1. General Overview
OUCS has a well-defined role as a provider of core IT services to the University as a whole, and is also a major source of support services within the University and colleges, many of these being provided on a cost-recovery basis. Its mission and objectives are defined as:
- 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.
The major restructuring of OUCS undertaken during the spring of 2002 has increased the focus on these objectives, and enabled integration of services in a more directed and cost-effective manner. This has produced marked improvements, particularly in the provision of training and course-development services and support for IT Staff throughout the University.
The Information and Communications Technology Committee (ICTC) completed the review of charging for OUCS instigated by PRAC. The exercise resulted in more services being charged directly, with a consequent reduction of £221k in OUCS’s baseline. The ICTC will review the position again in the future, but it is now generally agreed that OUCS is correctly funded at present for the services that it is expected to deliver to the University.
- being fully committed to working alongside other ICT providers to provide for the overall ICT needs of the University;
- maintaining a dual focus, both on user directed service and technology transfer from new services, to ensure effective and timely application of leading-edge technologies in the support of teaching, learning and research;
- continuing to build on key strategic partnerships with centres of IT-related activity in the University, focussing in particular on the implementation of University-wide facilities which would include the underpinning of e-Science through the grid, and the encouragement of greater standardization (in solutions and standards for interchange) in the administrative system supporting the University’s teaching and research;
- piloting and developing, in cooperation with other service providers where appropriate, new technical solutions to meet the University’s needs, with the LTG as the main learning centre in the University playing an increasingly important role in teaching and learning across the University.
A mid-term review was held, six years after the last major review, and was chaired by Professor David Clary, head of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division. The recommendations from the review will be reported in the next Annual Report.
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. There has been no need for increases in the Janet access speed during this period and the Janet connection has coped well with the demands on it.
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. This year has seen many major events affecting the internet and the team has been very successful in pre-emptive action in terms of blocking routes, and education. Demand for the central filestore (the Hierarchical Fileserver) also continues to grow rapidly, and a major enhancement, after the award of significant HEFCE funding, has been made employing a switched fibre channel infrastructure, FASET900 disk servers, and increased tape capacity. Over the past year the desktop (departmental/college server) backup service has shown a growth of almost 50% (70%) in total data stored. The growth in archive space has been almost 20%.
The Technical Support Services Group 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 related 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), continues a 13 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 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 a 38% increase in numbers attending during 2002-2003 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, using the Bodington system.
The Information and Support Group’s (ISG) 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 officers 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, authorisation and issues related to security, managing key central Grid services, and developing a comprehensive set of web pages.
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. The Appraisal System ran for the second time, with 99% of staff participating.
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, with the Social Sciences Division to help prepare the IT infrastructure in the new St Cross building, with the Said Business School to review their IT requirements and with the Engineering Department to advise on their implementation of IT. The Network Systems Management Service (NSMS) and ACDT work widely as consultants across the University.