3. Service reports
The start of 2005 saw the final stages of the University backbone network upgrade completed when the 10 Gbps interface cards had a hardware upgrade to increase both their performance and network capabilities. A number of unit connections have now also been upgraded to 1 Gbps capacity. No major problems have been observed on the new network.
Traffic levels across the backbone are still rising (11.6% increase over previous year) and this trend is expected to continue, with a number of groups indicating that they expect their usage to rise substantially. Commensurate with this, the number of registered hosts connected to the network increases each year and has now exceeded 60,000 connections.
Although the total volume of traffic on our external link to JANET is still rising (31.7% increase over previous year), there are changes in the relative volumes of what is sent and what is received. Whilst the volume of data that we received has not risen by much, the amount of data that we sent out has risen substantially and, for the first time, exceeded the volume that we received.
Changes were made to the way that the email relays process incoming email messages during the course of this year so that unwanted (e.g. virus infected) or undeliverable messages were rejected before they fully entered the email relays. This had many advantages, including reducing the loading on the relays, and this is reflected in the message throughput figures.
The number of messages per day would appear to have dropped in the year but this is only because of the early rejection of messages that we now perform. To give an impression of the total volume and type of messages received at Oxford, a recent analysis showed that 70% were rejected immediately, 15% were marked as probable spam and the remaining 15% were thought to be genuine email messages. On this basis, the total number of messages arriving at the email relays approaches 2 million per day.
Insecure login methods (as represented by the plain IMAP and POP rows above) are planned to be phased out over time. Users are encouraged to enable SSL encryption in their email clients for greater security. The GSSAPI (Generic Security Services Application Programming Interface) which a few users are using on an experimental basis offers Kerberos-based authentication.
Finally, the chart below shows the message disposition (number of messages delivered to inbox, saved to junk-mail folder, discarded by junk mail filter, error messages) for the same period (2004-08-25 to 2005-07-31):
Access through the dial-up service continues to decline as broadband connectivity becomes available in ever more locations. This is expected to drop further in future but there is clearly still a demand for the service.
Usage of the VPN service has increased greatly (by over 200%) in this year. This is probably due to two main factors; the rise in broadband availability to residential properties, and the introduction of the wireless VPN service in parts of the University. Both of these are expected to continue growing and the VPN service was substantially enhanced this year to cope with the current and expected future demands upon it.
The OWL (Oxford Wireless LAN) service for wireless networking was introduced this year with access available to both University members and their guests. As this is a new service, there is only limited availability currently (10 sites in 7 units), but a similar number is already planned and will be available shortly. Interest has been high and it is expected that the number of sites where OWL is available will continue to rise.
The HFS service provides large scale central filestore services to the University community. The HFS runs IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) software and supports both a backup service for desktops or departmental and college servers and a long-term data repository service for the university's digital assets.
- Introduction of additional desktop and server backup servers (OX_HFS_B3 and OX_HFS_B4)
- Conversion of all primary tape copies from non-collocated to collocated (i.e. consolidating files belonging to a client onto small sets of tapes, delivering faster restoration of data)
- Automation of discovery, notification, and removal of obsolete backup data
The past 12 months have seen a number of large incidents within the University, most notably the MyTob outbreak which infected 200 machines within 48 hours. Later in the year the BTBot infection had a much smaller population to infect (as it only spread through Windows 2000 machines) yet it still managed to infect 60 machines in 24 hours. There has only been one web defacement recently, but a number of web servers have been used as potential launch pads for denial of service attacks.
Over the last 12 months, there have been a number of changes within the security team with one member leaving and two joining. The security team has developed tailor made systems to help detect new outbreaks, along with procedures to deal with them.
In October 2005, the availability of manpower, coupled with the OUCS patch CD and continued user education meant that only 150 machines were blocked access to the network, as compared with 250 machines in October 2004. The downside of this, is that the attacks we are detecting are getting more complex and tailored to our network.
A primary focus of the Help Centre this year has been on changes in account management and authentication. As OUCS's initial point of contact for all front-line user services, the Help Centre was closely involved in the Michaelmas 2004 introduction of automatically created Oxford accounts with security questions. This new system has improved the handling of forgotten passwords, as users can now perform the reset via a web interface. Where this fails, a rescue code can be emailed to the user's or their IT support staff's university email address. In addition the Help Centre has reduce the number of passwords per user by switching its PCs to the single sign-on regime in June 2005, thus allowing logins using Oxford account details.
- Stata and Matlab available on the Special Software Machines
- Open Office 2.0 available on all PCs
- Adobe PhotoShop and InDesign available on all PCs/Macs through concurrent licensing
The help desk is now logging phone calls and in person queries according to topic, which reveals that over 50% of the queries concern registration issues (account opening, extending etc.) or email problems, followed by difficulties with VPN.
Help desk usage continues to rise, with an email volume increasing of 12% over the 2002-2003 numbers and an 18% rise in the number of appointments booked. Staff continue to send the highest number of email queries, although less than in 2002-2003, while the number of emailed queries from students, particularly undergraduates, has risen sharply and retired staff are now sending in twice as many questions. Postgraduates are still the chief customers of the PC Consultancy appointments, although numbers are down compared to a rise in most other group.
From September 2004, new Herald/Single-Sign-On (SSO) accounts were created with an Authorization code instead of initial passwords. Working with the OUCS Systems Development team, the Registration section developed new account creation procedures, updated printed material sent to users, and provided facilities for the Help Centre to issue or extend activation and rescue codes. Lists of unactivated accounts are now generated weekly for IT Support Staff.
- Bulk creation of Herald/SSO accounts for all existing University card-holders to assist the adoption of SSO authentication by WebLearn
- Modification of procedures for loading data from the new University Card system; enhanced data checking and liaison with the Card Office and Payroll
- Moving the registration web server to a separate machine managed by the Systems Development team
- Enabling per-person turning-off of outgoing mail header rewriting
- Preparation for removal of support for hybrid email addresses and non-current departmental email addresses
- Liaison with the Proctors' Office, Sports Federation, and University Club regarding significant changes to the rules for student and staff societies' IT usage
- Adding new users of the Alumni email scheme
- Working on two-way data flow with the student record project Isidore
- Providing bulk email facilities to various central university departments
- Providing data for ITSS, tailored to their individual unit needs
Information Services manages the OUCS website and a number of related sites (e.g. e-Science, WelcomeToIT, ICT etc.). The OUCS site caters for staff, students and IT support staff in the University. It covers subjects as diverse as how to set up an email client to finding out about our courses or even the technicalities of the University network itself. The most popular pages, apart from the homepage, are the course booking system pages. Priorities in development over the past year were:
- Redesigning all sites to meet accessibility standards
- Completion of transition to valid XML for all maintained pages
- Creation of services suitable for portal deployment
Information services also supports students who make use of Braille. This service saw a considerable increase in its use during 2004-05, supplying Braille versions of lecture notes, course work and past exam papers to aid students in their studies.
Wikis are an increasingly popular way to share information around specific groups of people in an organisation. Wiki technology was investigated with a view to implementing this system into the OUCS work flow. It was decided that the MoinMoin wiki software would be the best solution for use within OUCS. There are now number of wiki sites established across OUCS including the Help Centre to IT Support Services, e-Science, and OSS Watch.
Information Services developed a new site for the University ICT, http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/ , which has shared ownership between OUCS, Administration and OULS. This involved setting up outside systems for partners to access the OUCS hosted site, as well as training and support of administrative staff in the use of both XML and system and client programs used to manage the site.
The Research Technologies Service (RTS) provides a centre of expertise supporting the development of research e-infrastructure, which it primarily undertakes through grant-funded projects and services (described more fully within the Project Reports). New funding in this period was successfully obtained to enable a collaboration with other University departments on the development of virtual research environments (VREs); to investigate Shibboleth as a viable access management protocol within grid computing and institutional portals; to increase the range of activities providing advice and guidance about open source software; and to develop XML-aware indexing and retrieval software. The RTS also launched a production-level compute cluster as part of the National Grid Service and assisted with the submission of a successful bid to the EPSRC for continued funding for the e-Science Centre (under the aegis of the new Interdisciplinary e-Research Centre (IeRC)). In June 2005 the RTS published a briefing paper and co-organised a workshop, on behalf of the University's Digital Archiving Group, to investigate the issues surrounding digital repositories for research.
WebLearn, the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), was launched on a pilot basis in January 2003 and became a production service in May 2004. Usage of WebLearn has grown steadily. The number of accesses has trebled the past two years. The amount of data transmitted has trebled year on year. There are now 65 units (departments, institutes, or colleges) with floors in WebLearn, compared with 50 units a year ago. Together, they are sharing 33,040 resources, compared with 19,464 in the previous year.
WebLearn does not currently record login sessions, so access statistics are based on general web access logs. About 90% of accesses are from Oxford. As all but a very few Oxford users have accounts, the figures below offer reasonable estimates of logins. What is particularly notable is that the use is gradually balancing out among the academic divisions.
In Michaelmas 2004 a more flexible modular structure was introduced for OUCS courses. This was very successful and enabled us to substantially increase bookings and offer a wider range of subjects. The programme now consists of over 100 titles each term; with 13,030 attending all OUCS courses and events.
The team worked closely with a number of departments to develop tailor-made courses which have since become part of their academic programme. In the academic year 1,350 students attended these courses as part of their formal training, an increase on the 950 in the previous academic year.
Apart from the formal teaching and the European Computer Driving Licence certification programme, the ITLP team was proactively involved with a number of specialist projects, staff and student inductions and informal drop-in sessions.
The main lecture room was transformed during the year into a cutting-edge and flexible environment offering a range of teaching methods from traditional to e-learning. The ITLP has now four lecture rooms equipped to a high standard including dual projectors and interactive whiteboards available to the University and other academic organisations.
The group worked closely with departments on projects as diverse as the evaluation of the LAMS software and the development of the Ruskin Teaching Collection (in collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum). Funding was received from JISC to run the ASK, CLIC and MDC projects which were set up to investigate digital repositories, sharing of image collections, and provision of electronic reading lists, respectively. Through these projects (described more fully in separate entries) OUCS's work on interoperability standards was advanced, and there was sufficient external funding to take on a part-time system administrator.
The group organised two events in the long standing and popular conference series, Beyond... and Shock of the Old (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/events/) which attracted delegates from around the world. Closer to home, the group co-ordinated activities in support of OxTALENT, promoting good teaching practice within Oxford. These activities included the lunchtime seminar series Digital Projects in Oxford, the annual IT in Teaching and Learning competition, which recognises the efforts of students and staff to promote education via the internet, and other ICT workshops and talks.
This year saw the ACDT's annual Call for Proposals restructured to a more accessible, two-stage process. By encouraging initial enquiries via a simple on-line form, the number of expressions of interest came to 98, with a 47% rise in enquiries in the core ACDT development areas of technology to support teaching and research. The most promising suggestions received were then invited to submit a full application, decreasing the overall amount of University staff time spent on writing unsuitable proposals, and making better use of the expertise of the ACDT Project Review Group.
- Image management awareness across the University
- Reusable multimedia resources to teach statistics and basic data interpretation
- Web image database for teaching earth sciences
- TULIP: The Universal Language Internet Portal
- Archaeology through maps and satellite images
- Improving the usability and accessibility of WebLearn
- Interactive Japanese for self-study
- Web-based randomisation facility for perinatal trials
- A global resource for understanding environmental change
The OUCS shop offers a range of computers, printers, consumables, software and related IT products. In addition, the Shop accepts payments for chargeable services offered elsewhere within Computing Services.
Michaelmas Term 2004 witnessed a high value and volume of sales, particularly of ethernet cards. However, the increasingly standard provision of network connectivity by computer manufacturers casts doubt upon the future sales of this item.
Counter sales of all goods available from the Shop remained buoyant, although falling prices, particularly of computers, mean that profits are lower. Sales volumes of Apple products have risen; Dell, Toshiba, and HP products also continue to sell well. The appeal of Viglen products appears to be declining.
OUCS manages a number of software agreements for commonly requested software packages used on personal computers. The University is thus able to make considerable savings against the individual purchase cost. A total of 16,363 software licences were issued in this year.
The Microsoft Campus agreement is for the annual rental of the most popular products, for example, Windows upgrades and Office Professional. Work-at-home rights are also included in this agreement. 4,173 licenses were added this year; the rental charge was £250,000.
OUCS also manages a number of software contracts on behalf of groups of departments in order to gain more favourable pricing; this year £57,000 worth of software was purchased and subsequently paid for by contributing departments.
The maintenance service continued to provide a valuable service to the University. OUCS monitored call-outs and reports of unsatisfactory service, and for the most part, the service (offered by an external company) has been exemplary. There are over 4,800 items of equipment currently registered.
- Self service A3 and A4 colour and black and white printing is available via the Help Centre;
- HP DesignJet 5000: This device produces high quality A0 and A1 posters for display purposes;
- Monotype Panther Pro Imagesetter (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/typesetting/): This device supports a high precision phototypesetting/imagesetting service. It outputs on film and, as well as its traditional use for high quality typesetting, it is suitable for generating precision masks and circuit diagrams for physics and engineering applications;
- OUCS also runs 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. A total of 683,000 impressions were made during the year.
A total of 201 devices were successfully dealt with during the year 2004-5, of which 192 were computers. These figures do not include a number of machines which were not repaired due to either the non-availability of spare parts or the high cost of the required part relative to the value of the machine.
The vast majority of machines were PCs from Toshiba, Dell, Compaq. Data recovery, hard disk replacement, and re-installation of operating system accounted for most of the work. The most unusual device supplied was an inverter to supply 240 volts AC from a Land Rover's battery. It was required to power a laptop in the African bush.
A Konica Minolta C350 colour copier/printer was installed at the beginning of the year replacing the Fiery copier/printer, which was removed in 2003. With a resolution of over 600dpi, PostScript RIP, duplex unit, and oversize A3 capacity, the unit serves as a useful proofing device for our large-format poster printer.
The success of the poster printing service (OXPRINT) continues again for a fourth consecutive year with over 1,300 posters printed up to A0 size on matt paper stock and on the more popular satin media. The experienced operations staff aim to offer a 24-hour turnaround for most jobs, and use their expertise to solve most problems from, mainly, PowerPoint slides.
The section is now responsible for typesetting many of the in-house publications, including design work for promoting and publicising the TSM Symposium, Courses Booklets, Bodington CD cover, and the OUCS termly newsletter.
This year saw significant changes for DSDS. Extra staffing and the help of visiting Professor Joe Doupnik enabled the team to enrol in beta projects with Novell, Sophos, Altiris, Apple and Condry Consulting. The unusual step of working directly with product vendors not only raised Oxford's external profile, but also ensured that the final releases were more compatible with the Oxford environment. Some projects which benefited directly from these collaborations are:
- Help Centre logins migrated to single sign-on (SSO) so that any of Oxford's 26,000 users can seamlessly using the facilities
- Sophos version 5 client released across Oxford with unprecedented take-up (5000 users upgraded within first month of release)
- Lecture room IT provision overhauled to streamline course access to the 12,000 users each year
There were also major changes in DSDS's exposure to the IT community, with the team providing dozens of talks, seminars and courses in subjects ranging from authentication and Directory Services to cross-platform desktop management. Last, but not least, the team was proud to assist in the design and installation of the new state-of-the-art facilities in Lecture Room 2.
The IBM Blade system which was purchased during the year is now in service and is already in need of expansion. All services running on this system are running in a VMware ESX virtual machine environment and this is proving to be very effective as the basis for a utility computing environment. A new Windows or Linux server can be set up in minutes, ready for configuring to meet a specific project requirement.
Many of the earlier report-generating difficulties that were experienced with the ORACLE Financial Systems have been remedied and more accessible financial reports were provided to line managers. Further training on the new financial systems was encouraged to give more managers access to ORACLE.
Major building projects this year included the refurbishment and upgrading of Lecture Room 2, which now provides one of the most up-to-date facilities of this type in the University. During the year, OUCS also occupied additional office space in Keble's Acland Annexe and Felstead House, which has enabled us to relocate the UCISA administrative function and the Oxford e-Science Centre.
Other buildings works included a new hardware repair workshop and the refurbishment of an office space into the open-plan collaboration area for the Enhanced Computing Environment team. Additional works were undertaken throughout the year to improve internal security. A strategic review of our occupancy needs over the next 5 years is now being undertaken and its findings will be incorporated into OUCS's main strategic plan.