1. Five-year Strategic Plan: Oxford University Computing Services (2009/10 to 2013/14)

Summary of the department’s remit:

The Mission Statement of OUCS is:-

  • To provide high-quality and cost-effective IT services that meet the needs of the University and its members;
  • to contribute to the University's wide range of IT training and relevant training resources;
  • to foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT in teaching, learning, and research across the University;
  • to promote effective communication throughout the University IT community.

OUCS will fulfill its Mission:

  • By operating, developing and supporting the University's primary computing infrastructure and services including facilities such as the network backbone and its external connections; central email, web, news, and backup servers; and other core university-wide support services including security and anti-virus support;
  • by fostering the effective use of IT in all disciplines through the provision and development of training and courses, learning and teaching resources, and by such activities as negotiating advantageous arrangements for the supply and maintenance of hardware and software etc.;
  • by actively supporting the work of, and collaborating closely with, IT Support Staff within the University;
  • by developing centres of expertise in relevant areas relating to the application of IT;
  • by promoting and demonstrating good practice.

OUCS consists of a series of groups (below) and externally funded research projects. The former consists of the following with a total FTE of 116 FTE(including the Office for Director of IT) a drop from 122 four years ago, plus those funded by external projects.

  • Information and Support Group which contains the Information Systems and Development teams, Registration Services, and the IT Support Staff Service;
  • the Infrastructure Systems and Services Group which includes System Development, Registration, Nexus, HFS, and the OUCS Data Centre;
  • the Networks and Telecommunications Group which includes Networks, Security, and Telecoms;
  • our Network Systems managed Service (NSMS – self-funding);
  • our Learning Technologies Group, in charge of training, the VLE, and e-learning research and development;
  • senior management and admin support.

OUCS also hosts c. 10 FTE of the ICT Support Team.

At present, due to retirement of some senior managers and secondments, the Information and Support Group has been split into two with a separation of the national services.

2. Vision, and summary of the department’s main objectives

This report sets OUCS’s objectives for 2009/10-2013/14. We begin with a short review of our last five-year plan, and then proceed to discussing the key challenges and issues facing the department, especially arising from the financial forecasting exercise.

Considering the future some key objectives do stand out. Many of these depend on funding proposals under the ICT Capital envelope or elsewhere (e.g. the Estates budget). In the absence of these we would look to funds from external sources (e.g. JISC) but these are becoming increasingly difficult to secure especially for localised infrastructure developments.

The following objectives should also be read alongside the Five-Year Strategic Plan for the Office for the Director of IT (ODIT).

  • Planning for the backbone replacement exercise which will need to begin in 2011.
  • Preparing the network for future demands by increasing JANET connections and moving to IPv6.
  • Running, and developing the new Nexus service.
  • Completion of the University wireless roll-out and network resilience projects.
  • Development of the Core User Directory Service.
  • Integrating key services (e.g. our Access management services, WebLearn, and Nexus) to provide a seamless experience for users, and development of our access services.
  • Building of the new Central Machine Room and refurbishment of the existing OUCS machine room to remove single points of failure.
  • Further developing and promoting services and policies to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions across the University (e.g. WOL service, Video conferencing).
  • Moving to the 123 charging model in 2010.

These are all against the background of maintaining our core services in a cost effective manner (see Challenges below).

3. The department’s strategic challenges 2009/10 to 2013/14 (including the impact of reductions in resources)

3.1. Retrospective Consideration of Previous Plan

At the beginning of 2009 OUCS produced its revised five-year plan(see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/5yr/). This provided a detailed analysis of the future initiatives and developments within OUCS, listed a series of specific goals and tasks and demonstrated how these took forward the aims and objectives of the University as set out in the Corporate Plan.

OUCS has achieved considerable success in meeting the objectives set out jointly by the department and the divisions. Our major projects are all running to time and within budget, with notable successes in the roll-out of the Nexus service. Despite the fact that demands on our services, and for new services are increasing all the time, we have also managed our budget once again to meet our forecast. At the same time, whilst remaining financially prudent we have also managed to develop our services in new and imaginative ways – e.g. launching Mobile Oxford, continued success of iTunes U, etc. We were the main developers of the Single Sign-On system for the Oracle Student System demonstrating our ability to work closely with other sections of the University, and completed the Core User Directory pilot. All of these, and other successes, are referenced in this plan.

3.2. Challenges, Issues, and Monitoring

At an abstract level the underlying challenge for OUCS is to:

  • develop and deliver the mission critical services demanded of it by the University
  • be responsive to the changing needs of the users within the University
  • be responsive to the changing landscape of IT in Higher Education
  • against major financial constraints.

Considering the range of critical services - the backbone network, email servers, hierarchical file store, training programme, advice and support – and the demands for new IT services which match the ambitions and reputation of a top-flight University, the challenge is considerable. Over recent years we have been asked to make cuts on predicted expenditure that have led to a year-on-year reduction in baseline funding with little access to development funds. As a result it is increasingly difficult for OUCS to meet user expectations, and more importantly to guarantee reliability and resilience.

Nevertheless, we aim to maintain standards, and our performance is monitored regularly by the OUCS Management sub-committee and ultimately the PRAC ICT sub-committee. This is a fully transparent process in which on an annual basis the new OUCS Management sub-committee analyses our services (as defined in our complete set of Service Level Descriptions), suggest changes, reviews usage, and assists in setting the budget for the following academic year. This is but one stage in a now established review process of OUCS (see Key Performance Indicators – below).

3.3. Savings Options

Against this background, however, OUCS has been asked to present options on how it, as a department, could demonstrate a 10% saving in net expenditure over three years. We have outlined this in detail in a separate paper but in summary we propose:

  • charging colleges for their use of OUCS’s services (currently they do not contribute to OUCS’s running costs)
  • factor in cost savings realised from OMIS applications
  • factor in cost savings from phasing out of Dial-in

In addition, we outline further options that could be considered but all of these would have a detrimental effect on OUCS’s ability to run and develop its services, or move costs from the centre to local units. These options include:

  • seek savings on non-payroll expenditure items (travel, professional charges, etc)
  • increase income through charging for some services
  • reducing two key services
  • freezing posts

These have been presented as a set of options in a separate submission to the Budget Sub-Committee for discussion. However, as we do not know the outcome of these discussions the effects of these options have not been factored into the following plans.

3.4. Future Plans and Initiatives

In spite of this what follows is a reflection on some of the objectives set last year, and a plan for how we can take services forward over the next five-year period bearing in our finances. Drawing on the objectives set out in published University strategies, we focus on key areas such as teaching, research, and overall support services. Under these we then list the key objectives OUCS proposes which will assist the University in meeting these strategies. In writing this we have attempted to align the appropriate goals with those presented in the strategic plan for the Office for the Director of IT (ODIT).

In many cases these new initiatives would require new money and we will look to the internal ICT Capital Envelope for this, or external funding (through bodies such as JISC). In Appendix A we have listed major projects which require funding in excess of £50k. The most important of these being the replacement of the backbone network beginning in 2011. OUCS has no development funds of its own to draw on so has to seek assistance from external funding. Even then any application to the ICT Capital Envelope would need approval by the OUCS Management Committee, PICT, BSC, and ultimately PRAC – and would only be submitted with the support of the divisions.

4. Core activities

4.1. Teaching and Learning

OUCS provides advice and support related to the use of C&IT in traditional teaching, learning and research in all disciplines, as well as specific training for IT staff. The former is mainly through its Learning Technologies Group and the latter co-ordinated by the IT Support Staff Service (ITS3).

The LTG supports and develops the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for the University (WebLearn), tailored to the needs of students and staff. In 2009 OUCS launched the new WebLearn service, with new tools and features in response to user feedback. The WebLearn project is directed by a steering group comprising OUCS, college and faculty representatives. This is an ongoing development project, and in 2010 we will continue to offer services in response to new technologies and increasing demands from academic staff. The LTG promotes and supports the use of online multimedia for learning and teaching, particular highlights of 2009 were the success of the podcasting and Oxford in Itunes U projects. In 2010 we plan to develop this further, encourage re-use of these materials for teaching, and ensure that the high profile, high value media, assets created by Oxford staff and students can be managed and stored appropriately. We will be responding to the increasing use of mobile and handheld devices by developing appropriate interfaces and services for mobile learning.

OUCS also provides specific support to IT Support Staff in terms of training via its ITS3 service. This arranges the annual conference and a programme of training opportunities throughout the year. We are noticing increased demand for these courses by local IT officers, and our objectives list the ongoing process of constantly revising these activities to meet changing needs.

OUCS is not directly affected by the size and shape of teaching and learning, as it does not run matriculated courses for students, nor is it involved directly in student recruitment. However, a shift in the size or demographic of the student body will affect the demands on some of the services offered by OUCS (including the VLE and IT training programme) and needs to be reflected in the money given to OUCS to run its services (see ‘Finances’). As with all our services offered to staff and students we will be ensuring that our practice is inclusive, up-to-date and in line with user needs and that the services can meet any up-turn assuming appropriate funding is found.

Considering our activities since the last five-year plan we would note in particular:

  • Successful launch of the new WebLearn service. The new system was launched in June 2009 and has attracted new users across the University.
  • The development of training and support services adequate to support the rollout of new University services, in particular Groupware (Nexus) and the new WebLearn. Training plans and programmes for both of these new services are in place and ongoing, both are proving to be most effective in supporting new ways of working when tailored and delivered locally. Further work and resource, however, is needed to continue and extend the reach and deliver the benefits of these activities to Divisions.
  • Developing and opening the new Apple Teaching Centre with support from Apple. The formal launch event was in Dec 2009. A new programme of Mac courses will be launched for 2010.
  • The support and promotion of the distribution of open content via podcasting, iTunes U, and other appropriate media channels. Two large and successful JISC funded projects have been completed and stimulated interest across the University in the creation, publication and re-use of open content. This has resulted in a new, growing, collection of high value media assets which now need to be managed and preserved.

In recognition of the skills development and learning needs of all members of the University the OUCS training programme, and courses offered by ITS3, provide University staff and students with training in IT literacy and technical skills and how to effectively use C&IT in teaching and research. We promote the use of technology in teaching at Oxford via our user communities, websites, news publications, workshops and events and we provide well equipped teaching and training spaces for use by members of the University and external guests. In 2010 we will launch a new programme of Mac courses in our new Apple Accredited Training Centre and roll out tailored, discipline specific support for digital research skills and managing your online identity. We will continue to develop bespoke and discipline specific training courses, and support senior staff in their use of IT for management and decision making. We also seek to support departments and divisions in getting best value for money from the classroom technologies in which they have invested. We provide training and advice in the use of these and in the design of technology enhanced learning spaces.

To ensure that we continue to foster and support excellence, innovation and best practice, the LTG also carries out and disseminates research into the latest developments in the use of C&IT in traditional university teaching and learning. We also hold annual OxTALENT awards ceremonies to recognize and celebrate innovation at Oxford.

In 2010 the LTG’s focus will be on ensuring value for money for the University by making special efforts to target services equally across each Division. Particularly we will be exploring ways in which we can support students in developing their employability skills and staff in maximizing the impact in their work.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to teaching and learning it is worth noting the following:

  • Target development of new tools to support the strategic learning and teaching priorities of divisions, departments and colleges. (e.g. student feedback, computer modelling in learning and research, interdisciplinary teaching, plagiarism detection, access and outreach, etc); Target: Ongoing throughout the five years.
  • Research and implement technology that provides teachers and learners with assessment and evaluation technologies that increases the quality and ease by which questions can be authored and marked. Target: 2010-12.
  • Migrate users from the old to new WebLearn; Target: 2010/2011;
  • Integrate WebLearn with Oak Authorisation and Groups Service and with existing student administrative systems where possible. Target date: 2010. New work to integrate WebLearn with student administrative systems as an online submissions system for summative assessment is offered as a pilot and new project for 2010/11-12.
  • Explore the integration of the new VLE service with the Groupware solution.
    Target date: 2010-12. Now that the functionality and features of both systems is better understood, a scoping study for possible areas of integration will be completed in early 2010 with a view to new projects of work in 2010-12.
  • Promote and support user created content and multimedia through initiatives such as: new tools in the VLE; graphical representation of activity data; use of multimedia by students to share and express understanding; use of multimedia by lecturers to share research based teaching for maximum impact. Status: this work is ongoing, building on success of podcasting projects and the development of the new WebLearn 2010-14.
  • Promote the effective use of ICT facilities in the classroom. Target: Ongoing.

Target our IT Learning Programme to keep up to date with the demands of the users. In particular, under the direction of the Graduate Skills Advisory Group (GSAG), look at the research and support skills that staff and students need. Integrate training for Macs into general courses and promote discipline-specific training. A new programme of Mac courses, the Graduate Skills toolkit pilot programme and online and classroom supported learning activities on agent-based computer modelling will begin in 2010. Target: Ongoing.

  • Offer training courses in a flexible mode (especially online and ‘at need’ training); Evaluation of the success and cost effectiveness of ‘online’ and ‘at need’ materials will be carried out in early 2010 to inform further developments in this area in 2011. We will also be migrating static web support pages, where appropriate, to screen casts and active tutorials; Target: 2010-11.
  • Expand our e-learning research activity in line with the targets identified in the OUCS research strategy, enabling blue skies work to be done in a cost effective manner as funded projects and sustain current themes of work/projects via new funding and follow up grants. By responding to relevant funding calls from research council and funding bodies and developing research partnerships with academic colleagues and groups in 2010-2014. Target: Ongoing.
  • Contribute to open-source, development and research communities of which we are members by working alongside other universities and appropriate business community engagement In 2010-2014. Target: Ongoing.
  • Provide an appropriate environment for research and to ensure financial sustainability of research within the group and research leadership within the team. Target: Ongoing
  • Further develop our programme of training courses and voluntary audit for IT support staff to ensure consistent standard of support across the university. Target: Ongoing.

4.2. Research

In 2008-9 OUCS developed its first ‘Research Strategy’ outlining the key areas that OUCS will target in the future for research and development projects (usually from external funds). It also developed a full process to assess new project bids to make sure they are in line with OUCS’s five-year strategy, and a project management methodology. Considered below also is OUCS’s services to research elsewhere in the University. One of the stated objectives in the mission statement of OUCS is to:

‘foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT in teaching, learning, and research across the University’

OUCS has a cross-department initiative – the Research Technologies Service (RTS) which, through internal and external project funding, develops cutting edge applications to support research, and provides advisory services for the University and beyond. The activities of the RTS complement the infrastructure and other support services provided by OUCS. To assist with this and the development of OUCS’s own research strategy, we have a full-time Research Facilitator, and a half-time post liaison post with Oxford e-Research Centre, to take forward these activities and actively manage a research strategy. Members of staff in all the OUCS groups are able to offer support through the RTS; the Information and Support Group has a specific team set up to do development (for example of web sites and services, databases, and analysis) for internal and external clients; and OUCS hosts the JISC-funded OSS Watch service which offers support and advice on larger-scale software development.

The aim of the RTS is to work with other University departments to establish the ICT requirements of their research communities, offers services to research projects across the University (see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/rts/rtsservices.xml). These range from project planning, through to offering advice to projects underway, assisting in development, and helping complete an exit strategy. In connection with this, OUCS particularly collaborates with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) and other relevant University units to investigate the development of tools to support the administration and auditing of research activity. This activity includes an emphasis on assisting with project management and the sharing of research information and outputs, especially across disciplinary boundaries. We expect this to be an important use of the Nexus groupware services, but recently OUCS has also been successful in attracting two externally-funded projects in this area via the JISC – Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research (EIDCSR) and Supporting Data Management infrastructure for the Humanities (Sudamih).

OUCS also acts as a major bridge with national funding agencies such as HEFCE, JISC, the Research Councils, and seeks sponsorship for major IT projects through the Development Office, OUCS’s own Research Facilitator, and KTPs. OUCS activities and project outputs contribute to relevant research and software development communities. In turn it will seek to inform faculties, departments, and colleges about new funding opportunities; as well as bidding for external grants to cover some of its own new initiatives.

Within our research strategy we identify three major themes that shape our research direction. These are:

  1. Ubiquitous computing/networking
  2. New technologies and applications
  3. User requirements

Under these themes we have identified several key activities that we will attempt to pursue: e-learning, management of data, access and identity, infrastructure, security. Many of these are referenced throughout this report. In addition we also continually analyse data coming from use of our services to indicate levels of demand and changes therein. It is important to note all of this underpins development work at OUCS, but for the most part this can only take place if we attract new funding from the ICT Capital Envelope (internal) or research funding agencies (external) such as the JISC, ESRC, AHRC, etc.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to research it is worth noting the following:

  • Exploiting Sharepoint by facilitating research, research groups, tools. Target: 2010 with roll-out of Sharepoint service (which identifies research groups as a main target for early adoption).
  • Wireless Computing and how this could affect research (e.g. always on research, exploiting fully operational and widespread wireless network). This coincides with the roll-out of wireless currently underway. Target: 2010-2012.
  • Mobile communications. We have already launched Mobile Oxford (m.ox.ac.uk) and seek to develop this. Target: 2010-2012.
  • Social networking tools. As a result of a series of projects, OUCS will be issuing guidelines on how social networking tools can be used to increase ‘impact’ for research projects arising from the developments with the REF. Target: 2010. This includes further work on podcasting (noted above in ‘Teaching and learning’) for dissemination of research projects).
  • 3D collaborative worlds. Again following on from a project in 2009, OUCS has good knowledge now of developing in 3D worlds. In 2010 we will be looking for external funding to take this forward.
  • OUCS has considerable expertise in analysing user needs and requirements, and profiling academic working practices and assessing how they could relate to IT service provision. In 2010 we will be applying these generally across our services, but also in the review we are assisting in for the Humanities division related to the ROQ project.
  • Visualising research data. This is a new area for OUCS but it is one that is emerging as a key concern for researchers. The EIDCSR project, for example, has a workpackage to facilitate browser-based access to very high resolution image sets. Throughout 2010-11 we will continue to monitor possible funding opportunities.
  • Research repositories and techniques for the management and curation of large research data sets. This is being investigated by two existing projects, EIDCSR and Sudamih, together with input to the UK Research Data Service (UKRDS) bid to HEFCE. We also have an objective to investigate the provision of federated, extensible, cost-recovery filestore service for research projects. Target: 2010-2011.
  • Continuing work in ‘community collections’ – OUCS is now recognised as a main centre of expertise internationally in crowd-sourcing for community collections. Target: 2010-11 we will be running a JISC funded project to continue this.
  • Low carbon ICT initiatives. OUCS successfully completed its Wake-on-LAN service and is now moving forward in other ‘green’ IT areas such as: green procurement and disposal; 2) energy monitoring and reduction tactics.
  • The above are specific projects that we will be taking forward. However, we are also aware of other activities that, if funding was available, we would wish to explore such as open notebook developments; semantic web developments, and access auditing (global analysis of audit trails to determine traffic, social networking, future provision)

4.3. Engagement with Society

OUCS’s primary focus is on supporting the needs of the collegiate University. However, in so doing it offers support to faculties and departments seeking to engage more with the wider society. As noted elsewhere we have specific objectives in mind to assist the University in engaging with the wider society:

  • Assisting projects and services to deliver to mobile devices through the development of Mobile Oxford. Target: 2010-12.
  • Development of Open Educational Resources and podcasting (see ‘Teaching and Learning’).
  • Advising projects on increasing ‘impact’ through new technologies such as the use of social networking tools, podcasts, etc; and assessing and evaluating user needs(see ‘Research’).
  • Leading community collection initiatives which bring the public to University research projects (see ‘Research’).

5. Enabling strategies

5.1. Personnel

OUCS continues to improve its personnel procedures and career progression. Two documents are maintained for staff outlining career progression and decision-making at OUCS. OUCS staff are also encouraged to join internal SIGs, new teams, and trained in project management methodology. Through its IT Support Staff Service it also seeks to promote career development of the dispersed IT Staff. The OUCS ITLP training programme offers opportunities for skills development and IT training needs analysis to the personnel in the collegiate university. Furthermore our continued emphasis on staff reviews and rewards for excellence shows our commitment to developing our staff.

OUCS has made strenuous efforts to keep its FTE and headcount under control. Over the past four years our FTE has dropped by 6, and we continue to look for at each post as it becomes vacant. It should be noted though that sometimes eternal factors change our staffing, e.g. with Nexus becoming a service in April 2010 we estimate our FTE count will rise by 3.

5.2. Admissions and Access

Although OUCS is not directly involved in this activity as it does not deal with admissions, nor is it involved in student recruitment, it does provide services which assist in these activities. In addition, as noted above any major change in the size or demographic of the student body will possibly affect the demands on some of the services offered by OUCS. For example, increased recruitment of international students will necessitate seamless access to the Universities from increasing numbers of remote sites. Moreover, changes to the admissions process and recording of student data may also impact on our services. A good example has been the move to Single Sign-on for the Oracle Student Systems. This has also allowed us to facilitate access to systems for students 'under offer'. However, this, of course, offers the potential for OUCS and other service providers (e.g. colleges, Student Administrations) to provide services for accepted students prior to their formal admissionto the University.

As noted earlier (‘Teaching and Learning’), WebLearn is increasingly bringing together tools that will support teaching and OUCS is proactively working with Student Systems, participating in the ongoing review of student administration and services. OUCS has also helped the dissemination and promotion of material to do with admissions in such initiatives as iTunes U; and is looking to roll-out a video-conferencing service in 2010 partly driven by the needs of the admissions interviewing process.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to admissions it is worth noting the following:

  • Launch a Video-conferencing service to assist with admissions interviews. Target: 2010 beginning (full cost recovery service in 2011).
  • Continue work with Student Services in UAS to facilitate the development of IT systems to meet changing demands. Target: Ongoing.
  • Further develop WebLearn, podcasting service, and open education resource work (see ‘Teaching and learning’).

5.3. Academic and Student Services

This section has primary relevance to OUCS as it focuses on service provision, and the underlying infrastructure, though as will be obvious OUCS has contributions to make to all the above categories. We have already noted earlier that a key priority of OUCS is to maintain its core service provision and to expand this (as directed by the divisions and if resourced accordingly). Here we look at specific targets for the next five years.

OUCS is currently undertaking a series of major projects that will directly enhance the services offered to staff and students. These are integrated with the plans set out by the Office for the Director of IT.

  • Roll-out of Nexus. From April 2010 this will be a full service. In 2010-2011 we will be seeking funding from the PICT envelope to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint 2010. We will also be looking to integrate WebLearn and Nexus in 2010-11.
  • Development of a Core User Directory Service. The pilot project was completed in 2009 and funding is being sought to develop this to a full service in 2010.
  • Design and build of a new Central Machine Room and refurbishment of OUCS’s existing data centre. Scheduled completion 2011.
  • Roll-out of wireless across key areas of ‘campus’. Ongoing, with project completion in 2012.

In addition to these major initiatives OUCS also, on an ongoing basis:

Assists in the implementation and review of the University’s ICT Strategy Ongoing through OUCS’s participation in PICT and liaising with ODIT.
Contributes towards the development of the ‘enhanced computing environment’. OUCS is assisting in this project (aka the ECE project) which is led by a team separate to OUCS, the ICT Support Team.
Develops and supports high quality infrastructure services (especially the network backbone, e-mail, web servers, backup, security, and training) Ongoing – see specific objectives below.
Develops new services Ongoing – see specific objectives below.
Improves network connection Ongoing – see specific objectives below.
Works on wireless and mobile access Ongoing - see specific objectives below.
Works in a federated environment with the distributed IT Staff Ongoing. OUCS assists with the ICT Forum, and provides direct support services for the devolved IT Staff in the University.
Fosters effective use of IT in all disciplines Ongoing, especially through our Learning Technologies Group and Research Technologies Service.
Provides training and tailored courses Ongoing. OUCS courses currently attract over 13,000 attendees per annum.
Supports and promotes the Virtual Learning Environment Ongoing. Funding for the development to Weblearn 2.0 has been secured until 2010. Ongoing funding will be sought.
Develops reusable and centralised e-learning resources Ongoing (see ‘Teaching and Learning’ above).
Promotes research e-infrastructure (VREs, escience, etc) Ongoing (see ‘Research’ above).

Considering our activities since the last five-year plan we would highlight, in particular, the following achievements (see also the previous points in ‘Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Resaerch’, and OUCS’s Annual Report 2008-2009):

  • Developed and launched the Nexus service. Achieved within budget and the deadlines set.
  • Developed the Core User Directory. The pilot project was completed on 31 June 2009 and we now are seeking funding to turn this into a full service.
  • Development of SSO service to offer earlier provision of credentials to students ‘under offer’ (see above).
  • Successful upgrades to HFS to meet immediate capacity requirements.
  • Upgrade of backbone network connection to 10Gbps.
  • Roll-out of Wake-on-Lan service to assist faculties and departments to reduce energy costs.
  • Major project assisting BSP and UAS on a virtualised infrastructure.
  • Assist in the planning for the Central Machine Room.
  • Assist the Humanities Division in the planning for the ROQ in terms of IT and AV.
  • Improved service for the Hardware Repair service. After focused training OUCS was able to launch in-warranty repairs for Macs.
  • Offer better support for web site development. OUCS’s Web Design Consultancy continues to attract more faculties, colleges, and research projects; and in 2009 we launched Mobile Oxford.
  • Provide support for Linux users. OUCS maintains a Ubuntu customization and is working on integration with Active directory.
  • Support web search engine of choice. OUCS hosts the Google Search Appliance for the University and this is now part of its core funding.

These are but some of the achievements over the year and are presented here as a representative sample showing the diversity of major new launches, and service developments.

In terms of underlying trends we constantly analyse user data and feedback and have observed: increasing demands for mobile support and wireless technology; greater demands on the network, need to consider carbon-impact of IT projects and green issues, virtualisation, increasing penetration of Macs resulting in more support demands, and a need to look more proactively at service oriented architecture for joining up core systems and services. The University is in an excellent position to take forward all of this provided sufficient funding is made available. Changes are also taking place with telecoms, and OUCS (now in charge of Telecoms) is gradually rolling out such initiatives as Voice over IP.

Although our ability to develop existing services or launch new ones is extremely limited, without any development or enhancement budget, we attempt to maintain some flexibility through our pay-per-use service – NSMS. This invaluable resource allows us to offer new services more quickly, albeit on a chargeable basis.

Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to achieve a series of objectives listed in Appendix A1. These will be the responsibility of several groups across the department, and many will be in conjunction with ODIT. Of the ones listed there some key initiatives stand out:

  • Replacement of the University backbone network. An essential project that needs to begin in 2011.
  • Completion of the wireless roll-out and network resilience projects, and other network improvements.
  • Upgrades to the Nexus project.
  • Development of the CUD project. The pilot project was completed in July 2009.
  • Integration of WebLearn and Nexus.
  • Development and expansion of the HFS facilities, based on proactive studies of user requirements. This will also include encouraging other central units (e.g. UAS/BSP) to move their backup facilities to our service.
  • Completion of the central machine room and refurbishment of the existing OUCS data centre.

We are also considering, in some detail:

How we can achieve greater energy efficiencies within the department, and reduce our carbon impact. This is ranging from power efficiency initiatives to procurement policies. We also seek to advise others on this.

Linked to the above we will be undergoing an examination of the possible benefits arising from the virtualisation of our services, where possible, particularly with reference to the opportunity offered to us by the new Central Machine Room.

It is becoming increasingly the case that many of the projects and objectives we undertake nowadays are collaborative efforts with OULS, UAS, BSP, ICT ST, and local units. We envisage that this will continue to grow as all central units seek to rationalise costs and integrate systems.

5.4. Space

The buildings and facilities at OUCS are currently running to capacity, and we note that some of our Type 1 services, and funded projects, require more offices. We do explore flexible working applications wherever possible to try to alleviate the issue..

Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to:

  • Assess the environmental impact of the building and see whether this can be reduced, and in particular enacting our Energy Management Policy.
  • Complete all refurbishment projects.
  • Rewire offices over a 3-year period.
  • Complete the new Central Machine Room.
  • Plan out and refurbish OUCS’s existing data centre.

As noted, we are also reviewing whether the building in its current state meets all its needs – possibly in partnership with CISCO. Most importantly the environmental issues are a constant consideration and the need to reduce our carbon footprint has to be at the forefront of any refurbishment. Careful thought has to be given to the way we process waste, sustain the building and the reduction in energy, all to ensure we maintain the University’s Environmental Sustainability Policy 2008. It is a major objective running throughout this plan to target our environmental impact wherever we can. The facilities will be rewired over the next 3 years enabling energy efficient lighting to be provided, and power consumption evaluation will become an integral part of our purchasing process.

The proposal approved by PICT to support video-conferencing in general and the piloting of the Cisco Webex service may prove useful to other departments in the University wishing to provide better support for remote working.

5.5. Finance

OUCS’s finance and administration is in full compliance with University Finance Regulations. The 2009 Statement of Compliance was completed without further recommendations. Quarterly management accounts comparing and commenting on significant variations from budget are submitted via the ASUC Divisional accounting structure together with updated year end forecasts. A budget submission process is also used to approve the Annual Budget.

In 2010 we will see the first enactment of the 123 charging model as resulting from the SFWG process. OUCS has been very proactive in this exercise and has provided costs for all its services, and metrics of use to feed into the charging model. However, it must be stressed that the calculations omit the important factor that during the SFWG process it was recognised that OUCS was considerably underfunded. We believe serious consideration should be given to this and in particular:

  • remedying the situation whereby OUCS is being asked to support more users than it is being paid to do by seeking contributions from the non-paying units (e.g. the colleges).
  • aligning the 123 charging model with changes in the University’s ‘size’. A contributing factor to the current deficit of OUCS has been that whilst the University has grown in terms of staff and student numbers (notably in the Medical Division), and real estate, this was never matched with an increase in funding to OUCS to reflect the added support burden. This emerged as a key finding from the Services Funding Working Group and it was calculated that an extra ‘unit’ places a burden of c. £4,000 on OUCS, and an extra user £80 per annum. All our calculations for the SFWG 123 charging model, due in 2010, have been based on the current numbers of staff and students, and real estate, but should this change it needs to be reflected in the formula used for calculating the costs needed to run the service.
  • considering a more equitable distribution of funds already set aside for central IT providers.
  • securing the long-term future of the ICT Capital Envelope which OUCS currently has to rely on.

It is important that sufficient funding is diverted to IT projects and services, and money is made available to allow OUCS to upgrade its existing services, and add new ones as required. The financial burden of adding new IT services and maintaining them must be recognised by the University.

All of these issues were discussed at length in meetings with the Divisions following the Services Funding Working Group (SFWG) and a final report was submitted in 2008.

OUCS is doing all it can to reduce expenditure wherever possible. Specifically therefore, over the next five years OUCS plans to:

  • React to decisions made by the BSC in relation to options presented for reducing net expenditure. Target: 2010.
  • Enact the 123 charging model. Target date: 2010.
  • Consistently align and assess our spending plans and cycles with recommendations to the ICT Capital envelope. Target: Ongoing (see Appendix A).
  • Take forward a short project to apply TRAC costing models to IT services. Target: 2010.
  • Consider energy efficiency measures to reduce utility costs and also procurement costs (and their effects). Target: 2010-2011.
  • Provide advice, via our RTS section, for researchers writing funding proposals for projects with a significant IT element, and promote the opportunities offered by our NSMS unit to purchase IT support and development. Target date: Ongoing.

5.6. Governance

OUCS is governed by its Management sub-committee which has full divisional and collegiate representation. This in turn reports directly to the ICT Sub-committee of the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC). The latter is a single point of governance for ICT across the collegiate University, and the principal advisory body to PRAC and Council and other University bodies on all aspects of ICT. It determines a strategy and policy framework for the collegiate University, and reviews the scale, quality and cost effectiveness of the services offered directly to users by the Oxford University Computing Services. It is establishing an ICT framework to enable centrally and locally provided services to work together efficiently, reliably and cost effectively.

Financially, as of 2010 OUCS will also be presenting directly to the BSC alongside other central IT providers.

5.6.1. Risk Management Strategy:

As with all departments and divisions OUCS prepares and maintains an annual risk register. However, with reference to this plan the risk to the University of not completing or achieving most of the above mainly falls under two categories. First our IT infrastructure will be compromised, especially with relation to business continuity; but also in terms of the facilities we can offer to the staff and students. Oxford would begin to seriously fall behind its competitors in terms of what it can support. Second, picking up on a common theme throughout this plan, unless the critical funding issues identified by the SFWG meetings are tackled then key services will be put at risk.

OUCS has also worked on its disaster recovery plans and business continuity planning. In particular we now have:

  • DR plans for all our services.
  • Dependency lists and priority list for restarts.
  • A documented and tested communication plan in the event of an emergency, which utilises a series of tools and technologies.
  • An annual policy of desktop testing our emergency communication plans, and DR policies.

We have also begun to adopt a dual-site resilience for core services (notably Nexus) and with the advent of the CMR this will be developed further.

5.6.2. Key Performance Indicators:

As noted above OUCS now has an established process whereby its performance is assessed by the users (via the OUCS Management Sub-committee), and its plans are aligned to user demands. This includes:

  • review of our Annual Report – a reflective look showing how we performed in the previous academic year;
  • review of OUCS’s financial position;
  • review of our SLDs and costs associated with the services;
  • making recommendations to PICT and then PRAC re the budget for OUCS for the following academic year notably for new services;
  • setting of our five-year plan (this document) outlining our objectives based on the needs of the divisions;
  • reviewing any major security incidents.

Appendix A: I. Proposed New Objectives, 2010-2015

ObjectiveStart / end dateMore details
Launch videoconferencing service. 2010 for 18 months. The bid has already been submitted. If successful a new service will be launched in 2010 which will become self-funding as of August 2011. We are also running a trial of WebEx and funding may be sought to develop this in 2010/11.
Relocation of Bodleian MDX rooms. 2010. Costs to be covered by redevelopment budget. The movement of the MDX room requires moving all data and voice equipment. Expected to complete by August 2010.
Launch student internship scheme. 2010. Provide opportunities for Oxford students to take 2 month placements with OUCS to work on specific IT projects.
Develop an MIT Kerberos and LDAP authentication/authorisation mechanism for the podcasting service. 2010. Provide better access for the growing podcasting service.
Nexus upgrade – Exchange 2010. Aug 2010 to Jan 2011. Six month project.
Nexus upgrade – SharePoint 2010. Feb 2011 to May 2011 3-6 month project.
Investigate residential networks. 2010 Look at possibility of running a residential network for colleges.
Investigation of network monitoring. 2010 Begin to consider options for improving network monitoring capabilities in light of increased size and demand.
Provide a Service Payment Centre outside the On-line Shop Underway. End date - July 2010. Provide direct access to online payment for OUCS services
Improve hardware repair and maintenance service Ongoing Promote and expand Apple repair centre, and work with Equinox to provide a more comprehensive general onsite repair and maintenance; investigate and implement provision of loan machines; provide support for self-service software repair.
Explain, promote, and support good practice in web site management for the University. Ongoing Organize termly technical meetings for web managers, promote open standards, and expand the Web Design Consultancy by supporting one or two standard CMS programs.
Provide an Oxford-specific Linux customization based on the Ubuntu operating system. 2010-Dec 2010 Integrate authentication with Active Directory into local Ubuntu customization and promote secure package.
Support search engine for university web sites 2010- Dec 2010 Investigate and implement use of GSA with Microsoft Sharepoint to index secure content, and implement indexing of, and secure access to, restricted access web sites across the University.
Software development support for university research projects 2010 Establish development team to support university and external projects, particularly in creation of web-based systems.
Enhance OUCS Data Centre Management 2010/11 Develop, in consultation with system administrators, appropriate policies relating to the allocation of space and power to racks, and to ensure secure access to the data centre.
Develop a Core User Directory service 2010-2011 The bid to the PICT proposes a service offering data harvesting and reconciliation; unique identifiers for person records; and a range of data provider interfaces.
Review and upgrade of OUCS Registration Database 2010-2011 The OUCS Registration database is a source of authoritative data underpinning OUCS services but also for use by other University and local services (especially as the source for email address and SSO username data). The review of the Registration Database should be undertaken in conjunction with the implementation of a CUD service, on the one hand, and the continued improvements to the University's access management services provided by OUCS.
Refurbishment of OUCS data centre 2010/11-2012/13 Priorities for refurbishment are: a) replace air conditioning system; b) replace suspended ceiling; c) re-balance the power phasing; d) review UPS requirements; e) install energy efficient lighting.
Provision of federated storage infrastructure for the management of research data (pilot) 2010/11-2012/13 Pilot service that provides an underlying, federated storage infrastructure for the support for (primarily) research data management services. It is important that the infrastructure integrates with a) local filestore provision; b) the OUCS HFS service; and, where applicable, other services such as the OULS repository service. A small amount of effort is required to follow-up and further refine requirements identified by externally-funded projects. For the pilot it is proposed to i) re-deploy the server and storage infrastructure currently hosting the Herald email system; b) develop a cost-recovery plan that allows for both the end-of-life replacement of the existing system and the ability to meet future capacity.
Assess demand for a version controlled repository for software code 2010-11 Undertake user consultation to establish demand and requirements for a central source code repository. The implications of offering this on a cost-recovery basis should be evaluated.
Development of an actionable service catalogue for OUCS 2010-11 Rationalise the OUCS service listings so that a single "service catalogue" is readily discoverable and accessible to users (2010/11); Provide a mechanism for service providers to publish a list of associated service requests, tied to a self-service request fulfilment mechanism (2011/12) – this could initially just collect details and create a work ticket for the service team, but should be extensible to offer fully automated request fulfilment.
Deploy a group management service as part of the suite of OUCS access management services available to the collegiate University 2010-11 OUCS is developing a groups management service (09/10), beginning with a read-only service, in order to support the Weblearn Sakai project, the groupware deployment, and other services provided by the wider University. Subsequent phases include a full service for the management of ad hoc groups.
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – Replacement of Tape Library and dual site resilience (feasibility) Start: 2010/11 for two years. The existing Automatic Tape Library is obsolete (13 years old) and needs replacing if maintenance is to be assured and future projected capacity met. The replacement of the tape library should be considered together with the possibility of providing dual site backup/archive servers (within the new data centre) in order to mitigate the risks associated with having a single HFS installation in the OUCS data centre. Since the replacement of the existing tape library and any second site installation is a significant project, it is proposed to undertake a requirements and feasibility study.
Provision of Web publishing services 2010-11. The Web Publishing Service (also known as users.ox.ac.uk) provides basic website facilities for users. However, the service has not fundamentally changed for over ten years. During 09/10 we will undertake a user consultation; and during 10/11 develop implementation project for an enhanced service that supports an online, public presence (consistent with other online collaboration services). Student clubs and societies; and department websites are likely to be early beneficiaries of an enhanced web publishing service.
Provision of a mailing list service 2010-11 Undertake user requirements analysis; identify and implement software meeting functional requirements to replace Ezmlm; migrate lists and archives.
CMR - provision of high level resilience 2010-2012 Deployment of infrastructure necessary to support dual site locations for business-critical services with advent of new CMR.
Integration of WebLearn and Nexus and Development of Assessment and Feedback tools 2010-2012 Bringing together key points of integration between WebLearn and Nexus and develop tools to match growing demands from student services in areas of assessment and feedback.
This is an ongoing process in response to new technologies and increasing demands from academic staff for new tools to enhance teaching and meet student expectations and use of mobile technologies.
Research and implement technology in response to user needs that provides teachers and learners with assessment and evaluation technologies that increases the quality and ease by which questions can be authored and marked. Work will also concentrate on integrating WebLearn and Turnitin with student administrative systems as an online submissions system for summative assessment.
Expansion of WebLearn storage capacity, and consideration of storage of open educational resources. 2010-2011 Demand for WebLearn has increased considerably after the launch of the new service, and is also linked to the growing interest in the use of video and audio in teaching. This necessitates an expansion of the storage and backup of the system
We are also exploring how educational content created can be re-used as resources to bring benefits to learning and teaching, and the student experience at Oxford.
Replace Backbone Network 2011 to 2013 The University network backbone will need replacing in 2012, as some of the present hardware becomes unsupported then. Consultation and planning for this will begin in 2011.
Completion of Central Machine Room and initial high availability infrastructure 2011/2 – 2012/13 Soft fit-out of the new Shared Data Centre, including networking, racks and initial server infrastructure for high availability.
Nexus capacity planning Aug 2012 Anticipated additional storage (e.g. depending on rate of growth of SharePoint)

II. Items Requiring over £50k expenditure

The following items are drawn from the above list of objectives. In certain areas these have been aggregated together to match presentations in the ICT Capital Envelope.

Title Cost Start and Duration (in chronological order)
Launch Videoconferencing Service £60k January 2010 for 18 months (then self-funding).
Nexus upgrade – Exchange 2010 £97K Aug 2010 to Jan 2011
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – Tape Drives Upgrade £288K Start: Aug 2010
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – Replace p5-570 server (end of life) £200K Start: Aug 2010
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – Upgrade to TSM 6.1 £60K Start: Aug 2010
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – undergraduate backup £200K Start: Aug 2010 (client development) with service deployment in 2011/12 (together with extra storage infrastructure)
Develop Mobile Oxford platform £200k 2010 for two years.
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – Replacement of Tape Library and dual site resilience (feasibility) £150K Start: 2010/11 for two years.
Registration database upgrade £50K Start: 2010/11 for six months
Core User Directory £132K Start: 2010 for 18 months
Videoconferencing II: WebEx support. £100k 2010 for two years.
Network improvements £225K 2010-2012.
Integration of WebLearn and Nexus & Development of Assessment and Feedback Tools £200K 2010-2012.
OUCS MR Refurbishment £868K Expected to start in 2010/11 over two years
CMR – completion £782K Expected to start in 2011/12 over two years.
CMR – provision of high availability for resilience. £400K Expected to start in 2011/12 over two years.
Provision of federated storage infrastructure for the management of research data (pilot) £100K (including HFS integration) Expected to start 2010/11 for 1 year.
Nexus upgrade – SharePoint 2010 £60K Feb 2011 to May 2011
Managing Capacity for backup and Archiving services – 'home' backups for desktop backups £70K Start: Aug 2011
Replace Backbone Network £2.5-3m 2011 to 2013
Nexus capacity planning £700K Aug 2012
Notes
1.

It is also important to cross-refer this section with other key areas in this five-year plan, notably our strategies to facilitate research, and teaching and learning.