By Reza Jalili-Baleh, ICT Infrastructure and Operations Team Leader, Newington College
In 2015, Myles Carrick, ICT Director of Newington College participated in the annual Newington College Tour Party to Tupou College in Toloa, Kingdom of Tonga, on the request of Dr. David Mulford, Headmaster of Newington College. The purpose of the trip was to determine a suitable gift to give Tupou College for their Sesquicentenary Celebration, to be held between the 17th and 24th of June 2016. It became apparent that Rev Alifeleti (Feleti) Atiola, Principal of Tupou College, had plans to build a “Sesquicentenary Building” that would host an E-Learning Center. Newington College therefore decided to gift Tupou College with the necessary ICT infrastructure and equipment to fit an E-Learning Center as part of our Sesquicentenary Gift.
Newington College’s ICT Department was tasked with this project and provided with a corresponding budget to undertake the project. The aim was to work towards moving Tupou College, and in fact the Kingdom of Tonga to, in their own words, “20 to 30 years into the future”. The project plan began as a Computer Lab with roughly 35 desktops and a single projector. Very soon, we realised that with Toloa’s ~2.5Mbit/s (at best) Terrestrial WiMax connection (a little better than the first broadband speeds in Australia) and a 25GB download limit per month, Newington’s ICT Department would need to get fancy in the way that we designed the setup. To put this into perspective, Newington College’s current data usage for it’s two campuses in Stanmore equates to roughly 1000GB daily.
In February 2016, Samiuela (Sam) Fonua, Deputy Principal of Tupou College, came to Sydney to visit Newington College’s ICT Department. After meeting with Sam, we quickly realised his plans and visions for the E-Learning space, and Toloa as a whole. We also communicated the initial plans and ideas we had for the E-Learning Center and Toloa as a whole. We became ever so excited for what we could accomplish for Tupou College.
Amidst Myles’ arrival back home in 2015, we began looking at organising Microsoft licensing for Tupou College. We very quickly ran into a number of road-blocks and Microsoft in Australia advised that they were looking into licensing an education institution in Tonga. Keep in mind here that currently most people in Tonga are using unlicensed Microsoft Operating Systems and Software, unless the device was purchased outside of Tonga, i.e. Fiji or New Zealand. As our deadlines began to near, Microsoft were seemingly unable to come up with solutions. We therefore started doing our own research and found a tool called Microsoft Pinpoint to find MSPs (Microsoft Solution Providers) in the Pacific Region. We quickly found Microsoft Resellers in the Pacific Islands like Fiji, and even New Caledonia. So we began sending numerous emails and attempted calling their advertised phone numbers. When this avenue went dry, we tried getting in touch with a few solution providers in the APAC/Pacific region. That is until a poor soul from SoftwareOne in Sydney replied back advising they had an ex-Microsoft guy on-site who was happy to help. We put our new best friend in touch with our education contacts at Microsoft Australia, who then put us in touch with the Licensing department, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, we were eventually able to get Tupou College heavily-discounted pricing for Microsoft Licenses…9 months after our initial request.
Anyone interested in ICT knows what 35 computers can do to an internet link, especially during Microsoft’s monthly ‘Patch Tuesday’ (where software and security updates are regularly released). With Sam’s plans and dreams for the E-Learning space in mind, we needed to setup and configure server infrastructure for Tupou College that was easily manageable and able to be assisted by remotely. We looked at differing solutions and eventually we decided to run a free version of VMWare ESX (Host Virtualization Software) which would let us virtualise any host and run multiple servers on the single host as Tupou College’s ICT infrastructure grows (similar to how Newington runs their infrastructure). We purchased two Gigabyte NUCs – Small form factor PCs that were then to become our redundant virtualisation hosts. We had looked at running servers in the Amazon AWS cloud, however due to the information that we had received regarding Toloa’s internet link, and the reliability that came with it, we decided a small footprint on-premise with the ability to expand to a hybrid setup in the future would suffice. On our subsequent visits noticing the apparent power outages overnight also required ICT to implement durable hardware, and also invest in a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to supply the equipment in the Server Room power even through a power outage. We also learnt that across Tupou College there was more than 4 different internet connections serving different areas of the College. Our goal was to combine this into a single larger capacity internet link. As part of Toloa’s advancement into the internet age, we setup Tupou College with a Google Apps for Education account, which will allow staff and students to collaborate and share more easily as they take a leap into the future.
During Sam’s visit to Newington, we were able to take him on a tour of our new Building site, to be named the ‘Tupou College Centre’. We showed Sam how buildings, and even building sites, in Australia look. Compare Australian building sites to the picture below of a building site in Tupou College – the pictured builder is probably the only person with a hard-hat and a hi-vis vest whilst on-site…who is supported by two cement bricks on a blank of wood, held up by scaffolding on either side. Need I say that there are no requirements for site inductions?
As part of Sam’s visit, we showed him the grounds at Newington College and walked him through a number of our Fibre Optic pits that cater for the College’s internet and wireless access. As part of the Network Infrastructure being built in Tupou College, we would need to connect numerous buildings to the core infrastructure using Ethernet, and decided the best way to do so was to have Tupou College boys assist with digging straight trenches between buildings and build a concrete pit where needed at each corner.
Within these trenches, the boys would lay PVC pipe, so that we could safely lay our underground Ethernet cable, which would come out of the ground, into a building, and then into a network switch to connect that building. The building of these pits now allows for easier expansion of the network over the years, as new buildings are erected. This also leaves the possibility for Toloa to upgrade their backbone from an Ethernet infrastructure to a speedier fibre infrastructure in the future.
At the end of April 2016, Myles Carrick, ICT Director, and Reza Jalili-Baleh, ICT Infrastructure and Operations Team Leader, visited Tupou College. It became apparent that there was already a disperse amount of differing and visible projects going on. Toloa was almost unrecognisable from the last visit in October 2015. Houses were getting verandas, most had been or were being refurbished, and probably most surprisingly of all, the Chapel’s roof was getting re-done with tin. In some of the most un-WHS like environments.
Oh, did I mention that all this was still occurring at our 3am arrival time, with the use of saws and hammers continuing through the wee hours of the morning – on our first night. Little did we know however, this would be the same most other nights, as the rush of completion neared.
The first day we had an early wake-up to visit the National Sports competition that was being held over a four-day event, where the athletes of the local schools would compete each day. The first day, on top of all the trial events also occurring ( i.e. 100m, 200m, 400m trials, shot put, high jump and so on) was the 5km race. The second day was the 1.5km. The third day, which was the day of the competition that we had arrived on, was the 800m – and boy were we in for a treat. Not only did we hear over the PA system, numerous times, the word ‘midget’ get announced, but we also saw boys and girls, of most ages, faint and pass-out as they passed the finishing line for the 800m races. Yes pass out, and faint. For the first few races, there weren’t enough First-aid staff around. Slowly more and more arrived and they began to assist, as boys and girls would literally fall into the arms of the First-aid staff. The ones who weren’t lucky enough to fall into those arms, would literally flop to the ground, and then be dragged off to the side where bags and bags of ice were waiting for them. Midgets! Did you say? Well, as it turns out, Tongans call their under 13’s midgets – so imagine hearing “Midgets Boys High Jump” or “Midgets Girls Shotput” on the PA … this was our first day of taking in Tongan culture, and we were quite shamelessly loving it.
Later that day, as we arrived back at Toloa, we had just enough time to visit the site and see the progress of the new ‘150’ building. We were quite stunned by the enormity of the project, and also how much had yet to be completed. A quick look around … plaster boards were up, concrete had been poured into the steel reinforced floors, beams and poles, and power outlets for the rooms had been provisioned and was waiting for termination. Am I missing something? Nope?, oh – did someone say data? It then, at that point, became apparent that the provisions for data was and is going to be an afterthought, a retro-fit. i.e. a room with 35 desktops, and the need for 35+ data ports was somehow going to be retro-fitted to this magnificent and quite beautiful building – even in its bare form. We quickly attempted to stop any more work continuing in that area, and gather the contractors, builders, and architects, to see what can be done. Only to find that the contractor had damaged his leg, unable to walk on site so we had to make do with his very capable wife who was covering for him. It then became apparent to us that all the beams and concrete that had been put in place, was actually steel reinforced, and there was no way we could get upstairs or through walls from within the building itself. Funnily enough, this pouring had only occurred just days earlier. Together with the architect, we tried to think of different ways that we could overcome this issue, like chasing in the floor upstairs and getting cables into the chase, but ended up leaving the details with him – there was however, only really one solution … and that was to drill a hole in the new wall from the outside, and route the cable up through the exterior ceiling in some PVC pipe.
These images were taken on the second trip, so don’t be fooled of the progress
However, this would only cater for upstairs. We would then drag some cables that went outside, scaled the rear of the building to the other side and another hole drilled to come back into the building for the offices. Now, what about the cabling for the 35 odd computers that were to go into the E-Learning Centre? Well as a last resort we could deploy some more wireless access points in that room, but even then – they wouldn’t be installed as we would prefer them to be, ceiling mounted – as there was at this point no access to the ceiling. We left this up to the architect, and he ingeniously decided under the benches, yet to be installed. He would get some ducting made, route the cables through that, and essentially track the walls all the way around to get to the other corner of the room for the computers.
The first days, required us to be mostly on the building site, however it quickly became Sunday. Luckily for us, we arrived at the perfect time to attend the annual “Sunday School Children’s day” this was a day were the children of Toloa would perform and show off all their new clothes and celebrate, with a range of different entertainment from drama shows to performances that the children would do for their parents, showcasing their new clothing – specifically purchased for the day. The day was followed by quite an extravagant feast.
Our second visit occurred in the middle of June, shortly thereafter the arrival of the second container sent from Newington, which included most of our ICT Equipment. Toloa wasn’t ready for us however, they were falling a little behind schedule. Luckily though, as it was exam period, we were able to take over a Science Lab, and call it home for the next few weeks.
A few days into our arrival, the HRH Princess Angelika Tuku’aho of Tonga had rang and advised that she wanted to come out and visit Toloa to see progress, and give a speech to the students of Toloa. So, for the final day of exams, the exams started a little later to cater for an assembly to be held for the Princess. The princess came to talk about issues with students fighting in Tonga. During the assembly, with roughly 4 minutes to prepare, the Principal asked a prefect to respond to the Princess’ comments and thank her for speaking. With only 4 minutes to prepare, the prefect literally made the Princess cry with the kind words he had to say.
One of the first things we noticed as we arrived the second time, a few weeks after our initial visit, was the shear progress that was made. Oh- and some new projects and buildings that were decided to be erected last minute.
On our first walk of the building site we noticed a fairly large reel of the Fiber Optic cable that Tonga Communications Company (TCC) were deploying for Toloa, which funnily enough – was branded as NBNCo – an Australian Government Initiation for getting Fibre across Australia. TCC as part of the celebration week had kindly increased the monthly allowance for Tupou College to 1000GB. 1000GB in Tonga is unheard of, with the most currently attainable monthly data amount at 150GB.
With the help of some great IT Technicians from Tupou Tertiary Institute (TTI) we started terminating the ethernet cables that had been laid, and installing the Indoor and Outdoor Wireless Access Points that was to blanket Tupou College with wireless. The Outdoor Wireless Access Points were setup to connect the Chapel, over 150m away – too far for an Ethernet cable run, in a wireless mesh configuration to get wireless to the Chapel. A similar fibre run, with materials and equipment would have blown budget. This configuration proved difficult to configure though, as there were only a few similar installations in the world with this setup, and this particular feature still in pre-release.
After exams were finished, it was holiday time for the students. However, the principal of Tupou College had asked the parents of the students for permission to allow the students to stay on-site and help with preparation of the celebration, which included building, moving, putting together some of the gifts and donations from the containers and even helping ICT setup our gear.
During the preparation of the ICT gear, it became apparent that some of the students had never really seen a computer, or the internals of a computer before! We began teaching and showing some of the students what the internals of a computer look like, and how an Operating System works. We used the newly gifted whiteboards in the Science lab, and described the hardware, software, operating system, and even driver layers of a computer. We were then called to the new building to make some decisions, a few hours later we noticed that our drawings on the board had been wiped, only to be replaced by their representation of what we had just taught them. We later found out, the two boys originally taught had actually began teaching the other boys what they had learnt. This literally brought a tear to my eye, and I was reaffirmed that we are doing the right thing.
The following day, a number of younger boys had seen the Science Lab with all the new equipment inside, and other students helping to install projectors and whiteboards in the classrooms around the College. One of them came in and asked, what we were doing. As I explained that this was all for Tupou College, his eyes lit-up, and one of the biggest smiles appeared on his face that I had ever seen, before he ran off to his own friends and told them in English what I had just told him. Yet another tear was shed on this day.
There was another time I shed a few tears, and it was when I had the honour of sitting through one of the rehearsals for the Royal Sesquicentennial Celebration, being the only ‘Palangi’ in the Chapel at this time. It was a non-stop 2.5 hour rehearsal, and by no means was it boring. Seeing the boys of Toloa truly come to their own with their singing, and their genuine ability to sing their hearts out, and play their instruments was another day I would not forget. Then to sit through the presentation as part of the Newington Tour Party, and to be more astounded to the quality of the performances watching this for the second time, truly shows just how far Toloa had come in a matter of a few weeks. Oddly enough, a number of the musicians, including the violinists, had only started playing these instruments between 1.5 to 2 years ago, yet were absolutely killing it. From a non-muso who had in a past life, played a number of instruments, seeing their progress with some of the boys having only started playing an instrument on a short while ago shows just how capable the boys of Toloa are, when you give them the tools. Even with so very little tools, they had already been able to accomplish so much. The newly renowned brotherhood between Newington and Tupou, and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, could and would only mean a continuing and fostering growth in relationship for the two parties.
As part of the donations and gifts to Toloa by ICT, ICT decided to send over 15 of our own interactive short-throw projectors, with quite a number of new lamps, and whiteboards to suit that would be installed in classrooms around Toloa. ICT also decided to turn part of their E-Learning center into a “Maker Space” which would host a 3D Printer. When we first told Saimonita (Simon) Sefili Paongo, Deputy Principal -Academic, of this plan, he was astounded, and immediately all the pieces of his plans started to fall into place. He told us of his plans of starting a “Science Academy” for the boys, where they would be able to use the E-Learning Centre for research, among other things. Simon also told us of how the Tonga Meteorological & Coast Radio Services was building a new Volunteer Weather Station at Toloa, to be used by the Fuaʻamotu International Airport in Tonga, of which the Science Academy boys could also visit and use to learn and collaborate collectively with the Volunteer staff. It’s intended Staff and Students will be trained to calibrate the equipment, read, enter data, and report 3 times daily to the Airport for the National Weather Forecast. Simon then described how he had plans of purchasing a 3D Printer, to use to print models of a number of the Tongan Artifacts that are currently in the Museum to be used for classes without the possibility of the artifacts breaking. These 3D models could then be used for longevity, and for generations to come. Simon has since then purchased an advanced 3D Scanner, that will be used to scan such artifacts in high detail to be used by the Science Academy boys. He has also been given confirmation to purchase a Laser Engraver that will be used for carving wood, and other materials. The initial use case though, will be to engrave names into wood to be posted on to their new honour boards located in the Chapel.
As seen in the background in the image below.
On our second visit, we held a training session in the Science Lab. In attendance was 8 of the TTI Staff, and 3 of the Tupou College Staff. Using Toloa’s newly installed projector, whiteboard, and wireless network, I streamed the session back to Newington, where our own ICT Staff also viewed the session as part of Newington College’s PD Day, which was held on the 10th of June.
With all the help that we received from Tupou College’s Staff and Students, and the Staff from TTI whom volunteered their time, and came in on weekends (including a long-weekend) to assist, we left Toloa in a good position and an enormous amount of work left still left to do 6 days before the celebration, with the intention of returning for the celebration. Cameron Quince, Tour Leader, had kindly organised an extra seat on the trip for me to attend. This time though, we would ask the Newington Challenge boys to assist ICT with the final pieces of the puzzle as part of their Service Learning, this included installing Wireless Access Points and their respective mounts in the new buildings, drilling through benches, installing monitors and monitor mounts, and setting up the relevant computers, and respective cabling for the E-Learning Center.
This third trip, would be nothing like the other two trips. “Tonga time” really came to it’s own this time, and the tour party of 92 students and 10 staff slowly learned that it was best to just go with the flow. When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by a group of Form 7 (similar to Year 13) students who helped the boys and staff of Newington load their luggage and musical equipment on to the buses and trucks. Being apart of the 2016 tour party, celebrating the sesquicentenary of Tupou College, Toloa, was a great privilege and honour to be representing not only Newington, but also the ICT Department for everything we had done over the past little while getting this unforgetful project near completion.
Luckily, the night before the Sesquicentenary building was due to be opened by King Tupou VI, the boys and staff of Newington had some time off. I managed to find some Toloa boys, and we all came together to complete the E-Learning Center, because there were still quite a few things that were yet to be complete. The boys worked in shifts, from Choir, to Sport, to Service Learning boys, with most boys finishing up around 10pm, and some boys staying on till around 11pm.
Power was only commissioned in the building at around 8PM that night, with some lights still not working in certain rooms, so we made good use of extension cords, power boards, and a spotlight to get us through to the finish line. Staff also kindly gave up their free time as some worked and powered through till around 2am. The Toloa boys and I stayed on a little longer mounting Wireless Access Points to the ceiling in the wee hours of the morning. In the morning, before the Newington boys went to breakfast, I mustered a few boys who were willing to skip breakfast, at least for a few hours, and assist with the final cleanup and setup of the computers, before being presented to the Tongan Community and more importantly the Royal Family. Only for there to be a power outage during the opening speeches, which caused all the computers to turn off, forcing a rushed run back inside after being signalled to turn the computers back on, sign them all in, and present the special screen saver that had been set up for Toloa. This became a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, as I was able to meet the King, and show a number of photos on the screen saver to the Queen, and the Queen mother.
Needless to say, the sheer amount of feasts this time around, made quite a few boys feel just a little under the weather. However, with the amount of trips I had already done, and having been in Tonga for 4 weeks by the middle of the year, I had already felt like I was home. The Principal of Tupou College, Alifeleti Atiola, now saying that the newly built Guest House is all mine upon my next arrival. Arriving back home after all the trips, and the celebrations was not only tough because of the cold weather, but my stomach had gotten used to all the “Feasts” and the food of Tonga so much so that even the simple foods back home, like McDonald’s, pasta, and even salads, would not sit well with my stomach – it would take me another week to get used to the food back at home. You also know you’ve been in Tonga too long, when your phone, and laptop start showing ads for companies in Tonga, even weeks after you’ve arrived back home. I was given many nicknames on this final trip, the most stand-out being Lord One Job. This is because I had “one job” to do on the trip, and that was to get the wireless working and stable – every little problem or issue, including when the internet inadvertently stopped working for about 1 day, became my fault – Thanks Godders and Ego ;).
Special thanks goes to all the contractors, vendors and their employees for being able to organise quite significant price reductions for the Toloa Community, and assisting with different suggestions, products, and opinions. Accucom (with Palo Alto Networks Firewalls, and Aruba Networks Wireless Access Points), Learning with Technologies (with whiteboards, projectors and spare projector lamps), Microsoft AU and SoftwareONE for organising Microsoft Licensing, and the countless others who were involved.
I would also like to take this time to Thank all Newington College Council Board members, past and present, Dr David Mulford, and Cameron Quince (tour leader), for revamping this latest legacy – for quite literally going above and beyond, taking time out of their own lives to establish this beautiful brotherhood that is now in place. To their families, for allowing these wonderful men, do so much for another school in another country, allowing them to be away from their families for lengthy periods of time, Thank you! To Cameron Quince, for allowing me to be a part of the 2016 Tour Party, it was truly a great honour and a heartfelt experience- seeing you in the zone, you are a force to be reckoned with. As Tony McDonald (Chairman of the Newington College Council) said last night at a Headmasters Dinner “This brotherhood, is now etched in stone, it is in our blood – this legacy will last”. To the Staff and Students of Tupou College and Newington College, whom assisted me on those long nights, getting the E-Learning Center over the line, I could not have done it without you- so Thank you! I don’t normally have much to do with the Teaching Staff at Newington, and seeing all the Teachers on the tour this year, never give up, work till the job was completed, and do so with humility, honour, and loyalty to Newington, representing such a wonderful brotherhood that is to last all eternity is what got me up in the mornings, and power through the nights to see at least the ICT aspects of the gift to completion. The Toloan’s have a saying, it is a reference to there being no mountains in Tonga. It translates to something along the lines of the Tongan mountain is within our own hearts, this makes more sense to me having had this experience now.