5. Client Computing
General advice is provided through a walk-in `surgery' run 3 afternoons a week, with experts on hand to answer queries. These range from detailed advice on what computer to purchase, assistance in using supported software packages, recovery of files from a corrupted disk, diagnosis of failing software, recovery following a virus attack, diagnosis and repair of networking problems on PCs, etc. Equipment is available in the Personal Computing consulting area for demonstrations. The service is not available to undergraduates, who are expected to seek assistance from their college IT support services.
Wherever possible, advice is consolidated and placed on the web, where there is now a very extensive collection of useful information. Special attention is given to advising and helping IT Support staff, so that they are better equipped to deal with queries from the users they support. This includes giving individual advice by phone and email (which is available at all times), preparation of web-based material, seminars, responding to queries on mailing lists and reporting on new initiatives, information and guidance of a general nature. Improved logging techniques will enable a better picture of needs to be built up, so that follow-up and referrals can be better managed, demand gauged, and resources directed to where they are most needed.
- monitoring the latest information sources for new viruses;
- ensuring the latest protection tools are acquired and distributed;
- keeping documentation and advice up to date;
- constantly endeavouring to raise the level of awareness of the need for vigilance;
- responding to outbreaks (sometimes by personal attendance);
- installing the latest virus detection and eradication tools in all OUCS computers and, on request, in departmental and college computer clusters;
- recovering infected computers where necessary.
Infections, sometimes serious, have continued to occur across the University. The most severe which have emerged this year are based around email attachments of Microsoft Office documents or Windows scripts. In many cases they exploit Microsoft Outlook email facilities to facilitate their rapid propagation.
OUCS has negotiated extremely favourable terms with a national company that undertakes maintenance and repair of all brands and types of personal computer equipment. There are now over 7,500 items covered by this service and numbers continue to grow [figures Figure 14, Micro Maintenance — Units Registered & Figure 15, Registration by Equipment Type — 31 July 2001]. OUCS monitors callouts and for the most part the service has been exemplary.
The cost is currently subsidised from the central grant; Humanities faculties (plus a few others) receive the service free of charge, whilst other University departments and units receive a partial subsidy. Colleges, associated institutions and private users pay the full price.
The subsidy scheme is being reviewed in the light of the new funding arrangements within the University, and it is anticipated that the remaining subsidy element will be applied equally across all University departments.
OUCS offers a personal computer upgrade service. Advice is given on the best means of increasing the performance or functionality of PCs and Macs, as often, substantial improvements can be made with minimal investment, for example, RAM upgrades. Where requested, upgrades can be undertaken by OUCS in-house, on a cost-recovery basis. Similarly, some repairs (for unmaintained equipment) can be undertaken in-house, again, on a cost-recovery basis. However, OUCS would recommend the maintenance service (see above) as a more effective solution to the personal computer breakdown risk. Usage has remained stable [figure Figure 17, Micro Upgrades and Repairs Undertaken by OUCS].
The OUCS Shop sells a wide range of computer items, ranging from personal computers (Macs and several ranges of PCs to suit all pockets and needs), through peripherals (eg printers and Ethernet cards), to software and documentation. The Shop takes advantage of the special pricing negotiated as national deals for the HE sector. In addition, it has been possible to negotiate improvements on these deals from some suppliers. The rise in the sale of Ethernet cards witnessed in previous years continues. The Shop also provides the vehicle for making available all the site-licensed and bulk-purchased software, with most of it on CD-ROM: media copying for the most part is undertaken in-house by the Media Services section. Details of all items for sale through the Shop, together with price lists, are available on the department's web pages.
In addition to the normal retail activities, OUCS also undertakes personal purchasing for recipients of University equipment grants who lack local support; this often requires non-standard hardware and software, with special efforts made to locate, price and acquire such special items.
Overall, there has been almost no change in the value of trade this year [figure Figure 18, Shop Sales]. The Shop is reviewing its operations to ensure that it can continue to trade satisfactorily and is expecting to add to the range of products that it sells.
OUCS undertake a variety of activities designed to make the acquisition of software (primarily) for personal computers more straightforward and less costly. The various arrangements it has made have saved the University £2 million in this financial year. This figure is based on the equivalent education cost of licences if purchased outside the site licence agreements, and it takes into account the cost of staff salaries.
The Microsoft Campus Agreement was renewed for a second year. This is a form of site licence, whose cost is determined by the number of staff on the University's payroll. It covers the Office products, Operating System Upgrades, Visual Studio, and Back Office Client licences, and is renewable annually. It allows unlimited copies of these software items to be installed on University- and College-owned computers, and also on some staff-owned computers. It is only a rental agreement, so there is some risk that the University may become locked into these products.
The savings on the Campus agreement have been significant: if all copies that have been registered with OUCS were to be paid for at Select rates, the cost would be over 30% more. In addition, there is the very real saving in staff time administering the agreement and distributing the licences and media.
The second arrangement, which has been in place now for about 6 years, uses a special grant made to OUCS to purchase site licences for various appropriate software products. A committee appointed by the ICT Committee oversees this expenditure, to ensure that it matches academic needs, that it continues to represent good value for money, and that the benefit is experienced by all disciplines within the University.
It too has been a most successful scheme, and small increments in the amount of funding have allowed more and more software to be acquired this way, though requests still continue to outstrip funding. The major addition to the scheme this year has been a site licence for Endnote (bibliographic software), which has been added to the deals negotiated by the CHEST (Combined Higher Education Software Team). The only cost to the user is for the media on which the software is supplied.
- Perpetual licence for unlimited use of GSView within the University. GSView is a graphical interface for Ghostscript, allows conversion to bitmap, postscript & PDF files.
- Perpetual licence for unlimited use of WinTex within the University. WinTeX is a TeX editor with modern MDI-Interface.
- Unlimited site licence for EndNote (Bibliographic package) for use within the University, runs until August 2004
- NAG Compilers & Tools
- Addition of the NAG Compilers & Tools to the NAG Agreement, unlimited use within the University, runs to July 2005.
- Eudora Email Client
- Free licence to education set up for Eudora email client.
- PaintShop Pro
- Site licence for the University enabling reduced cost packs to be purchased for PaintShop Pro (Bitmap Editor for Graphic Design).
- Adobe LiveMotion
- Additional product under the Adobe bulk-purchase agreement, Adobe LiveMotion (Web Graphics & Animation Tool).
- Agreement for Ingres database systems renewed until December 2005.
This service (NSMS) is a facilities management service that has been established to meet a growing demand in departments, colleges and associated institutions for managed Client/Server networks. The Service draws on the expertise that OUCS staff have with PCs, Macs and network servers, particularly Novell Netware, Windows NT/2000, Sun Solaris and Linux servers. The NSMS staff set up, update, and troubleshoot file servers, supporting DOS, Windows and Macintosh applications, on a departmental or college network. The service will also support the configuration of workstations which are either stand alone, or connected to the University's network and possibly to a fileserver. The expertise of the support staff enables them to provide a cost effective high level of service that offers security, resilience and continuity.
NSMS is run on a fully cost-recovered basis. The basic server management service is subsidised by the General Board for humanities faculty users, although this subsidy will be phased out in the near future.
This service is steadily expanding and is provided by 7 full time members of staff — one more than the previous year. It currently has service agreements with 26 departments and 15 colleges and associated institutions, involving the support of 25 servers and approximately 250 workstations. These facilities are supporting a staff and student population of approximately 5,000.
The NSMS Web server facility provides a flexible, securely managed server offering both a Windows NT IIS and a Unix Apache Web server environment. It provides a very full range of facilities for the presentation of Web pages, supporting full CGI scripting, Active Server Pages technology, and database support. The number of sites that are supported was 13 at the end of the period of this report, and is steadily growing.
A new facility providing a web based registration service for conferences was introduced this year. Its initial customer was the Human Anatomy Department, which was hosting the British Society for Developmental Biology conference in Oxford. A side affect of conference registration requirements is the need for accepting credit card payments over the Internet. The implications of this, with respect to the University's financial management facilities, are being actively pursued so that web-based payment services can be more generally exploited throughout the University.
It has been decided to discontinue this service as demand has declined and the cost of new equipment required to maintain and develop the service cannot be justified. The service will formally cease at the end of December 2001.
OUCS offers a very cost-effective maintenance service for the Ethernet network hardware used by most departments and colleges. It utilises a board-replacement arrangement, so that networks can be restored rapidly and then the boards sent away for repair. Details can be found at /network/lan/.