Dr. Thorsten Kollegger is head of the IT department at GSI and at the same time FAIR-IT coordinator. With his department he operates and develops the IT infrastructure for GSI and FAIR. His teams supervise and operate data centers and extensive IT systems for all areas. Furthermore, they develop advanced software and services for the manifold and unique requirements of GSI and FAIR. Interview by Jutta Leroudier during the experimental period in March/April 2020.
How has the corona pandemic changed your daily work routine?
The corona pandemic has changed the daily work routine in our team very much. Already in January we received the first requests for IT support from external users. Due to travel restrictions that already existed in some countries at that time, they were no longer able to participate in the experiments on site. From this point on, we have been working on implementing remote solutions for the work of the experiment collaborations or in the accelerator area. As of mid-March, when respective measures were also introduced in Germany, the demands on IT for setting up remote work have downright exploded. At the same time, we have completely changed our method of working together from one day to the next, since a large part of the team has moved to working from home.
What new demands does the corona crisis place on your work? Which new tasks have arisen as a result?
Many new questions have been submitted to us. How can you participate remotely in an experiment or the accelerator operation? How can we best maintain communication between people from different institutions around the world or people working from home? How can data protection and IT security be guaranteed when working remotely? How can network connections be configured in a way that ensures functionality for remote access and unhindered data flow? To do this, we had to know the respective requirements of the individual areas exactly and offer individual solutions.
What solutions did you and your team implement?
Many of our systems were not designed for the high demand. We increased the capacity of individual systems by a factor of 50 within one to two weeks. Due to the interruption of the international supply chains, the procurement of hardware and software was a very big challenge which we mastered. Despite all the obstacles, we were able to complete the procurement processes in the shortest possible time.
We developed tailor-made detailed solutions for different groups or special systems. The goal was to enable remote work for groups from the entire campus, from administration to individual projects, experiment groups and the accelerator area. For example, researchers who are abroad can now access their experiments, or experts from the accelerator area can now work from their home.
In addition, we have offered extended support for users. Many people had an increased need for advice because they were working with the new systems for the first time. Our department is well positioned and organized for this. The existing mechanisms and tools for the new tasks were all in place and set up.
However, we had to set clear priorities and reorganize our tasks. For example, large parts of our team responsible for infrastructure only did user support. We temporarily stopped planned project work and the further development of the systems and postponed it to a later date.
How much work did you have to do?
The biggest effort we had with the support. Many users worked remotely for the first time. During the peak phase at the end of March, we received several hundred support requests per day, such as e-mails or calls. That was an increase of about one order of magnitude.
How do you organize work in your team?
Two-thirds of our people are currently working from home. Only those people who take care of hardware or for whom access to on-site systems is absolutely necessary work on campus. Fortunately, it was easy for the IT department to work from home, as the tools were already available and everyone in the team knew how to use them. Essentially, we communicate now via various video conferencing tools, chat or other virtual communication channels.
Which departments supported you?
Many departments have supported us in the past weeks and have achieved remarkable results. The purchasing department acted quickly in the procurement of hardware and software and, for example, procured many licenses for a completely new video conferencing system within a week. The budget was allocated very quickly by the controlling department. The infrastructure departments of the Plant and Facilitiy Engineering department continue to supply our systems very reliably, even under the current difficult conditions.
What do you wish for the near future?
I hope that this exceptional situation here on campus and also worldwide will be over as quickly as possible and that as few people as possible will suffer from the disease. For my work here, I hope to be able to return to normal operations soon and to actively shape our systems and our work again.