- 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.
- 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 has continued to develop its role within the Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC) Division, and in the University as a whole. During August 2001, OUCS carried out an extensive internal consultative exercise. "Breakout Groups" were set up to investigate, explore alternatives, and make recommendations in five areas: Career Development and Staff Communication, Objectives Refresh, Users' Needs, Service Priorities, and Decision Making Mechanisms. Each Breakout Group brought together staff from different parts of OUCS, selected its own Chair and Secretary, and was given the opportunity to refine and develop its initial broad charge. A spirited discussion ensued, taking up much of the autumn of 2001.
- Infrastructure Group
- Learning Technologies Group
- Technical Services Group
- Information and Support Group
In parallel with this restructuring, OUCS's managing committee, the Information and Communications Technology Committee (ICTC), undertook a detailed evaluation of the services provided by OUCS. In particular, it considered whether additional elements should be put on a cost-recovery basis, giving the divisions more freedom to choose the services they use. 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, and enabling detailed information on the cost of each activity to be presented. It was agreed 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.
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.
In July 2002 the bandwidth of the Thames Valley network was increased to 2.4Gbps. The gigabit Ethernet backbone, installed in 2000-1, has been used to full potential, the number of nodes has increased by 10% over the last year and both the traffic on the backbone and the traffic to and from the Janet network have increased by about 85% over the year. Traffic through the Email relay service, which handles the vast majority of the University's mail has increased by a third.
Demand for the central filestore (the Hierarchical Fileserver) also continues to grow rapidly, and a major enhancement, after the award of significant HEFCE funding, will be made in 2003/4 including upgrades to the tape and robotics systems.
- Desktop Services Development Section taking a leading role in the development of services directly related to the support of desktop systems;
- Network Systems Management Services providing a wide range of chargeable IT services to the University;
- Shop and Media Services providing a range of IT relates sales services to the University;
- Software Licence Management minimising the costs of software to the University;
- Printery providing a high quality offset litho printing service to OUCS and other departments.
The Learning Technologies Group (LTG) was formed in April 2002, continuing a 12 year tradition at OUCS of being a key centre for IT in teaching and learning in Oxford. It is charged with developing computer-based teaching and research packages and providing training for staff and students in IT literacy skills across the whole University (all OUCS training has been consolidated within the LTG). The 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, and is provided in formats suitable for the subject and the audience.
The training provision 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.
The demand for OUCS courses continues to grow, witnessed by an 18% increase in attendance during 2001-2002 over the previous year. Development work also continues under the Academic Computing Development Team (ACDT), and the LTG was also instrumental in the procurement of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) pilot for Oxford.
- Help Centre: providing a single location and point of contact for all of OUCS's support services;
- IT Support Staff Services: offering specialist support and consultancy for distributed IT support offices across the University;
- Information Services: developing and maintaining a coherent publication strategy for OUCS, in particular the management of web sites;
- Registration and Database Services: providing infrastructural and technical support for registration, the key to all OUCS services;
- Research Technologies Service: providing a centre of expertise for the development, implementation and support of leading open source technologies with a focus on support of research, within which the OUCS e-Science activities are based.
OUCS is playing a full part in the development of the e-Science centre, in particular coordinating authentication and authorisation and issues related to security, managing key central Grid services, and developing a comprehensive set of web pages.
Bruce Shakespeare was appointed to the post of OUCS Administrator, and started in September 2002. The Administration Group, which comprises the areas of Finance, Personnel, Building Maintenance, Secretarial Support and Reception, has been responsible for the successful completion of new building works, the introduction of new University compliant personnel procedures and laying down the Department's foundations for the forthcoming OSIRIS project.
There is considerable 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. Over the last year members of OUCS have worked with the Medical Sciences Division to help define an IT in Teaching and Learning Strategy, and with the Social Sciences Division to help prepare the IT infrastructure in the new St Cross building. The Network Systems Management Service (NSMS) and ACDT work widely as consultants across the University.
The previous annual report noted the introduction of our connection to SuperJANET 4 in March 2001. This was achieved through the Thames Valley network (TVN, comprising Oxford, Oxford Brookes and RAL), which ran at 622 Mb/second. In July 2002 this bandwidth was increased to 2.4 Gb/second, which gives us the potential to utilise the full 1 Gb/second connection bandwidth available from the TVN. As is illustrated by the graphs in Figures Figure 1, Janet Monthly Inwards Traffic, MB/Day and Figure 2, Janet Monthly Outwards Traffic, MB/Day , these increases have allowed the rise in demand for network access to continue unabated.
Although the dial-up service continues to be popular and heavily used, the fall in usage noted last year has continued this year [Figure Figure 7, Dial-up Calls (weekly figures)]. This is probably because of the increased availability of broadband connection to the home, and the use of VPN through outside ISPs. The service will be kept under review, and line capacity reduced ,if appropriate.
- Domain Name Server (DNS)
- Email relay server
- Network time server
- Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) service
- Web cache
- Web servers
- Email POP and IMAP servers
- Network News server
- Mailing List server
- File backup and archive server (Hierarchical File Store) (HFS)
- Windows Internet name server
- Novell Directory Services (NDS) tree server
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) server
Details of all these services can be found on the OUCS Web pages at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/. Several of these services are discussed in more detail below.
The Email relay service handles the vast majority of the University's incoming and outgoing email, and 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 170,000/day on average [Figure Figure 8, Daily Average Numbers Through Email Relay], with the volume of traffic amounting to nearly 4,000 MB/day on average [Figure Figure 9, Mean Daily MB Delivered by Email Relay]. Both the volume of messages and the size of each message rise markedly every year, and will continue to do so as the size and complexity of email attachments increases.
The central email server, Herald, which has been running since 1998, offers a mail-store facility to all University members. The mail can be accessed by desktop mail clients using IMAP or POP, or by a dedicated web interface, WING. All new students are pre-registered with accounts on Herald. Demand on this service, as on every email service, increases inexorably, and the servers have been regularly upgraded and expanded to meet this demand. The discrete model chosen has been proved to be as scaleable as planned. It now supports more than 29,000 users, and regularly has a concurrency of over 3,000 users.
The central web servers hold the University's top-level pages, the OUCS web pages, many departmental and college pages, and those for many individual users. In all they support about 130 domain hierarchies, and pages for about 3,800 individuals. In total this amounts to about 500,000 files, occupying some 21 GB. The number of web accesses, the ‘hit rate’, is now about 6 million per week. During this year the service was split between two servers; response time remains excellent.
The Hierarchical File Server (HFS) service started in 1995 to provide large scale central filestore services to the University community. The HFS runs IBM software named the Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM, which was formerly known as ADSM). The main services provided by the HFS are (1) Desktop and Departmental/College Server backup service and (2) long term data repository service for university digital assets.
Since the original procurement of the HFS computer systems, a rolling programme of upgrades of the principal hardware components (IBM p-Series computers, an IBM 3494 Automated Tape Library and 3590E tape drives) has kept system capacity ahead of demand. Two TSM servers are currently hosted on the M80, one for the server backup service and the other for the long term archive service. The H70 runs a single TSM server and provides the desktop backup service. All services have had satisfactory performance throughout the year. The main challenge has been in keeping apace with recent substantial growth in demand, particularly in the backup service. As in the previous year, the server service is showing the fastest rate of increase; both desktop backup and archive continue to grow steadily.
The contents of all primary tapes which reside in the automated tape library were re-written onto new double-length media during 2002; the operation began in February and was completed by the end of the summer, freeing up many tape slots in the library and helping to cope with the all round service growth in demand.
The site-wide HFS service continues to offer a highly reliable and available facility with great convenience and simplicity to the end user. Sustaining the level of service without any increase in HFS manpower or hardware resources was a very significant challenge. The HFS has been awarded significant HEFCE funding in the 2003/2004 period for major upgrades to the infrastructure, including the tape and robotics systems. The performance data collected during this period will be invaluable in planning the enhancements.
Planning the close down of the remaining central Unix server, Ermine, began in this period, and will come to completion before the end of 2002-3. Ermine has run reliably and required very little attention, although there has been concern about increasing levels of security threat to equipment of this type.
The computer room operations staff are responsible for all operational duties associated with substantial computing and network equipment housed there, especially the Hierarchical Fileserver and its robot tape library. In addition, OUCS houses various major computers belonging to other University departments, including the main OLIS library server and the parallel computer complex run by the Oxford Supercomputing Centre. The computer room equipment is protected by a large Uninterruptible Power Supply, and multiple air-conditioning systems.
The reorganisation of OUCS frontdesk service provision allowed operations staff to play a much greater role in user support, and OUCS continues to move towards greater integration of all its user-facing activities.
The danger to the University of attack on its computers and network facilities cannot be overestimated. The threat of denial-of-service attacks, aimed at the internet as a whole or specifically at our networks, has received wide publicity, as has the damage caused by the computer infections usually known as viruses, but encompassing many specialist forms of attack. The defence usually adopted in the commercial world, of a very restrictive firewall policy, is not available in a University whose lifeblood is the range of communications it has to support with outsiders, and with its own members working from elsewhere, and so the firewall that OUCS runs on the external network connection has to be far more permissive than is desirable for tight security. The problem is greatly exacerbated by the wide range of computers connected to the network, and the differing support standards of these computers.
The security team at OUCS is responsible for monitoring the networks for indication of compromise and for taking action as soon as a compromise is detected. It also has a general pre-emptive role in trying to be aware of and blocking routes for potential attack, and educating the vast number of systems administrators and systems owners around the University of the need for security precautions on their own computers. It has proved very successful at this, and our large and complex computer network, and the computers connected to it, have suffered very little disruption. However, every new exploit that comes to light reveals computers on the Oxford network that have not kept up with security precautions.
OUCS is assisted in this task by the OxCERT security team, a group of systems experts from OUCS and other departments which provides advice and assistance on issues relating to computer security. The OxCERT team has achieved standing and recognition within the international community, and is a full member of FIRST, the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams. During this year, OUCS's Security Manager was Vice-chair of the FIRST Steering Committee.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Learning Technologies Group (LTG) was formed in April 2002 carrying on a 12-year tradition at OUCS of being one of the major centres for IT in teaching and learning at Oxford. The restructuring of OUCS involved the merging of all training and teaching under the LTG as well as the increased focus on both researching and advising on the effective use of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT) in teaching and learning.
As a result of the merger the LTG now consists of 21 members of staff. Most importantly it is now able to cover all the areas one would associate with a major e-Learning centre, providing expertise to the University, and raising Oxford's profile in e-Learning on the national and international stage.
- Developing computer-based teaching and research packages in collaboration with Oxford staff and external bodies as appropriate;
- Researching the latest developments in the use of C&IT in traditional university teaching and student learning;
- Providing all training for staff and students in IT literacy skills offered by OUCS, plus courses on how to use C&IT in teaching and research effectively;
- Disseminating information about the use of C&IT via its website publications, workshops and conferences, and acting as OUCS's formal liaison and point of contact in such matters;
- Providing user facilities for staff and students to work on projects;
- Providing access to specialized learning and teaching applications, especially multimedia equipment;
- Providing tools and materials for staff adoption and use.
It seeks to do this also by working in collaboration with other groups in the University, notably the IT Officers, the Institute for the Advancement of University learning (IAUL), the Director of Online and Distance Learning (DODL), Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and the Oxford Digital Library (ODL); see below.
To reflect the objectives above, the LTG has four sections: the Academic Computing Development Team, the IT Learning Programme, the Learning Technologies Services Section, and Administrative Support. Each section has a specific role:
The Academic Computing Development Team undertakes projects in collaboration with an academic department, college, or individual, with mutually agreed deliverables and timescales. The academic member of the collaborative team has authorial control over the academic content of the resource. The Development Team supplies consultancy about the technical methodology adopted for the development of the resource, and provides the technical input needed for the development of the project.
The LT Services section undertakes the main research and advice activities of the group. The focus is on working with individual academics and units within the University (such as the Institute for the Advancement of University Learning) to explore and foster best practice in the use of C&IT in teaching and learning. The LT Services section also provides specific expertise in the development and use of multimedia in teaching and research covering a range of subjects: image digitization, authoring, multimedia tools for the web, and digital video.
Another major section within the LTG is the IT Learning Programme. This covers all courses offered by OUCS ranging from introductory sessions, through training graduates in information skills, right up to advanced courses for lecturers on how to integrate C&IT into their teaching.
LTG staff have been heavily involved in the restructuring exercise at OUCS, and in particular the merging of all training activities to come under the LTG wing. In addition to building up networks within the department, the group has proactively begun to establish networks of contacts with the divisions and colleges, and with other relevant bodies within the University (see below). Nationally, we have made contact with all the Learning & Teaching Support Network (LTSN) centres and continue to work closely with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), Research Councils, and the British Computer Society.
Since April 2002 the whole of the IT Learning section came under the wing of the LTG. This presented an opportunity to streamline the booking for courses, create a cohesiveness to the whole programme, and plan for new courses to directly meet the needs of the faculties and departments.
N.B. This shows an 18% increase on attendance compared with 2000-2001. Working on the figures available attendance by Division can be broken down as follows (in terms of percentage of the number of attendees):-
- Running six Advanced ECDL sessions;
- Preparing some diagnostic IT Literacy tests for Michaelmas term (see below);
- Assessing and procuring online ECDL Web-based training software;
- Negotiating with Oxford Brookes University and Thames Valley police to offer paid-for training and testing in the ECDL over the vacation periods.
Throughout the year the ACDT has issued two calls for projects, and these have all been assessed by the Project Review Group (now covering all divisions). In response to these calls there were 102 expressions of interest over the period in question (emails, phone calls, letters). This resulted in 43 proposals, of which 13 were undertaken, and a remaining 9 were offered substantial help and support from other arms of the LTG (i.e. over 50% of all projects proposed were offered some sort of help). For many of the remainder, we have been able to pass them on to other useful groups, contacts and consultants through our role as part of OUCS, and partly through the spread of people in the review group. A breakdown of these replies by Divisions is given in Figure Figure 25, ACDT project breakdown by division.
LTG was represented on the joint EPSC/ICTC working group investigating the use of C&IT in teaching across all divisions. This involved a lengthy series of meetings with divisional representatives and has resulted in a joint report and series of recommendations which have now been submitted to both committees.
The LTG has been spearheading the drive towards procuring a Virtual Learning Environment for the whole of the University. In particular this has meant researching into the applicability of VLEs for Oxford's teaching, monitoring developments elsewhere, liaising with JISC, and above all co-ordinating meetings of the VLE Working Group. This consists of academics within the University, developers of in-house VLE systems, IT Officers, MIS/Project ISIDORE representatives, and other stakeholders. Documents related to this can be seen at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/reports/.
The LT Services section of the Group has been taking forward work in the field of multimedia, especially digital video. OUCS is developing a centre of expertise in this area to reflect a growing demand from departments. Workshops have been conducted throughout the year and a system has been developed to allow student and staff easy access to cameras and digital editing equipment. Specifically the LTG's multimedia expertise has been used to support projects and courses in the Oriental Institute, Oxford University Veterinary Services, Anthropology, the Ruskin School of Fine Art, and Chinese Studies.
The Information and Support Group (ISG) was formed in April 2002 as a part of the reorganization of OUCS. Its primary goal is to bring together and harmonize several previously fragmented parts of OUCS concerned with support services and information provision at all levels, ranging from the walk-in advisory service to detailed technical expertise in research technologies.
The ISG was established with five sections, employing a total of over 30 staff. It is the largest of the five groups within OUCS, and its activities require maintenance of partnerships and collaborative activities across the whole of the department and beyond.
Evolving an overall strategy for the group is an ongoing process. All parts of the group share a common imperative of user-oriented support services, while needing to work directly with their respective user communities to develop local strategic objectives that respond to and pro-actively anticipate user demand. ISG's user communities are widely spread across the whole of the University, and beyond through its participation in leading national and international research support initiatives and services.
Within the RTS in particular, we have begun to consider ways in which we might better evolve towards converged services, with staff sharing expertise across different projects. This environment underlies our committment to organic development of standardized services, with a preference for open source and collaborative solutions which maximize economies of scale.
- Help Centre
- provides on-demand support and consultancy for IT users across the university;
- IT Support Support Services (ITS3)
- provides specialist support and consultancy for IT support officers across the university;
- Information Services
- responsible for all OUCS web and information services;
- Registration and Database Services
- provides infrastructural and technical support for all registration services at OUCS;
- Research Technologies Service
- hosts a number of research-oriented specialist services (notably Oxford e-Science activities, the Oxford Text Archive, Humbul, and the TEI) and offers advice upon new research technologies, ensuring the effective dissemination of best practice across the University.
March 2002 saw the launch of the new OUCS Help Centre, which now provides a single location and point of contact for all of OUCS's support services. Based in the former Help Area at 13 Banbury Road, the new Help Centre brings together the face-to-face services formerly provided by the User Registration Desk, the Advisory Desk, the Learning and Resource Centre (LaRC), the Data Centre, the Centre for Humanities Computing (CHC), and the PC Consultancy drop-in surgery sessions.
The Help Centre is designed to complement the support already provided by departmental and college IT support officers, by simplifying access to OUCS specialist services for them and their clientele. A crucial part of this is an automated request tracker system used to monitor calls and other activity both by the Help Centre and most other OUCS services.
Staff from elsewhere in OUCS contribute to the success of the Help Centre, whether as second-line support for Help Centre staff, or by dealing with the very large number of queries now sent and dealt with by email. During the period covered by this report, it became apparent that staffing the help desk would also require recruitment and training of part time demonstrators, and this process was initiated. Substantial effort has also been put into preparation of training materials and web-based documentation tackling commonly encountered problems.
Figures Figure 26, Distribution of Help Centre Enquiries in the Initial Period: April 15-July 31, 2002 and Figure 27, Number of Help Centre Enquiries by Status: April 15-July 31, 2002 give some indication of the take-up of the Help Service during this initial period, subdivided by status and affiliation of enquirer, in so far as these can be determined. In the two-thirds of enquiries for which status is known, the majority are University staff and senior members, suggesting that the service is playing a useful role in complementing departmental support efforts.
The mission of the ITS3 (IT Support Staff Services) section is to address the needs of distributed IT support staff by provision of central resources and organization, and to work with senior OUCS and other University staff in order to ensure that the interests of IT support staff are taken into account.
The section provides a forum for the sharing of knowledge and the pooling of benefits amongst all IT support staff distributed across departments and colleges. Its advocacy role and its provision of networking facilities are important to staff who might otherwise work in isolation. Its aim is to maximize centralized benefits of this kind while encouraging the diversity of excellence which characterizes the business of teaching and learning at the University.
During the period of this report, the ITS3 section organized a number of training events, seminars, etc. Of particular importance were the annual IT suppliers annual exhibition held in November, and the annual IT Support Staff Conference held at the Saïd Business School in July, both of which attracted record attendance. The ITS3 web pages were reorganized and a new system of monitoring external enquiries (using Request Tracker) was set up. It was agreed to allocate an additional member of staff to provide administrative support for the section, effective September 2002.
- Management of public web sites for OUCS;
- Management of internal web sites for OUCS;
- Processes for creating printed documentation;
- provision of information in accessible formats, including Braille;
- Production of leaflets and newsletters as needed;
- Provision of in-house teaching and support for publication systems;
- Liaison with University-wide initiatives.
During the year, the main OUCS web site was re-designed to provide a more dynamic front page. A web site was launched specifically for new students and staff (welcometoit.ox.ac.uk), the site for the Oxford e-Science centre (e-science.ox.ac.uk/) was re-designed, and a working party from across OUCS created and implemented a new logo for the department.
The biggest effort in the first half of 2002 went into the creation, in conjunction with the Unix systems development team, of a complete new online booking system for OUCS courses, which was successfully completed in time for the 2002/2003 academic year.
Registration is the key to all OUCS services. Until completion of a full information system for the University, the Registration Database is likely to remain a unique source of data about all university students, staff, and academics. It combines and checks data from the University Card registry, the Payroll data, and the various lists of Members of Congregation, Departments and Colleges. Using this database, OUCS allocates and maintains individual e-mail accounts for all new members of the University.
Keeping these accounts valid is a major exercise which is an essential part of the e-mail service on which the University increasingly depends for internal and external communication, at all levels. Registration and Database sections handle over 1000 enquiries of various kinds every month, as shown in the Figure Figure 27 which records the number of updates (of whatever kind) made to the registration database monthly.
The RTS aims to provide a centre of expertise for the development, implementation and support of leading open source technologies within digital environments with a particular focus on research and research-support. Its goal is to build on and expand the reputation of OUCS as an effective centre for e-research activities locally, nationally and internationally.
The RTS was established as an umbrella grouping for a number of key projects and initiatives characterized by their significance to the evolution and maintenance of state-of-the art research-support services in the field of information technologies. IT is a rapidly moving field, where today's leading-edge research is tomorrow's standard practice. Effective provision of IT services in support of the conduct, dissemination, and preservation of research and research findings therefore requires a ‘research focus’ at the same time as maintaining the service focus which characterizes all ISG sections. In this respect, the RTS also complements OUCS activities in support of teaching and learning, provided by the Learning Technologies Group.
Excluding e-Science projects, RTS activities bring into the University research funding in excess of £400,000 annually; e-Science funding is typically shared with other departments but is orders of magnitude larger. The RTS also generates significant income to offset its overhead costs, both from external grants and by sales of goods or services. OUCS contributes a total of 1.5 FTE effort to the coordination and management of RTS services. Major components of the RTS at the time of its establishment were part of the Oxford e-Science Centre, the Oxford Text Archive, and the Humbul Humanities Hub. Brief reports on each follow.
e-Science activity at Oxford expanded rapidly during 2001-02. The Oxford e-Science Centre, which is predominately shared between OUCS and the Computing Laboratory (Comlab), began recruiting staff to work on five DTI-funded projects. In addition, successful applications for more than a dozen e-Science projects were made by a range of scientific and engineering departments throughout the University.
The Oxford e-Science Centre has played a full and active part in the national e-Science programme, working with the seven other regional centres to develop a nationwide e-Science grid. This year the basic infrastructure was put in place to support the sharing of resources between sites, to be known as the ‘Level-1 Grid’, and planning has already begun for the creation of a ‘Level-2 Grid’ to provide a stable, robust e-Science grid for a number of test applications. Staff from the OeSC also entered into negotiations with prospective partners (both academic and commercial) for a number of other major e-Science proposals which, if successful, should see a dramatic increase in the size and scale of e-Science activity at Oxford during the coming months.
In the course of this year, the OTA gained additional funding to work specifically on linguistics resources, and made a number of significant accessions in that area. The number of resources acquired by the Archive remained low, but the quality of its cataloguing increased considerably with over 500 records enhanced significantly. Use of the OTA's online holding continued to increase, with the number of catalogue queries (205,789), online deliveries (41,312), and other web site hits (254,470) all more than double the corresponding figures for the previous year.
OTA staff also continued to play a major advisory role for scholars within and beyond the University, both by supplying informal advice and consultancy, and by carrying out formal technical assessment of research proposals submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Board. More than a hundred such proposals were assessed during the year, representing about a third of all those submitted to the AHRB, and a 10% increase over the previous year.
More details of the OTA's activities are to be included in the AHDS annual report (see ahds.ac.uk/public.htm).
Humbul has continued to expand its contribution to the national Resource Discovery Network (RDN), in both quantitative and qualitative terms. As a result of its active pursuit of partnerships in subject-specific domains, both academic and commercial, Humbul has been able to increase its coverage dramatically, with over 2000 new resource descriptions being added during the year, and more than twice that number reviewed for inclusion. Its web site received over 5 million accesses, with over 83,000 focussed searches being satisfactorily performed. User feed-back indicates a high level of satisfaction with the service, across all sectors of the academic community and the general public.
In November, the first of a series of new customization facilities was introduced, allowing registered users to customize their use of the Hub's resources in a number of different ways. Over 500 users signed up for this facility during the course of the year, and the technical developments required have proved invaluable in extending the expertise of Humbul staff to support further strategic developments in the areas of portalization and authentication. Humbul also played a major part in the development of the RDN's Subject Portal Project during this period.
During the year, Humbul staff published a range of documentary and other materials for use by cataloguers, as well as running several well-attended training sessions at both local and national levels, aimed mainly at subject specialists and information professionals.
Further details of Humbul's activities are available in its annual report at humbul.ac.uk/ac/annual-0102.html.
OUCS has long been an active member of the international Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), a major international effort to define and support standards for encoding of scholarly textual data. RTS staff organized the first members' meeting of the newly set-up TEI Consortium in November, and worked on production of a new XML edition of the TEI Guidelines. This was finally published in June: see further www.tei-c.org.
During the period of this report, considerable effort went into devising common communications and technical strategies for the RTS, and on drafting terms of reference for an RTS Advisory Group. A set of strategic objectives was defined and published, with other materials, on the RTS web site.
RTS staff also worked on the preparation of bids for external funding of a number of projects, most significantly a bid to the JISC for exploratory work on the use of digital certificates for authentication in a complex, heterogeneous environment.
A new Administrator, Bruce Shakespeare, started in September 2002. Bruce leads the Administration Group, which comprises a team of 12 FTEs and covers the areas of Finance, Personnel, Buildings Maintenance, Secretarial Support and Reception. As well as providing essential support services to the whole of OUCS, the Group has been responsible for the successful completion of new building works, the introduction of new University compliant personnel procedures and laying down the Department's foundations for the forthcoming OSIRIS project (the University-wide financial system which will replace PROPHECY in August 2003).