OUCS Annual Report 2000/2001, covering the period 1st August 2000 to 31st July 2001
Paul Jeffreys
February 2002

1. General Overview

1.1. Mission Statement

The Mission Statement of OUCS1 is:-
  • To provide high-quality and cost-effective IT services that meet the needs of the University and its members;
  • to provide a wide range of IT training and relevant training resources;
  • to foster excellence and innovation in the use of IT in teaching, learning and research;
  • 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 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.

1.2. University Structure

The introduction of the new Governance structure for the University has brought about major changes in the way in which OUCS relates to its management committee and to the University as a whole. OUCS is now part of Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC), which is also responsible for other central services such as the Libraries and Museums. The managing committee of OUCS is the Information and Communications Technology Committee (ICTC), which has representation from all the academic divisions and is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Services and University Collections),

The devolution of financial responsibility to the academic divisions has brought greater emphasis to the need for transparency in the finances and activities of the centrally funded bodies in ASUC, and OUCS is already well placed to meet this demand. OUCS has for some years been allocating all its expenditure, including staff costs, into a large number of account headings reflecting the various activities that it carries out. This scheme has ensured that OUCS can present detailed information on the cost of each activity, and so has enabled informed debate on the value of these services to the University.

The greater autonomy of the academic divisions gives them new responsibilities in many areas, such as IT support and IT training, in which OUCS provides services to the University. Some of these services are cost-recovered, and others are presently funded from the central allocation to OUCS. These services are currently being reviewed to see whether more elements should be put on a cost-recovery basis, giving the divisions more freedom to choose the services they use. However, there is a strong case for saying that some services, in particular training for transferable computer skills, should be part of the basic knowledge and ability set that the `well-found' university should provide for all its members. The existence of a solid base of computer skills in the University, and a proper level of support for the computer and information technology that now underpins all its activities, is vital to the University's position and world-class status.

1.3. Director of OUCS

Alex Reid resigned as Director in November 2000, to take up a position at the University of Western Australia. Dr Paul Jeffreys, previously the Head of the Computing and Resource Management Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and leader of the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils' e-Science Centre, was appointed to the post, and started in April 2001. The ICTC is very grateful to Alan Gay who led OUCS as Acting Director during the interregnum.

1.4. Core Services

The demand for network connectivity and all associated services, such as the Herald email service and all forms of web access, continues to grow inexorably. This is shown in graphical and tabular form in later sections.

During the summer and autumn of 2000 (following an EU procurement exercise) the backbone network was upgraded from 100 megabits/second FDDI to gigabit Ethernet. This was a major task, involving a completely new central switch structure, and converting some 180 college and departmental network connections. The upgrade was managed without any change to the University-wide address structure being necessary, and was completed on schedule just before Christmas 2000. It has allowed the standard connection between departmental and college networks and the backbone to be increased from 10 to 100 megabits/second. The new network has proved both efficient and reliable.

In March 2001 the connection to the national academic network, Janet, was upgraded from a nominal 34 megabits/second to 622 megabits/second. This brought welcome relief, as the link had been showing signs of overloading at peak times. OUCS was fully involved with UKERNA's planning of the connection, which is made by a dual link to the Janet connection point in Reading. One link goes directly to Reading, and the other via the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, thus providing a resilient connection for both sites. Our links are shared by Oxford Brookes University.

The increase in the University's network connectivity makes it an even more attractive target for malicious computer hackers, and the wide variations in equipment throughout the University, and in standards of support of this equipment, means that it is always possible to find vulnerable targets. OUCS's security team, and the volunteer OxCert team, have striven to keep these problems in check, and to keep system managers informed of the potential threat and the steps necessary to keep their systems secure. It is to their great credit that impact on University systems has been relatively slight.

Demand for the central filestore (the Hierarchical Fileserver) also continues to grow rapidly, and a bid for a major enhancement, partly from the HEFCE Capital Funding, has been approved.

1.5. IT Training

OUCS is committed is the provision of IT training within the University. This training ranges from the basic IT skills needed by all who use word processors, spreadsheets, etc, to the specialist knowledge needed by IT support staff in departments and colleges. The training is provided in formats suitable for the subject and the audience. The more general training is done in lecture mode, supplemented by ample practical experience with help on hand, and the detailed technical training in seminar mode.

The provision of training must be considered as necessary to the University as a whole, and as the proper and comprehensive way to obviate the difficulties with IT systems which users invariably encounter. Ultimately this must reduce the burden on support staff, both centrally and in departments and colleges, and provide a better standard of work in all areas of the University.

In addition, this training provides the means for students to acquire transferable skills, which is a national as well as local priority, and helps fulfil the University's responsibility as an employer to give appropriate training to its employees.

1.6. IT in Teaching and Learning

The opportunity has been taken this year to reorganise OUCS's direct provision of support for the use of IT in teaching and learning. The Academic Computing Development Team, initially funded by a special grant from General Board, and recently awarded additional funding to expand its remit beyond the Humanities, forms one key component of a new Learning Technologies Group (LTG), which will provide important new services to the University as a whole. The LTG's remit includes both practical support for academics wishing to integrate IT into their teaching and research, and state of the art research into the best ways of doing so. It is co-operating closely with other units within the University active in this area (notably TALL and the Director of Online and Distance Learning) and consolidates more than a decade of pioneering work at OUCS. This increased emphasis has been effected from redeployment of existing posts and from earmarked grants from external sources, and is an illustration of OUCS's ability to respond rapidly to changing priorities in the deployment of its accumulated expertise and resources.

1.7. Participation in University Activities

There is a large demand for OUCS staff participation in many IT-related committees and working parties within the University, and for consultation on a wide range of issues. Much of this, for example work with the Surveyors to establish new duct routes around Oxford, has to be considered as a central University overhead cost. Furthermore, OUCS is responsible for many outside interfaces, such as acquisition and control of the many Internet domain names that it is prudent to own (to stop anyone else owning them).

1.8. e-Science and the Computational GRID

It is widely believed that the GRID (http://e-science.ox.ac.uk/) will be the next significant development in Internet computing, and that its importance will come to rival, if not outweigh, the World Wide Web. The GRID provides a distributed computational infrastructure, giving to its users availability of distributed high performance computer systems able to access and process terabytes of data stored in federated databases, and the appropriate tools to control these resources within a secure environment.

The original applications envisaged were in the field of e-Science, by which is meant science carried out through distributed global collaboration enabled by the Internet. Typically, a feature of such collaborative scientific enterprises is that they require access to very large data collections, very large scale computing resources, and high performance visualisation techniques.

Increasingly it is realised that these facilities are needed in many areas of university research, not just the sciences, and projects are being sought in all disciplines.

Funding for a regional e-Science Centre in Oxford has been received from the Government's e-Science Core Programme initiative, and the Director of OUCS, Dr Jeffreys, will also be Director of the e-Science centre.

OUCS is playing a full part in the development of the e-Science centre, and will be housing the coordination centre and some of the computing equipment. OUCS staff will assist in setting up initial demonstrator projects, coordinating authentication and authorisation, and be responsible for the web pages, as well as managing key central Grid services.

2. Network Infrastructure

2.1. Connection to Janet

During 2000-1 the National Academic Network introduced the latest phase of its development, known as SuperJANET 4. As part of this, in March 2001, the University's connection to Janet was upgraded from a (nominal) speed of 34 Mbit/second incoming and 12 Mbit/second outgoing to 622Mbit/second in each direction. This upgrade came at a time when traffic was previously reaching maximum throughput during peak times. As the graphs in figures Figure 1, Janet Monthly Inwards Traffic, MBytes/Day and Figure 2, Janet Monthly Outwards Traffic, MBytes/Day show, the upgrade has allowed the rise in traffic volume to continue unabated. The theoretical daily maximum traffic rate, ie the upper boundary on these graphs, is now about 5 Terabyte/day (5000,000 MB/day).

Janet Monthly Inwards Traffic, MBytes/Day
Figure 1. Janet Monthly Inwards Traffic, MBytes/Day
Janet Monthly Outwards Traffic, MBytes/Day
Figure 2. Janet Monthly Outwards Traffic, MBytes/Day

2.2. University Backbone Network

During the previous period the decision was taken to upgrade the University backbone network from a 100 Mbit/second FDDI ring to a Gigabit Ethernet switched system. An EU procurement exercise was conducted by OUCS, overseen by a University group, and a system based on Cisco equipment was selected. A double-star configuration was planned, giving dual connections from the two central level-two switches to the ten outlying level-three switches. A small amount of extra fibre installation was required to accommodate this, but most used the existing fibres. The Gigabit network was brought into operation during the summer and autumn of 2000, with minimal disruption or downtime to the departmental networks. One of the design aims was to preserve the address structure for all connected networks.

Nodes connected to Oxford's Backbone Network
Figure 3. Nodes connected to Oxford's Backbone Network

Another development was the introduction of a second fibre link to Headington, going via Cowley Road and Morrell Avenue to the Churchill site [figure Figure 4, ].

Figure 4.

This completes a loop with the first link via Marston to the John Radcliffe site, and so provides resilience for the connection to the University departments in Headington, and also for the Oxford Brookes University link to the Janet connection point at OUCS. This was completed in May 2001.

A schematic of the data network connections is shown in figure Figure 4, and figure Figure 5, Gigabit Ethernet Daily Traffic (GBytes/day) shows the Gigabyte Ethernet daily traffic levels.

Gigabit Ethernet Daily Traffic (GBytes/day)
Figure 5. Gigabit Ethernet Daily Traffic (GBytes/day)

2.3. Dial-Up Service

The dial-up service continues to be popular and heavily used [figure Figure 6, Dial-up Calls (weekly figures)], although the year-on-year growth has levelled off, and there are now signs of a slight drop. This may be because of the increased availability and falling costs of other forms of home connection, such as NTLWorld. The future of this service will be kept under review.

Dial-up Calls (weekly figures)
Figure 6. Dial-up Calls (weekly figures)

3. Network-based Services

Apart from the basic functions of the network described in section 2. Network Infrastructure above, a wide variety of key infrastructural network services are also provided by OUCS. These are used by all sectors of the University, some consciously but others unconsciously in the background. These services include:
  1. Domain Name Server (DNS)
  2. Email relay server
  3. Network time server
  4. Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) service
  5. Web cache
  6. Web servers
  7. Email POP and IMAP servers
  8. Network News server
  9. Mailing List server
  10. File backup and archive server (Hierarchical File Store) (HFS)
  11. Windows Internet name server
  12. Novell Directory Services (NDS) tree server
  13. Virtual Private Network (VPN) server
Most are based on PC equipment running Linux, with a few using Sun equipment running Solaris. The choice is determined by the requirements of the application software, though the PC/Linux solution is preferred (for cost and supplier-independence reasons) where feasible. Typically, all require and exhibit very high reliability.
In addition to the above computer-based services, other key network services provided more directly by staff include:
  1. Oxford Emergency Computer ResponseTeam (OxCERT)
  2. Ethernet Maintenance service

Details of all these services can be found on the OUCS Web pages at ??. Several of these services are discussed in more detail below.

3.1. Email Services

3.1.1. Email Relay

The Email Relay service handles the vast majority of the University's incoming and outgoing email (some departments operate independently). It also handles inter-system email within the University. It directs email to the appropriate email server, performs address checks and rewrites addresses to the standard form (where requested by the relevant department to do so), handles distribution of multiple-recipient email, `spools' email intended for non-responding recipient systems, etc. The number of messages handled during the year approached 150,000/day on average [figure Figure 7, Daily Average Numbers Through Email Relay], with the volume of traffic amounting to nearly 3,000 Mbyte/day on average [figure Figure 8, Mean Daily MBytes Delivered by Email Relay], 50% larger than last year. Both the volume of messages and the size of each message continue to rise inexorably.

Daily Average Numbers Through Email Relay
Figure 7. Daily Average Numbers Through Email Relay
Mean Daily MBytes Delivered by Email Relay
Figure 8. Mean Daily MBytes Delivered by Email Relay

3.1.2. Herald Email Server

There are now 22,500 users of Herald. Performance and availability remain excellent.

3.2. Mailing List Service

The Mailing List service is provided by a dedicated PC running Linux. It uses the public domain Majordomo software, and manages over 900 lists. Support and encouragement for the national Mailbase service (which in total handles 3,000 mailing lists) is also provided.

3.3. General Web Server

Hits on the general-purpose web server [figure Figure 9, OUCS Web Server Hits per Week (millions)] continue to grow, with a 50% increase compared to last year. It serves 110 domains — mostly colleges and departments within the University, with addresses of the form `www.department.ox.ac.uk'. It holds the home pages of 2000 users, and holds 156000 web pages in all, totalling 14 Gbytes of data. The OUCS web pages were moved during this year to a dedicated server.

Server Hits per Week (millions)
Figure 9. OUCS Web Server Hits per Week (millions)

3.4. Backup and Archive File Server

The Hierarchical File Server (HFS) project was started in 1995 to provide large scale central filestore services to the University community. The HFS runs software called Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM, formerly known as ADSM). The two main services provided by the HFS are (1) Desktop and Departmental/College Server backup service [figures Figure 10, HFS totals for backup (data) & Figure 11, HFS totals for backup (files)] and (2) long term data repository service for university digital assets [figures Figure 12, HFS totals for archive (data) & Figure 13, HFS totals for archive (files)].

Since the original procurement of the HFS computer systems, we have instigated a rolling programme of upgrades of the principal hardware components (IBM RS6000 computers, an IBM 3494 Automated Tape Library and 3590E tape drives) which has kept the system capacity ahead of demand. The M80 was installed in August 2000 and runs two TSM servers, for the server backup service and for the long term archive service. Prior to that the entire backup service was running on the H70; the H70 now provides the desktop backup service. Both RS6000s have performed very well throughout the year.

The figures [Figure 10, HFS totals for backup (data) & Figure 11, HFS totals for backup (files)] show both backup services combined as `desktop' in August 2000; as the servers were transferred to the M80 there is an apparent drop in desktop usage as data was deleted from the H70. By the beginning of 2001, the transfers were largely completed and the figures show both services increasing since then. The `server' service is showing the fastest rate of increase. The totals for both backup and archive continue to grow.

The site-wide backup service continues to offer a highly reliable and available facility with great convenience and simplicity to the end user.

Oxford hosted a second TSM Symposium in September 2000 which attracted about 170 attendees, mostly from Europe but there were also users and TSM developers from the USA present.

HFS totals for backup (data)
Figure 10. HFS totals for backup (data)
HFS totals for backup (files)
Figure 11. HFS totals for backup (files)
HFS totals for archive (data)
Figure 12. HFS totals for archive (data)
HFS totals for archive (files)
Figure 13. HFS totals for archive (files)

4. Central Services

4.1. Central Unix Service

The older of the two central Unix servers, Sable, was taken out of service at the end of July 2001. This was the end of a long exercise to help users transfer to other services. In general, those only requiring email were moved to Herald, while the few needing a Unix shell service were moved to Ermine. Ermine is now run only on a care and maintenance basis, and its phasing-out will commence during the next year.

4.2. Special Printing Services

OUCS operates a number of `special' printing devices, ie high-quality output devices which generally are too expensive or too specialist to be found in any one department or unit. These are currently:
  • a high-quality colour print and copy unit;
  • a typesetter producing camera-ready copy (Monotype Panther Pro);
  • a high-performance A0 colour Postscript Printer/Plotter

The last is used to produce A0 (poster size) output on photo-quality paper, and is especially popular for producing poster displays for conferences, exhibitions, etc.

This is an area where technology changes rapidly (and the cost of high-quality devices is falling). Each of these special printing services will be kept under review, and as each device reaches the end of its useful life, careful consideration will be made to determine whether continuation is justified as a central service.

4.3. Computer Room Operations

The computer room operations staff are responsible for all operational duties associated with the large number of computing and network equipment housed there, especially the Hierarchical File Server and its robot tape library. In addition, OUCS houses various major computers belonging to other University departments, including the main OLIS library server and Silicon Graphics Cray Origin2000 parallel computer run by the Oxford Supercomputing Centre. The computer room equipment is protected by a large Uninterruptible Power Supply, and multiple air-conditioning systems.

In the evenings, operations staff provide a source of assistance for users in the User Area and LaRC.

A survey of use of these areas showed that a slight cost saving could be made by bringing forward the closing time of the building to 20:30, and this was implemented soon after the end of this period. The externally accessible `Data Centre' continues to provide 24-hour availability to a range of computers and the internet as well as a printing service.

5. Client Computing

5.1. Personal Computer Advice

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.

5.2. Virus Service

About 1 FTE effort is continuously devoted to addressing virus problems. Viruses (of all forms) continue to proliferate and increase in sophistication, and only constant vigilance will prevent massive outbreaks and damage. The service provided includes:
  • 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.

5.3. Microcomputer Maintenance Service

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.

Micro Maintenance — Units Registered
Figure 14. Micro Maintenance — Units Registered
Registration by Equipment Type — 31 July 2001
Figure 15. Registration by Equipment Type — 31 July 2001

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.

Registration by Subsidy Type — 31 July 2001
Figure 16. Registration by Subsidy Type — 31 July 2001

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.

5.4. Microcomputer Repair and Upgrade Service

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].

Micro Upgrades and Repairs Undertaken by OUCS
Figure 17. Micro Upgrades and Repairs Undertaken by OUCS

5.5. Computer Shop

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.

Shop Sales
Figure 18. Shop Sales

5.6. Software Licensing

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.

Software Licenses Issued
Figure 19. Software Licenses Issued

5.6.1. Microsoft Campus Agreement

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.

5.6.2. Site Licence Scheme

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.

The following new site licences have been added this year:
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.
Also, this year has witnessed the extension and/or renewal of existing deals and agreements for the following products:
Vista Exceed & Maestro
Agreement for Vista Exceed & Maestro renewed until July 2006.
Agreement for SAS statistical software renewed until February 2004.
Novell Netware
Agreement for Novell Netware renewed until May 2004.
Other new deals (not centrally-funded) taken out this year include:
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.

5.7. Network Systems Management Service

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.

5.7.1. Conference Registration Service

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.

5.8. Microprocessing Hardware Service

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.

5.9. Network Hardware Maintenance

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/.

6. Help and Information

6.1. The Help Desk (Advisory) Service

For many years OUCS has provided a walk-in general Advisory Service. With the increasing demand for more specialist knowledge on the one hand, and huge increases in the usage of alternative means of help provision such as email and web services on the other, it has long been apparent that the level of provision in this specific area was in need of review.

During the period covered by this Report, several scenarios were discussed, and a number of options explored. The continued devolution of front-line support to distributed IT support staff, and the expansion and improvement of OUCS training and services encouraged the belief that Help Desk provision could be centralised and reduced without any loss of service in the long term; it was proposed that a new Help Desk management post should be established. An investigation of appropriate support technologies was also instigated, with a view to providing a more professional level of service for incoming calls, automatic routing to experts and so forth.

As expected, the level of personal callers during this period has dropped almost as rapidly as the number of email and telephone enquiries has increased. A systematic review of the whole provision of advisory facilities is underway, with a view to amalgamating the currently dispersed provision, and to tailoring it to better match current patterns of demand. Implementations of the recommendations arising from this review should be completed by Easter 2002.

6.2. Registration Service

The registration service not only registers all users for the various OUCS services (increasingly, offering Web interfaces so that the process can be self-service), but also ensures that OUCS has current and correct data on staff, students, visitors, etc from the University Offices, and maintains OUCS' own database of individuals. It also assists users with queries relating to their accounts, eg passwords, email quotas, disk quotas, expiry and renewal dates, etc. The numbers of accounts held on OUCS services continues to grow [figure Figure 20, Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases].

Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases
Figure 20. Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases

6.3. Support for Distributed IT Staff

As indicated in section 7. IT Training, OUCS is committed to providing a range of special services in support of distributed IT staff, to more fully implement a seamless hierarchy of IT support services throughout the University. Special training offerings is but one element of this. `Fast-track' access to the Registration services for registered ITSS has been implemented. This appears to be working satisfactorily, though some improvements in feedback are being developed.

Much effort has also been devoted to developing the IT Support Staff Register. The Register will be used for:
  • Fast-track service to Registration;
  • Access to Help Desk Service for ITSS;
  • ITSS mailing lists.
As indicated above, extra support has been devoted to ITSS training and development activities. These have included:
  • setting up of special courses;
  • creating a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) scheme promoting ITSS;
  • maintenance of a Calendar of events;
  • regular weekly seminars;
  • technical workshops and talks by internal and external experts;
  • discount arrangements with local commercial training companies;
  • bringing commercial courses to Oxford to reduce costs;
  • Web pages giving advice and information on technical certification.

OUCS is very supportive of the ITSS Annual Conference (the 6th), which this year was held in the University Museum and Keble College. Once again this proved to be well-attended and a great success, and overall received high rankings in evaluations.

6.4. Information Services

OUCS publishes a variety of information, in several formats. It includes publicity leaflets describing each main service offered by OUCS (these are widely distributed, especially among students, at the start of each academic year), training course notes (issued to all course attendees), the IT News printed and Web-based newsletter, and a very extensive range of Web pages describing OUCS facilities and services, and general advice on good practice in IT use. Some 5,000 Web pages are currently published by OUCS.

6.5. OUCS Web Pages

OUCS information publication activities are now almost entirely on the Web. During the year, conversion of the OUCS web pages to XML markup, and implementation of a more flexible delivery system on a dedicated web server, were the main items of work. A major rewrite of the pages about email was well received, and points the way for similar changes in 2001/2, together with significant style redesign.

6.6. Publicizing OUCS

In a university as diverse, complex and distributed (logically and physically) as Oxford, it is vital that OUCS undertakes various forms of advertising, in order that all members can be made aware of the services provided for them.
  • Most advertising is done at the end of September, at the beginning of January and again about Easter time. Introductory Leaflets are circulated, as well as a Shop Price Lists and Training Course dates.
  • Advertising also takes place through the various University publications such as the prospectuses, departmental information for students, staff development brochures, OUSU booklets, University diary, and Oxford Blueprint. These are continually updated as requested.
  • Posters distributed during the year advertising the ECDL and training courses proved popular, as had others when special summer courses had been run in the past.

7. IT Training

The range of IT training courses offered by OUCS is very wide. There are more than 50 modules covering:
  • basic IT concepts;
  • use of a range of software packages;
  • programming;
  • internet skills and web development techniques;
  • specific courses for groups of staff and students;
  • induction courses as requested by departments and faculties.

The courses vary in length from the new one-hour sessions to up to three full days for the programming courses. The one-hour `byte-sized' sessions proved very popular with two being offered in Trinity Term; Putting your Files on the Web, and Creating a PowerPoint Presentation. These were given in response to the findings of the OxTALENT survey and they consist of a talk and demonstration followed by time to try out the skills. This type of course has been developed further during the 2001/2002 session with many new titles being offered.

The mix of courses adjusts as student and staff knowledge develops and software changes. There is still a requirement for basic skills but these are not run as frequently and their content has broadened. The courses developed for specific departments, such as the postgraduate research skills courses have proved very popular.

The numbers of attendees remains high with many courses running full, but the number of modules has decreased slightly [figure Figure 21, IT Training Course Modules Offered] due to staff availability and the combining of some courses as requirements change. The share by type of attendee has remained approximately constant [figure Figure 22, Training Course Bookings by Attendee Status] and the distribution across the academic divisions is surprisingly even [figures Figure 23, Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (Academic Divisions only) and Figure 24, Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (All Divisions)].

IT Training Course Modules Offered
Figure 21. IT Training Course Modules Offered
Training Course Bookings by Attendee Status
Figure 22. Training Course Bookings by Attendee Status
Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (Academic Divisions only)
Figure 23. Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (Academic Divisions only)
Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (All Divisions)
Figure 24. Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (All Divisions)

During 2001 the Learning Technologies Group was formed bringing together the Academic Computing Development Team (formerly the HCDT), Project ASTER, OxTALENT, and during Michaelmas term the Centre for Humanities Computing (see Appendix).

The figures below covering the period 2000-2001 were while the main focus of the components of the LTG was still the Humanities Division. Nevertheless they still illustrate that several of the courses that were run in that period attracted many attendees from other divisions. For a full report see http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/chc/teaching.htm.

The total number of courses taught was 98, with 274 total teaching hours and 2156 total participants. Of these, 803 participants attended the Humanities graduate courses, and 1353 attended the generic courses. The breakdown of the generic courses by division is shown in Table Table 1. All of these figures are included in figures Figure 21, IT Training Course Modules Offered to Figure 24, Training Course Bookings 2000/2001 (All Divisions).

Academic Services 250 (18.52%)
Continuing Education 56 (4.12%)
Humanities 311 (23.04%)
LES 145 (10.70%)
Social Sciences 234 (17.28%)
Medical Sciences 184 (13.58%)
MPS 173 (12.76%)

7.1. Lecture Rooms

The computers in Lecture Rooms B and C were replaced in July/August 2001 and the old machines then replaced the ones in the Learning and Resource Centre (LaRC).

Facilities for those with a disability have been installed in the lecture rooms. There is an induction loop in Lecture Room A, adjustable desks in each of the rooms, two flat screens in each room and special chairs are available as well as a variety of mice, keyboards and wrist-rests.

7.2. IT Qualification Recognised by Employers

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) establishes standards for everyone who uses a computer. It is a qualification that verifies a person's competence and declares their computer skills according to a pan-European industry standard (http://www.ecdl.com).

OUCS was one of the first academic institutions in the UK to run the ECDL and is a leader in the development of this qualification in the national academic community. OUCS runs weekly drop-in sessions throughout the year and intensive training weeks. During the year 107 people enrolled for the ECDL and 436 tests were passed.

7.3. Learning and Resource Centre (LaRC)

The IT Learning and Resource Centre provides a supervised, open learning environment for University members to acquire computing skills. In addition, the LaRC facilities supplement those available in colleges and departments.

The LaRC has continued to prove an invaluable adjunct to the formal teaching facilities and sessions provided by OUCS. The number of usernames allocated is slightly down on the previous year but the number of sessions per username has increased. The use of the facilities is now dominated by those wishing to train and in particular those wishing to study for the ECDL.

8. The Humanities Computing Unit (HCU)

The HCU expanded considerably both in size and remit over the period covered by this report. The Unit was originally set up as a special core service, providing specialist services to departments and faculties which have been historically disadvantaged with respect to their provision of IT support. Its activities, overseen by the Committee for Computing in the Arts, include provision of specialist support and facilities, nationally funded services, and leading-edge research projects. It employs over 20 staff, over half of them on externally-funded projects and services. Two major JISC funded services within the Unit are the Humbul Humanities Hub (section 8.1. Humbul Humanities Hub) and the long-established Oxford Text Archive (section 8.2. Oxford Text Archive); the Unit also acts as home for a number of other smaller research projects and services (8.3. Other projects).

During the course of this year, a reorganization of the Unit was carried out, bringing together and re-focussing its activities in support of teaching and learning throughout the University as the Learning Technologies Group (see section 7. IT Training, and Appendix B).

8.1. Humbul Humanities Hub

The Humbul Humanities Hub is a national service with local Oxford University roots. As part of the Resource Discovery Network, Humbul finds, evaluates and catalogues online resources in the humanities. Its searchable database of resource descriptions supports lecturers, researchers, and students, as well as library information staff both in Oxford and across the UK. The principal means for delivering this information is through an Internet interface (http://www.humbul.ac.uk/") which is visited on an increasing basis. Humbul is a featured resource on the National Grid for Learning. Between 1 August 2000 and 31 July 2001, more than 25,000 individual searches were made through Humbul's online interface, with more than 1,200,000 web pages served.

Humbul has also been active developing and hosting online tutorials specifically for students in the Humanities. At present 8 separate tutorials are hosted, forming the Humanities section of the Resource Discovery Network's Virtual Training Suite. The tutorials are used extensively by colleges and institutions of higher education as a means of introducing students to the challenges and opportunities of online resource discovery and use. Raising awareness and developing skills is an essential component of Humbul's service. Humbul has provided workshops and seminars on online resource discovery and evaluation for Oxford University, as well as teaming up with the Arts and Humanities Data Service to provide a national series of workshop entitled Arts and Humanities Online.

The Humbul Humanities Hub has an executive committee drawn from senior managers and library staff at the University of Oxford. In addition, it has an advisory committee of subject specialist, publishers such as Oxford University Press, and information professionals from across the UK. At present Humbul employs 5 FTEs inclusive of the Head of Humbul, Dr Michael Fraser.

8.2. Oxford Text Archive

The Oxford Text Archive is a major component of the Humanities Computing Unit, and since 1996 has been funded as part of the UK's national Arts and Humanities Data Service to provide support for the creators and users of digital resources within the subject domains of literature and linguistics (for all languages, periods, and genres).

Between 1st August 2000 and 31st July 2001, more than 64,400 individuals visited the OTA website (http://ota.ahds.ac.uk) and downloaded over 38,000 electronic texts. Thanks to a grant of £31,839 from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (rolled over from 99-00), the OTA was able to employ a trained cataloguer to create or revise more than 1900 catalogue records for the OTA.

OTA staff continued to make a major contribution to other activities at the University of Oxford, serving on bodies such as the IT and Equipment Committee of the Faculty of Literae Humaniores, and the Bodleian's Digital Library Resources Group. The OTA also played a part in the establishment of the Oxford Digital Library, and through that association has gone on to provide vital input to Oxford's part in the $9M Early English Books Online project.

8.3. Other projects

As noted above, the HCU acts as home for a number of externally-funded research project activities. The following lists some of major activities during the period covered by this report:
2001 saw the close of the three-year HEFCE-funded ASTER project, in which we collaborated with the Universities of York and Surrey in an investigation of the effectiveness of C&IT-based methods in small-group teaching. The results of this multi-disciplinary project were well received and are available at http://cti-psy.york.ac.uk/aster/ (out of date).
British National Corpus
A second edition of this unique 100 million word language corpus was released in January 2001. This was the first edition to be made available worldwide, and has proved to be very popular. Monthly income from sales of the CD currently averages over £4000, and shows no sign of falling off [figure Figure 25, BNC sales 2000-2001].
In collaboration with the Libraries, HCU contributed an assessment of metadata requirements to this JISC-funded project led by CURL, the aim of which was to explore issues and recommendations in the area of long term digital preservation.
This three-year project funded under the EU Libraries Programme was concluded successfully in June 2001. Co-ordinated by De Montfort University, this project defined and tested an XML standard for the production of detailed manuscript descriptions. HCU contributed expertise in standards building, prepared a demonstration XML database system, and participated in extensive training workshops in its use around Europe
Text Encoding Initiative
The HCU is one of four academic sites worldwide now hosting the TEI Consortium which was set up in January to maintain the TEI Guidelines, the de facto standard for scholarly work in electronic text creation. During the period of this report, substantial work was carried out in adapting the Guidelines to use XML, in setting up a new website (at http://www.tei-c.org), and in recruiting new members to the Consortium.
BNC sales 2000-2001
Figure 25. BNC sales 2000-2001


OUCS has collected statistics in the period following the last academic year for the HFS, LTG and ACDT with the view to exploring their use across the University. This appendix presents a series of new tables and plots, and it is anticipated that in future years these will be shown in the main body of the Annual Report covering the entire year.

Hierarchical File Store

The following table shows the percentages of total files held, data stored (measured in GB) and nodes (backup clients) or projects, sub-divided by function for each the part of the University represented. The figures present the break down at the end of December 2001.

DivisionDesktop backupServer backupArchive
(%) files (%) GB (%) nodes (%) files (%) GB (%) nodes (%) files (%) GB (%) projects
Academic Services 10.2 9.7 9.5 10.5 15.2 17.6 44.3 80.1 48.8
Central Administration 0.6 0.6 1.9 3.7 2.8 5.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
Colleges 13.1 10.7 17.4 19.8 9.7 22.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Continuing Education 0.3 0.4 0.2 1.4 0.8 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Humanities 1.6 1.3 3.4 2.4 1.3 5.5 7.1 11.5 14.6
Life & Environ. Sci. 12.2 13.6 13.7 13.5 15.7 8.4 0.5 0.1 4.9
Maths. & Physical Sci. 42.3 43.2 33.0 24.8 24.5 16.4 32.8 4.9 14.6
Medical Sciences 15.6 16.1 15.1 20.0 23.4 16.9 15.3 3.3 17.1
Other Related Bodies 0.2 0.7 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Paying Etc 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0. 0 0.0
Social Sciences 3.2 3.1 4.0 4.1 6.7 6.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
University Companies 0.7 0.5 1.6 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total Values/Sizes 119595799 13469 1958 90145440 11238 403 1202632 6917 41

The Archive storage figures require clarification. The ‘Academic Services’ entry includes the storage of 4TB of data collected under the Celtic Manuscripts project and ought potentially to be re-classified under the Colleges division. With this removed, the total Archive storage is c. 20% of Desktop or Server storage. The Humanities Division is the next significant user of Archive storage after Academic Services (which has the largest number of projects and project data excluding Celtic Manuscripts). At present, Assets/Legal Deposit HFS costs are negligible, but are expected to grow.

The next table shows the percentage growth in services over the period July to December 2001, and while some individual items reduce (due to consolidation of services for example), there is overall growth in all categories:

DivisionDesktop backupServer backupArchive
(%) files (%) GB (%) nodes (%) files (%) GB (%) nodes (%) files (%) GB (%) projects
Academic Services 1.0 10.0 -9.1 8.5 21.4 9.9 -5.0 2.5 0.0
Central Administration 33.0 24.1 7.9 18.1 26.7 4.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Colleges 23.0 14.8 10.0 4.2 3.6 14.6 0.0 0.0 0.0
Continuing Education 36.9 5.5 0.0 35.8 20.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Humanities -0.6 9.6 -16.7 37.4 30.3 22.7 16.2 21.5 16.7
Life & Environ. Sci. -3.8 6.8 -1.1 17.2 15.6 11.8 1.1 0.0 0.0
Maths. & Physical Sci. 13.2 20.1 4.3 21.2 27.0 15.2 3.4 15.9 0.0
Medical Sciences 18.3 19.2 2.7 23.9 27.5 11.8 1.6 3.5 0.0
Other Related Bodies -2.2 14.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Paying Etc 16.7 20.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Social Sciences -3.8 -7.5 -20.5 38.6 11.5 54.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
University Companies 44.5 29.7 15.6 100.0 100.0 100.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Overall Growth 11.6 15.6 1.6 17.7 21.2 15.6 0.3 5.4 2.4

Whilst all services have shown overall growth the average percentage share (or usage) by division has remained constant to within ±2%.

Charts (figures Figure 1, Desktop Storage (GB) to Figure 3, Archive Storage (GB)) detail the amount of data (in GB) stored by division each month in each category; while further charts (figures Figure 4, Desktop Storage Share (%) to Figure 6, Archive Storage Share (%)) show the amount by percentage over the same period. Both the desktop and server backup services have grown in terms of files saved and GB stored (and historically have approximately doubled every eighteen months since 1995) with server backups showing a slightly faster rate of growth.

Desktop Storage (GB)
Desktop Storage (GB)
Server Storage (GB)
Server Storage (GB)
Archive Storage (GB)
Archive Storage (GB)
Desktop Storage Share (%)
Desktop Storage Share (%)
Server Storage Share (%)
Server Storage Share (%)
Archive Storage Share (%)
Archive Storage Share (%)

Learning Technologies Group

During 2001 the Learning Technologies Group was formed bringing together the Academic Computing Development Team (formerly the HCDT), Project ASTER, OxTALENT, and during Michaelmas term the Centre for Humanities Computing. The LTG is multi-disciplinary covering all divisions within the University. Its aim is to promote, enhance, and the develop the use of IT in teaching and research within Oxford. A widening of the group's remit and impact on the other divisions is already apparent in training, and in the range of projects submitted to the Academic Computing Development Team.

Total training figures for Michaelmas term have shown a considerable increase compared to previous years. Numbers attending the courses have risen from 560 (2000) to 1075 (2001). This has been mainly due to the offering of generic EndNote courses applicable to all subjects (with a special course offered for Zoology graduates), and a series of Digital Video workshops. Hilary term looks to continue this trend and nearly all the courses taught in Hilary and Trinity (2002) will be applicable to all subjects. Moreover during Hilary term subject specific courses are being offered to the following departments:
  • Economics
  • Education Studies
  • Integrated Biology, Neurobiology and Forestry
  • Materials
  • Modern History
  • Oriental Studies
  • Politics/IR Graduates
  • Slavonic Studies
  • Zoology and Plant Sciences

ACDT Projects

In October 2001 a call for project proposals was issued by the ACDT. This was the first time such a call was open to all subject areas. A considerable amount of work went into advertising the call to as many departments as possible, and meeting with potential project managers. In addition, a special call was issued to the Medical Sciences Division to tie in with their developing IT in Teaching and Learning Strategy. The results were as follows:1

DivisionExpressions of InterestFull Proposals
Humanities 10 6
LES 7 2
Medical Sciences 8 3
MPS 7 3
Social Sciences 1 1
Academic Services/Cont. Ed 5 1
TOTAL 38 16

All the projects were then studied and assessed by the ACDT's Project Selection Panel. The results of this were as follows.

Please note that all project proposals that were not accepted in this round have been offered the chance to meet to discuss resubmitting or to get the LTG's assistance in pursuing funding opportunities or directed elsewhere.

Humanities — two projects were accepted for development either by the ACDT or other staff members in the LTG.

LES — one project was accepted for development.

Medical Sciences — two projects were accepted for development either by the ACDT or other staff members in the LTG. In addition the ACDT is already undertaking development of an image database for Anatomy.

MPS — one project was accepted, and a second one is possible after some discussion depending upon the scope of the project.

Social Sciences — the one project submitted was accepted.

Academic Services — the one project submitted was non-academic and therefore was not accepted.

In addition to the above projects, the ACDT is still committed (from previous calls) to developing and completing six projects during 2002.

Recent revision.
At the expressions of interest stage the ACDT Project Manager spoke with all potential project nominators. Some of these stated that they did not have enough time to meet the December deadline but would be very interested in submitting their project for the future May call.