the whole network and gives us a network map so we can make adjustments remotely as and when necessary. We have people in Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire who can see what needs to be done and make tweaks, even if it is a matter of simply sending someone out, on the ground, to reboot a piece of hardware.”
In addition, the CommuniG8 Monitoring System provides statistical data that can be used to track the trends of network use. It shows issues with bottle necks and which access points or repeaters are being used more than others. These statistics allow CommunityUK to run the network efficiently, but they also provide powerful decision-making data for potential advertisers wishing to promote their goods and services to the Leigh Park community.
CommunityUK wanted to provide the people of Leigh Park with free email too as part of their broadband package. CommuniG8 integrated a Zimbra based webmail application to provide an open-source email server for the CommunityUK portal site.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
CommuniG8 has also been able to help CommunityUK with leading-edge, open-source tools for the internal design of their community portal site. Prior to meeting Richard Gate, CommunityUK had been working with an Indian code shop utilising Joomla!, which is a powerful, open-source content management system (CMS) for publishing content on websites and intranets. Written in PHP, Joomla! stores data in a MYSQL database and includes features such as page caching, blogs and search functionality.
The work the code shop had produced in Joomla! for CommunityUK had gone horribly wrong. It was not in line with the architecture of the product and Richard Gate stepped in to fix the errors and to streamline the structure to make it workable for CommunityUK’s purposes. This allowed them to reclaim in-house control and they are now successfully using Joomla! to run, develop and maintain the entire CommunityUK portal site with great results.
The first zone of Leigh Park is now up and running with the remaining 5 zones on schedule to roll out within 6 weeks. CommunityUK have peace of mind in that they can see the status of every element of their network around the clock and are alerted to issues immediately as they arise. Steve Gaskin concludes, “Prior to Richard Gate coming on board we were spending a huge amount of time troubleshooting as we worked to get this project off the ground. Now we are facing technical challenges logically in a controlled manner and resolving them quickly. “Although we originally approached Richard for network monitoring, the breadth of his knowledge and experience soon became apparent. His help has been fundamental in implementing a number of the very latest and very best open-source tools available. As a result of Richard’s expertise we are now in a position to take ‘community networking’ to other areas of Britain as a proven and viable option for bridging the ‘digital gap’ that exists in today’s society. CommunityUK can now successfully deliver ‘community networking’ to any neighbourhood, regardless of it’s location or financial means.”
LEIGH PARK COMMUNITYUK PROJECT PARTNERSLeigh Park Community Improvement Partnership
Park Community Schools
Staunton Community Sport College
Havant Borough Council
Hampshire Borough Council
Portsmouth City Council
Langstone Technology Park
The E-Learning Foundation