3. Technical Support Services

The Technical Support Services Group was formed in April 2002 following a restructuring of OUCS that took place early in 2002 and comprises a set of services for the University, many of which offer support for local IT staff, and some of which are chargeable. It consists of the following sections:
  • Desktop Services Development
  • Network Systems Management Services
  • Shop and Media Services
  • Software Licence Management
  • Printery

3.1. Desktop Services Development Section

This section takes a leading role in the development and maintenance of services directly related to the support of desktop systems. Its main areas of responsibility are as follows:-

Support for University Wide Services:
  • Provide web based documentation relating to Windows and Macintosh desktop facilities and services that are provided by OUCS;
  • Provide consultancy services, relating to personal computer usage, to members of the University;
  • Maintain high level of expertise with Windows 2000 Active Directory, providing a technical lead to the University when required;
  • Support Netware users throughout the University;
  • Support Mac users;
  • Provide access to extended support services for Netware, Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000 administrators throughout the University;
  • Support, maintain and develop the Personal Computer Maintenance Service;
  • Provide a hardware consultancy, upgrade and repair service;
  • Support, maintain and develop University wide central services based on Windows 2000 and/or Netware, this includes the WINS service;
  • Support, maintain and develop anti-virus services;
  • Support and maintain the PC and Mac client facilities for the VPN service;
  • Support and maintain the external PostScript raster image processors for the specialist printers;
  • Support, maintain and develop the specialist printing services available to the University;
  • Maintain a high level of expertise to help achieve a status of "equal to the best" in the areas of speciality.
Support for internal OUCS Services:
  • Support, maintain and develop the in-house services that support the Help Centre facilities, teaching services and staff facilities at OUCS;
  • Support and maintain the department's administration services.

3.1.1. Personal Computer Consultancy

As part of the restructuring of the OUCS Help Centre, the micro advisory walk-in surgery that had been running for many years was changed to an appointments system, bookable through the Help Desk, with 20 appointments available per week. This service is intended for dealing with complex problems such as recovery of files, diagnosis of failing software, recovery following a virus attack, diagnosis and repair of networking problems on PCs, etc. The service is not intended to replace the IT support services provided to students and staff in Colleges, but to support these services where they need more expert assistance.

Increasingly, advice is consolidated and placed on the Web. In addition, special attention is given to advising and helping IT support staff in other departments and colleges, so that they are better equipped to deal with queries from users locally. This includes the preparation of web material, individual advice, delivering seminars, responding to queries on mailing lists and via that medium reporting on new initiatives, information and guidance of a general nature.

3.1.2. Virus Service

Viruses (of all forms) continue to proliferate and increase in sophistication, and only constant vigilance can prevent massive outbreaks and damage. Consequently a significant effort is devoted to support. 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.

3.1.3. Personal Computer 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 8,000 items covered by this scheme, which continues to experience modest growth [Figures Figure 20, Registration by Equipment Type for maintenance service & Figure 21, Registration by Subsidy Type for maintenance service]. OUCS monitors callouts and reports of unsatisfactory service, and for the most part the service has been exemplary.

Registration by Equipment Type for maintenance service
Figure 20. Registration by Equipment Type for maintenance service
Registration by Subsidy Type for maintenance service
Figure 21. Registration by Subsidy Type for maintenance service

The ICTC has decided that the full subsidy previously offered to some units will cease at the end of the financial year 2002-2003, at which time all departments of the University will receive the approximate 50% subsidy. The 50% subsidy helps to ensure the proper protection of expensive and vulnerable computer equipment. In addition, all subsidies were removed from non-standard items of equipment at the end of the financial year 2001-2002.

3.1.4. Microcomputer Repair and Upgrade Service

OUCS offers a personal computer upgrade and repair 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 with 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. Usage has remained stable [Figure Figure 22, Numbers of PC Upgrades and Repairs].
Numbers of PC Upgrades and Repairs
Figure 22. Numbers of PC Upgrades and Repairs
In general, OUCS would recommend the maintenance service (see above) as a more effective solution to the personal computer breakdown risk; in the event of a breakdown, the costs will be less and the response faster.

3.2. Network Systems Management Service

This section provides a range of chargeable, cost effective IT support services to University departments, Colleges and Associated Institutions that either have no existing formal IT arrangements, or which need to be supplemented in some way. The charges are intended only to recover the salary, hardware and training costs of the service, and are modest by commercial standards.

The IT services are managed to a high standard of security, resilience and continuity:
  • Security is the first priority; all services are maintained to the latest stable patch levels, configured to the maximum security level commensurate with the required functionality, and backed up on a daily basis;
  • Resilience is provided through overlapping staff skills, suitable hardware specification standards that the NSMS attempts to encourage amongst all its customers, and an effective, rigorous security policy;
  • Continuity of services is the consequence of a sound security and resilience policy.
The following services are currently supported:
  • Windows NT/2000 server installation and management, including Exchange;
  • Netware server installation and management;
  • Unix server installation and management, both Solaris and Linux;
  • Web server management based on Apache or Windows 2000 IIS;
  • Workstation installation and management, both Windows and Macintosh;
  • Automatic anti-virus software update service;
  • Conference web registration service;
  • Firewall installation and management;
  • Holiday cover for IT support staff;
  • General IT consultancy.

Further services, including a credit card payment service, are being planned and will be announced when available.

This service is steadily expanding and is provided by 7 full time members of staff. It currently has service agreements with 34 (26) departments and 16 (15) colleges and associated institutions, involving the support of 36 (25) servers and approximately 400 (250) workstations. These facilities are helping to support a staff and student population of approximately 5,000 (4,400) (last years figures in parentheses).

The NSMS Web server facility provides a flexible, securely managed server offering both a Windows 2000 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, amongst many other things. It is therefore a valuable complement to the more limited services of the free Web server service provided by OUCS. The number of sites that are currently supported is steadily growing and was 17 (13) at the end of the period of this report.

3.3. Computer Shop and Media Services

The OUCS Shop provides a wide range of IT related sales services to all departments, colleges and associated institutions, and members of the University. These include:
  • A sales outlet for computers, printers and other peripherals, consumables, software and other products;
  • An over-the-counter service for accepting cash, cheques and credit card payments for any chargeable service;
  • An over-the-counter registration outlet for software licences;
  • A media copying service for shop stock and other purposes.

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 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: www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/shop/.

The Shop keeps its operations under review to ensure that it can continue to trade effectively and is expecting to add to the products that it sells. The trend in the shop sales is shown in Figure Figure 23, Shop sales. The fall in income has been caused by price reductions on products and the transfer of some software products to a centrally funded licence.

Shop sales
Figure 23. Shop sales

3.4. Software Licensing

The Computing Services 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 over £3 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. Over 14,600 software licences were issued during the year, nearly 6,000 for Microsoft products and 8,700 other products. Figure Figure 24, Software licenses issued provides a breakdown of the different sources of licences issued comparing year by year.

3.4.1. Microsoft Campus Agreement

The Microsoft Campus Agreement, version 2.0, was renewed for the third 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. It allows unlimited copies of these software items to be installed on University- and College-owned computers, and also on some staff-owned computers.

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.

Software licenses issued
Figure 24. Software licenses issued

3.5. Printery

The printing service provides a high quality offset-litho printing service, including full colour printing, to OUCS and other departments. The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms and stationary up to books (11 books were printed). Altogether, over 3/4 million impressions were made during the year.

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