OUCS Annual Report 2001/2002
Paul Jeffreys
February 2003

1. General Overview

1.1. Mission Statement

The Mission Statement of OUCS is:-
  • To provide high-quality and cost-effective IT services that meet the needs of the University and its members;
  • To contribute to the University's wide range of IT training and relevant training resources;
  • To foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT in teaching, learning, and research across the University;
  • To promote effective communication throughout the University IT community.
OUCS will fulfil its Mission :
  • By operating, developing and supporting the University's primary computing infrastructure and services including facilities such as the network backbone and its external connections; central email, web, news, and backup servers; and other core university-wide support services including security and anti-virus support;
  • By fostering the effective use of IT in all disciplines through the provision and development of training and courses, learning and teaching resources, and by such activities as negotiating advantageous arrangements for the supply and maintenance of hardware and software etc.;
  • By actively supporting the work of, and collaborating closely with, IT Support Staff within the University;
  • By developing centres of expertise in relevant areas relating to the application of IT;
  • By promoting and demonstrating good practice.

1.2. University Role

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.

Following the conclusion of the exercise, OUCS reorganised itself in way that is reflected in the priorities evident in its mission statement. In addition to the existing Administration group, the new organizational structure comprises four major groups:
  • Infrastructure Group
  • Learning Technologies Group
  • Technical Services Group
  • Information and Support Group
Each of these groups combines a number of existing OUCS services with a particular focus, as indicated by the group titles. The new structure emphasizes the need for collaboration between the groups, since the services they provide are of necessity complementary. The groups' strategies are available at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/strategy/ and described in more detail below.

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.

1.3. Infrastructure Group

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.

The security team has continued its work of protecting the network and the computers connected to it from the constant threat of attack from outside, and Oxford has suffered very little disruption.

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.

Over the past year the desktop (departmental/college server) backup service has shown a growth of almost 50% (90%) in total data stored. The growth in archive space has been 23%.

1.4. Technical Support Services

The Technical Support Services Group was formed in April 2002 as part of the reorganisation of OUCS, and comprises a set of services for the University, many of which provide support for local IT staff, and some of which are chargeable. It consists of the following sections:
  • 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.

1.5. Learning Technologies Group

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.

1.6. Information and Support Group

The Information and Support Group (ISG) was formed in April 2002 as part of the reorganization of OUCS. Its primary goal is to bring together and harmonize parts of OUCS concerned with support services and information provision at all levels. It comprises the following sections:
  • 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.

ISG's user communities are spread widely across the whole University, and beyond through its participation in leading national and international research support initiatives and services.

1.7. Administration Group

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.

1.8. Participation in University Activities

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.

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