4. Technical Support Services

The Technical Support Services consists of the following sections:

  • Desktop Services Development
  • Network Systems Management Services
  • Shop and Media Services
  • Software Licence Management
  • Printing Services

4.1. 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 RIPs 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 specialty.

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.

In February this year a major upgrade exercise was started for the provision of in-house services which support computers in the Lectures Rooms, Help Centre and Staff Offices. It was decided to support the new services on IBM X series servers, supporting Windows and Netware services. The upgrade to the Lecture Room and Help Centre facilities is expected to be completed during September 2003.

4.1.1. Personal Computer Consultancy

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.

4.1.2. 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.

Staff involved with anti-virus support liaise closely with the OUCS Security Services to ensure effective management of virus outbreaks.

4.1.3. 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 approximately 7515 items covered by this scheme. Figure 18 shows the type of equipment registered. OUCS monitors callouts and reports of unsatisfactory service, and for the most part service has been exemplary.

Registration by equipment type
Figure 18. Registration by equipment type

The cost is currently subsidised from the central grant, so that humanities faculties (plus a few others) receive the service free of charge, whilst other University departments and units receive a 50% subsidy. Colleges, associated institutions and private users pay the full price. Following the introduction of Divisions at the University, the full subsidy 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 subsidy helps to assure the proper protection of expensive and vulnerable computer equipment.

4.1.4. 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, 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; in the event of a breakdown, the costs will be less and the response faster. Usage has remained stable as shown in Figure 19.

Figure 19. Number of Micro Upgrades and Repairs by Year

4.2. Network Systems Management

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 that require them 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 of staff skills, suitable hardware specification standards that the NSMS attempts to encourage amongst all its customers, and an effective, rigorous security 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.
  • Fixed price workstation management service.
  • Automatic anti-virus software update service.
  • Conference web registration service.
  • Firewall installation and management.
  • Holiday cover for IT support staff.
  • Turnkey IT support package for research groups.
  • General IT consultancy.

Further services are being planned and will be announced when available.

The NSMS staff work closely with existing IT staff in its customers’ organisations and, by taking on the responsibility for critical central services, free them to deal with other pressing issues.

This service is steadily expanding. This year we recruited two additional staff, bringing the current complement for the team to nine members of staff. It currently has service agreements with 48 (34) departments and 21 (16) colleges and associated institutions, involving the support of 50 (36) servers and over 500 workstations. These facilities are helping to support a staff and student population of approximately 5,000 (last year’s 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 24 (17) at the end of the period of this report.

4.3. 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. The scale of activity is shown in Figure 20.
Expenditure in Shop by Year
Figure 20. Expenditure in Shop by Year
  • 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 (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/shop/).

4.3.1. 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 five million pounds in this financial year. Over 19,000 software licences were issued during the year, nearly 6,000 for Microsoft products and 13,000 other products.

4.3.2. Microsoft Campus Agreement

The Microsoft Campus Agreement, version 2.0, was renewed for the fourth 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 Core 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. The new Microsoft Campus 3.1 agreement will start from 1st September 2003.

4.3.3. Site Licence Scheme

The second arrangement, which has been in place now for about eight 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, in the past, allowed more and more software to be acquired this way, though requests still continue to outstrip funding. The various site licence schemes purchased with a budget of £116k have saved the University approximately five million pounds 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. There have been a number of new software products added to the scheme this year, including a site licence for Sophos anti-virus software, Deployment Solution disk imaging software, and Xmetal XML authoring software.

4.3.4. Printing Services

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 stationery up to books. An interesting trend is the greater use of multiple colours in text documents. Altogether, over 625,000 impressions were made during the year.

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