The Centre for International and Intercultural Communication (ZiiK) at the TU Berlin technical university has been helping Afghan universities to establish a basic IT infrastructure and train specialists, students and professors since 2002. The decisive aspect of the successful establishment of university IT centres is a cost-efficient server solution which is as easy as possible to administrate and service without any compromises in terms of its function or security.
For example, the IT centre at the University of Kandahar was launched as a pilot project in late 2013 based completely on Univention Corporate Server and opened to great celebrations in February 2014. After just six months, UCS had more than convinced those responsible in Afghanistan and Germany: Two further university IT centres in Kabul and Herat are currently being migrated to UCS and the IT centres at the University of Balkh and in Nangarhar province are set to follow by the end of 2015.
The TU Berlin hosts IT administrator training sessions in which the participants from all five IT centres and the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education are taught everything they will need to know for the migration to UCS and their future tasks as administrators of the IT centres and university networks.
Starting situation: Dilapidated universities and no IT skills
When the Head of the ZiiK, Dr. Nazir Peroz, visited Kabul for the first time in early 2002, there were only a handful of old computers left at the university in the country’s capital, some of which did not even function properly any more. After the Taliban seized power in 1996, many of Afghanistan’s schools and universities were closed down and from that point science and technology were classed as the work of the devil. The technological skills which are taken for granted in the West were practically nowhere to be found.
IT and technical knowledge are indispensable for modern society
As such, establishing an IT infrastructure is not enough – the people on the ground also need to be trained in the use of computers in order to be able to run the IT structures autonomously. The ZiiK has been developing five university IT centres at the universities in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar since 2003 with the aim of providing them with an adequate IT infrastructure. The IT centres connect the networked institutes and PC pools to the Internet and provide services such as storage space, mail servers and web servers.
Our Afghan colleagues can familiarise themselves with UCS much quicker than with other systems and solve day-to-day problems such as resetting a forgotten password, creating new users or installing new software. This makes it possible for us to reduce our role to that of emergency support and only to intervene when the locals really need our help. As they gain more and more experience, this happens less and less. – Daniel Tippmann, project planner and coordinator at the ZiiK
No money for software licenses
The German-Afghan project decided on Open Source software for the IT centres right from the beginning. “Of course, the license costs were the most important reason for choosing Open Source software,” said Daniel Tippmann, a project planner and coordinator at the ZiiK. “Without foreign aid, the Afghan universities simply wouldn’t be able to afford the license costs for commercial software.”
Over the years, the ZiiK team and its Afghan partners tested a wide range of different operating systems, primarily different Linux distributions. 2013 saw the establishment of the IT centre in Kandahar: the first where all the servers were based entirely on Univention Corporate Server (UCS).
Initially, there were two physical servers (master/backup) in use at the IT centre in Kandahar, providing an Active Directory for centralised user management, authentication and the storage of user data as well as a central backup concept. In future, the aim is also to offer centralised e-mail and web services as well. There are a total of 75 client PCs available as UCC-based workstations in the IT centre.
“It was important to us to find an operating system which required minimal training efforts but still put the Afghan colleagues in a position to be able to complete all the necessary tasks without any help from us if possible,” said Mr Tippmann. “The simple administration of UCS via a centralised graphic management interface, the multitude of integrated tools and the simple installation and mounting of additional programs via the App Center offer administrators who have not yet immersed themselves as completely in the operating systems as we are used to in Germany a wealth of freedom and flexibility.”
Simple maintenance and installation of new software
UCS allows efficient and centrally controlled administration even in heterogeneous environments. The administrators trained in the summer and winter schools in Berlin can use the web-based UCS management system to administrate servers, computer workstations, users and their rights as well as different server applications and web services across platforms and with relative ease. New software can be installed on connected computers via an easy-to-use graphic interface from the management console and the App Center.