3. Service Reports
OUCS offers a range of services to the University. In the following sections we take the opportunity to report on each of these individually, discussing any changes or developments that have taken place during 2005-06. The most striking factor to emerge is the continued increase in demand for almost all the services, which reflects, in our opinion, the mission critical importance of IT to the University.
This year has seen the start of project FroDo which aims to bring the University backbone into each University building and college by providing on-site equipment that provides a standard, secured, set of interfaces to multiple services. Initial uses, such as for multiple occupancy buildings, wireless services and college annex connections, are proving particularly welcome. The backbone continues to operate reliably and traffic levels are still rising (59% increase over previous year). This upward trend shows no sign of abating. Similarly, the number of registered hosts connected to the network increases each year and has now exceeded 66,000 connections.
For the first time, the total volume of traffic on our external link to JANET has not risen in comparison with previous years. Whilst the volume of data received has been relatively stable for the past few years, the volume of data sent to other sites had previously been rising steadily.This also now appears to be leveling out.
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 Virtual Private Network (VPN) service has dropped slightly over the previous year which is commensurate with the general leveling off of traffic that we have seen on our external connection.
Use of wireless networking (OWL - Oxford Wireless LAN) continues to grow and there are now around 30 sites offering this services. Interest continues to be high and it is expected that the number of sites where OWL is available will continue to rise.
Last year's enhancements to our junk-mail filtering have had a very significant impact on the rejection of unwanted email with around 70% of messages arriving at the email relays now being rejected immediately. The relays dealt with approximately 1.4 million messages per day on average. Although the total number of accepted messages has decreased in the past year, more large messages are now being transferred and the total volume of data has increased as shown in the graph below.
Improvements have been made to processes by which 'spam' email is detected and marked - the result seen by users should be a substantial drop in 'spam' email with a low detection score, enabling far more to be filtered and discarded.
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. Regrettably, only about 3.5% of users have switched to secure login methods since last year. This small percentage of users represents nearly 10% of the insecure logins made per day, however, which is a substantial improvement.
During 2006, OUCS drew on its reserves to provide much needed investment in the storage and server infrastructure behind the Herald email system. A large scale hardware replacement programme was undertaken in order for us to have the necessary capacity needed for the completion of phase 1 of the programme - to increase mail quotas for all during Michaelmas 2006.
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.
There has been approximately 50% growth in the desktop backup service over the year, measured in TB of data held on the server; the following graph shows this broken down by University divisional unit.
The following graph shows the growth in terms of files and TB data since 1996. The HFS backup service holds backups for about 3,000 desktop systems and 900 departmental/college servers. In a typical week, the HFS takes in over 20 million new or changed files amounting to about 10TB.
Major activities for the HFS team this year focused on keeping up with the higher demands due to service growth and expanding the overall service capacity. This has included the elimination of legacy servers and tape drives, and simultaneously migrating the data to higher capacity/performance media:
- phasing out the 3590 tape drives (originally installed in 1995) and installing 3592s; over 10,000 tapes were converted to the new format which can hold up to 1TB per tape (versus 50GB on the old media), all held in the same automated tape library;
- phasing out legacy servers and installation of new servers, principally to take over the departmental and college backups.
- an increasing number of compromised web servers have been found locally and these have often been recruited into 'botnets' (a collection of compromised machines running programs, usually referred to as worms, Trojan horses, or backdoors, under a common command and control infrastructure);
- a steady stream of new viruses has been encountered prior to their detection by antivirus software;
- several major vulnerabilities have been discovered over the past 12 months (sendmail, RealVNC, several Microsoft vulnerabilities), however pro-active actions were taken and these vulnerabilities have had a limited impact on the University hosts.
The past year has also witnessed major changes in the systems used by the network security team. Most production systems have been upgraded and new software solutions have been developed. This has resulted in a better detection of incidents and a more efficient response to any problem encountered.
The OUCS Help Centre has expanded over the past year into the area of machine repairs, covering both hardware- and software-related issues. The hardware upgrade and repair service has moved in the OUCS internal structure and now reports to the Help Centre managers. In addition, January 2006 saw the opening of the Help Centre's backup/re-install service. This was in response to the growing reality that many virus/spyware infections can only be reliably removed through the time-consuming process of backing up all data and completely re-installing the operating system. At a price of £40 + VAT for a data backup or system re-install and £60 + VAT for both services together, this provides excellent value for money. 43 machines have been checked in for the service between January and July 2006.
Overall help desk usage continues to rise with a 2.5 % increase in email volume over last year but a slight drop in appointment booking of around 8%. The biggest increase in email queries comes from staff and senior members with a combined rise of 20.5%. Registration issues (account opening, extending etc.), email queries and VPN problems continue to make up the bulk of the in-person and phone enquiries.
The distribution of query types is similar to last year with the exception of an increase in the percentage of account issues from 28% to 35%. The help desk created a total of 4,912 rescue and activation codes to help people set up Oxford accounts and reset their passwords. This does not include the activation codes issued automatically on University Card creation and is a marked increase over the 2,405 codes issued the previous year. The increase is partly explained by WebLearn and the Self-Registration pages moving to the single sign-on system and thus increasing the number of people using their Oxford account. The latter move has also brought a reduction in password change requests to the help desk with the number of remote access and Athens password changes dropping to 96 and 65 respectively once people were able to change their own passwords. The previous year the figures were around 400 and 300 during the same time period (April to July).
During the past year a welcome addition to the team has been Darren Rochford who has joined Hardware Support, working part-time. Reflecting the increased sales of Apple computers in both our shop and elsewhere, we can now offer repairs and upgrades for these machines. We have expanded our data recovery and operating system install service for PCs and this will also shortly be available for Apple machines.
A total of 219 devices were repaired or upgraded. Of these 175 were laptop computers and 39 were desktop computers. These were mainly PCs but 5 Apple machines were also repaired. There were 5 other devices also needing attention.
We also offer advice on machine purchase and on how to provide optimum care for computers for maximum reliability and longevity. If required, we are able to advise on and implement substantial upgrades for desktops and towers to customer specifications.
While the scope for economically repairing laptops is somewhat limited owing to the high cost of spare parts, desktops provide greater opportunities for more substantial repairs and upgrades that are financially worthwhile. However laptops are much the more favoured type of machine as is indicated by the above figures. The portability and convenience being especially liked by students.
The most significant development was the roll out of extended Webauthed self-service facilities for users which enabled the former Oxford-only access restrictions to be removed. University members can now request and set passwords for Athens, remote access accounts, register machines for TSM backup, change TSM passwords, download software (e.g. Sophos), check their mail routings, etc., from anywhere in the world via the self-registration web pages (https://register.it.ox.ac.uk/self/index/).
- we provided the mapping of the old student record system uid to card ids so that the OSS could match their records in the University Card database;
- we liaised with OSS to make course and other data available to projects such as WebLearn and OxCORT;
- we liaised with OSS for them to get email addresses and usernames to load into OSS;
- in order to give postgraduate departmental email addresses, we had to map the new OSS course codes to departments;
- in order to give appropriate information to departments, we had to register the new OSS course codes to departments that had an interest in that course.
- extensive changes to Webreg (the application used internally by Help Centre and front line Registration staff) to enable more people to manage user accounts;
- pilot application for ITSS to set mailer routings for their users and see the other routings their users have;
- web-based WebAuthed application for OUCS Registration and a pilot group of ITSS to update unit generic email addresses;
several discussion papers on various topics of general interest were
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/registration/discussion_papers.xml- out of date);
- preparatory work on the data issues for the new Telephone Directory project including setting up mailing list of departments and college telephone administrators and conducting a survey;
- increase in bulk emailing for various university departments;
- increases in providing data for ITSS, tailored to their individual unit needs;
- managing the email address creation of new units and the wind down of old units;
- front line registration, in addition to managing users accounts, now create and manage mailing lists, ITSS registration, club and society accounts;
- despite the automation of many registration processes, the number of questions answered by email to registration still remains high.
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.
One of our major projects during the last year has been the development of a new news feed generator and management facility called OXITEMS which can be accessed via https://rss.oucs.ox.ac.uk/oxonly/oxitems/. This system allows units in the University to create and manage RSS newsfeeds and have them appear on their web sites. This new system has been widely deployed since its introduction in December 2005 and can be seen in action on many University web sites including OUCS and the University home page (see section 2.2. Using OXITEMS to Publish News, Events, and Podcasts for more information).
- redesign of the OUCS home page and work to improve site usability;
- development and deployment of OXITEMS, the RSS feed generator;
- redesign of content for Welcome to IT;
- delivery of course management data in XCRI format.
An evaluation of Content Management Systems was undertaken in Hilary and Trinity terms, and an experimental implementation of OpenCMS was set up to deliver Welcome to IT (http://welcometoit.ox.ac.uk/), which is one of our major web sites for newly arrived staff and students.
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).
- the renewal and increase in funding for OSS Watch, the JISC-funded open source software advisory service;
- transition of the Humbul Humanities Hub to leading the new Intute Arts and Humanities resource discovery service (in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University);
- bringing the ESP-Grid project to successful completion;
- marking thirty years of operating the Oxford Text Archive.
Staff from the RTS continued to contribute to the development of digital repository services in Oxford, including the publication of an internal report on the development of a research repository; co-authoring a JISC report on revision control within repositories; and providing advice on the development of the Medical Science Divisions Research Discovery Service.
The Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) was formally established in this period. The National Grid Service project, which enters its second phase, will migrate to the OeRC in due course. The RTS Coordinator was invited to become a member of the OeRC Directorate and further collaborations between the RTS and the OeRC are being developed (e.g. in the areas of access management and virtual research environments).
Finally, there were some staff changes within the RTS in this period. Matthew Dovey left to become the JISC Programme Director for e-Research; Francisco Pinto resigned from the SPIE Project; Graham Klyne was appointed as one of the Sakai VRE projects developers.
Since the introduction of WebLearn as a production service in May 2004, usage has continued to grow steadily. Examining year-on-year figures, the number of WebLearn accesses has more than doubled in the last two years and over 50% up on the same period last year.
The following table shows growth in resource creation is still strong; with most departments now having a floor. One of the most noticeable developments this year is the recent use of WebLearn in the Colleges.
- Life and Environmental Sciences
- Maths and Physical Sciences
- Med. Sci.
- Medical Sciences
- Social Sciences
- Continuing Education
- Academic Services and University Collections
Analysis of our web logs shows that about 80% of accesses are from the Oxford domain. This proportion has decreased from 90% following the opening up of access to the Google search engine. Google has now indexed thousands of resources that allow public viewing. Opening access to Google has also produced a large rise in search terms used to access the site. Rising from less than 100 to over 2,900 during Trinity Term 2006, i.e. WebLearn is now much more visible to the public.
The IT Learning Programme (ITLP) is part of the Learning Technologies Group (LTG) of the Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS). Each term we deliver over 100 courses and deal with over 11,000 course bookings per year in our four lecture rooms.
For over 6 years we have been a leader in the field of higher education in the promotion of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) to staff and students. We have hosted national ECDL forums and been directly involved with the ECDL Foundation in the continued development of the qualification. We have recently been successful in a joint proposal with the Medical Sciences Division in attracting HEFCE funding to make the ECDL testing and training materials free to all University members. The ECDL training materials are entirely web-based and participants can schedule their own learning in preparation for the formal testing that we run under the auspices of the British Computing Society. Our core teaching modules use the ECDL syllabus as a foundation.
Apart from its extensive range of IT courses, the ITLP provides other related services to support members of Oxford University in developing their IT skills. We have incorporated new technology into the learning environment and were an early adopter of interactive whiteboards for use in our teaching. Our lecture rooms are fitted to a high standard; each has a dual projection system with matrix-switching equipment to direct the required images to the correct screens, sound systems, high specification computers, hearing loops and good accessibility. We take every opportunity to share our experience of Educational Technology and software application with other interested parties, running regular training sessions on the use of interactive whiteboards, audience response systems, and wireless classroom technology.
We have recently collaborated on a University-wide seminar on plagiarism and a workshop on reducing academic administrative burdens through the use of new technologies. We also work collaboratively with the Oxford University Library Services in organising lunchtime byte-sized WISER sessions on subject-specific electronic resources.
LTG services provides the backbone to many LTG activities, and also works closely with departments offering advice on the use of technology in learning and teaching with particular expertise in multimedia, learning design, systems interoperability and gathering user requirements. Collaborative work has included the Sutherland Collection project with the Ashmolean museum; the digital image management project, OxCLIC, with a university wide group of departments; and a series of initiatives to help relieve the administrative burden through the use of ICT. LTG services is also involved in several national ICT projects funded by JISC.
LTG Services is taking forward OUCS's work on interoperability
standards, reading list creation, federated searching, and tools
integration. Funding was received from JISC for the section staff to
complete the national image collection scoping study, CLIC (
http://clic.oucs.ox.ac.uk/"), the Learning Design project, the
ASK repository project and the Design 4 Learning Pedagogic Planner
project. Through these projects (described more fully in separate
entries) OUCS's work on interoperability standards and e-Learning
technologies was advanced.
The LTG Services is also responsible for many dissemination activities including running a weekly series of seminars - Digital Projects in Oxford, occasional workshops such as the Administrative burden workshop, the annual 'Show and Tell' OxTALENT event and a series of Digital Video workshops. The section was also involved in teaching and supporting a new Master's degree course in e-Learning at the Department of Educational Studies. This new course covers a wide range of ICT in teaching issues from a local and international perspective. It has provided an opportunity to broaden the teaching expertise of the LTG services staff, and also to explore and document the issues involved in e-Learning and to construct a framework to support the teaching of these issues.
Michaelmas Term 2005 saw the ACDT staff administer the HEFCE e-Learning Innovation Fund Call for Projects in place of the usual ACDT project proposal process. The fund awarded £275,000 across the divisions for e-Learning projects and equipment and a number of the projects were also granted assistance from the ACDT. This was followed by a two-stage ACDT proposal process in Trinity Term 2006 whereby suggestions for new projects were elicited and the most promising suggestions received were then invited to submit a full application. Over 80 suggestions were received and further refinements to the process resulted in a much higher percentage of suggestions relevant to the core ACDT remit to support teaching and research.
During the course of the year the ACDT completed the nine projects listed below, as well as advising on numerous others. Those projects marked (HEFCE) were funded by the HEFCE e-Learning Innovation Fund in December 2005 and as part of the award were also given free technical assistance from the ACDT. Note that the projects listed varied significantly in ACDT time commitment and duration.
- Galactica: Greek and Latin Accidence Consolidation Training Internet-centred Assessment (HEFCE)
- Online Reading List Tool
- Social Sciences DataCat
- Roman Provincial Coinage of the Antonine Period
- Structured Problems in Molecular Biology Data Handling
- A Multi-media Introduction to the Dynamics of Rotating Fluids
- A Learning Object Repository for Oxford Pilot Study
- Information Literacy Skills Development for Oxford University: A Scoping of the Possibilities Offered by e-Learning (HEFCE)
- OxCort: Oxford Colleges On-line Reports for Tutorials
Of particular priority this year has been OxCORT, a web application for the University-wide collection and processing of tutorial reports for undergraduate teaching. OxCORT is based on the Cambridge University system CamCORS and the ACDT are working with the original CamCORS developers to adapt the system for Oxford use. The system will be made available for pilot in the 2006 - 2007 academic year and is expected to be fully operational from Michaelmas Term 2007.
The 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. During the latter part of the reporting year, online shop software was investigated with the long term view to upgrade the current shop web site from the current static site to a fully functional online shop.
The ranges offered by the shop continue to diversify and expand. New items include wireless network products, memory sticks with increasingly higher capacities, dual layer DVDs, bulk packs of CDs, new laser toners, and inkjet cartridges from Hewlett Packard.
The beginning of Michaelmas Term 2005 again witnessed the anticipated high volume of business. In general counter sales of all goods available from the Shop remained buoyant, however, static or falling prices continue to betray the volume of sales actually made.
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 15,346 software licenses were issued in this year.
The Microsoft Campus agreement covers 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. A total of 2,525 Campus Agreement licenses were added this year; the rental charge was £253,783.
The Microsoft Select agreement, which is administered via the Computing Services Shop allows for the purchase of other Microsoft products. A total of 1,465 Select Agreement licenses were recorded this year.
OUCS also manages a number of software contracts on behalf of groups of departments in order to gain more favourable pricing; this year £45,267 worth of software was purchased and subsequently paid for by contributing departments.
The maintenance service which provides breakdown cover for a small annual fee, 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 approximately 3,800 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. The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms and stationery up to books. A total of 655,905 impressions were made during the year.
Having had a successful year running the Konica Minolta C350, we have now replaced this with an upgraded printer. Providing the same facilities as the previous model, the C352 also enables us to print directly, in duplex, onto thick paper stock. It is anticipated that this will facilitate the use of direct print runs of smaller batches, instead of the offset litho process.
The success of the poster printing service (OXPRINT) continues again for a fifth consecutive year with over 1300 posters printed up to A0 size on Matt and Satin media. Offering a 24-hour turnaround for most jobs, our experienced staff use their wide expertise to solve most problems from, mainly, PowerPoint slides.
We also offer an image-setting service for high resolution printing. Design and typesetting many of the in-house publications continues, including marketing posters, courses literature, and various OUCS advertising materials. The section continues to supply backup support for the HFS team, and Help Centre.
We continued to invest in improvements to our virtual machine infrastructure. We added 3 additional Blade servers and upgraded the existing ones. Each Blade now has 6GB of RAM with faster Front-Side Bus, faster local discs, and larger CPU caches.
On the Storage Area Network we added additional storage of around 1.4TB. The major software upgrade has been the move to VMWare ESX3 from VMWare ESX 2.5. This has provided us with automatic fail-over in case of hardware failure and automated load balancing of Virtual Machines across our host cluster. Already excellent Virtual Machine performance has been improved, as has the already short time it takes to set up Virtual Machines. This year NSMS provided Virtual Infrastructure to the ICT support team, a service which is expanding.
ITS3 has had another busy and productive year. Approximately 50 new IT Staff joined the IT Support Staff register during the year, bringing total numbers of ITSS in the collegiate University to around 600. New IT Staff induction seminars were run by ITS3 in September 2005 and January 2006.
Thirteen separate presentations were given by various OUCS staff and IT Suppliers and eleven separate training courses were provided; some bought in from external suppliers and some given by OUCS experts. The total number of hours of presentation or training given was 217 and there were a total of 725 attendees. ITS3 delivered a total of just over 4,500 person-hours of training during the year.
New developments this year include better access to the registration database by IT Support Staff and a trial of allowing some units' ITSS to change their own unit's mail routings. Malcolm Austen has been developing a wiki (https://wiki.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itss) for the use of IT Support Staff, the usage of which is steadily growing.
We have also had various staff changes during the last year. Our Administrator left us in November 2005 to take up employment with UCISA. Steve Pierce, from Cardiff University, was appointed to the post of ITS3 Administrator and Support assistant in June 2006. Jane Littlehales returned to OUCS from maternity leave in February 2006 to become the OUCS Head of Marketing and Tony Brett became the Head of IT Support Staff Services.
- develop central PC purchasing for the three departments;
- increase in the number of IT support staff available in Central Administration;
- identify services for consolidation across the three departments;
- conduct requirements analysis for the ECE project with the assistance of Gartner Consultants;
- plan the delivery of the ECE project in seven distinct stages;
- successfully bid for ECE Project funding;
- upgrade of the Central Administration file and print servers;
- begin the migration of OULS staff to an Exchange 2003 email system;
- installation and configuration of Altiris Notification Server.
The OUCS Marketing section has been hard at work ensuring that OUCS remains at the forefront of people's minds when facing IT queries, problems or requirements. Regular adverts have been placed in Blueprint to promote new and updated services including free ECDL testing and the launch of the OXITEMS service. OUCS News continues to be produced once a term and distributed to all colleges and departments. A new guide to OUCS services called "OUCS - What can it do for you?" has been published for academics and the number of OUCS staff linked with colleges has increased, while free OUCS pencils and pens continue to be popular. A Marketing Consultation Exercise was commissioned and brought new insight to potential marketing opportunities. This inspired a more service-driven approach to the OUCS home page, a dynamic poster campaign, and future work on a consistent OUCS style for printed documents.
During the year OUCS has had an influx of staff from other sections of the University. The University Telecommunications staff have been transferred from Central Administration to the OUCS Infrastructure Group, and OUCS has also carried the administrative responsibility for the 24 staff of the newly formed ICT Support Team as well as the six staff of the Oxford e-Research Centre.
In addition we have a pool of 101 part-time staff in the paid-as-claimed category who work on an ‘as-needed’ basis to demonstrate for our courses, staff the Help Centre during the day and the evening, contribute to some of the externally funded projects, and act as cataloguers for Intute.
We have completed 33 recruitment exercises for various groups in OUCS. From these 30 new appointments were made. In several cases two appointments were made from one job advertisement, but significantly four posts had to be re-advertised a second or third time as no suitable candidates applied. These were all in the Infrastructure Group where it is getting harder to find people with the skills and experience needed.
OUCS staff make extensive use of open source software to deliver services, and take advantage of the freedom to examine the source code, fix it, and enhance it. The department recognizes that participation in community open source development is valuable for both staff development and enhancement of the University's reputation, as well as improving the software itself for the benefit of all. However, the copyright in code created during this process by University staff typically belongs to the University, and is not distributed outside the institution without due permission.
Staff who wish to contribute to open source projects seek the permission of the Director before doing so. Requests are normally approved if the software is relevant to departmental work, and the Director is satisfied that the University is free to contribute the software in question. A catalogue of open source involvement approved in 2005-2006 is listed below.