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 2006-07. 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.
Project FroDo, which aims to bring the University backbone into each University building and college, is nearing its end. FroDo has been successfully deployed in 156 departmental and college units. Progress will now continue at a less rapid pace as the remaining sites, largely the problematic ones and new University buildings, are completed. Already complete is the deployment of the basic Secure Network Infrastructure; a parallel project undertaken to address the need to provide security, telephony and other similar services for the University.
The backbone continues to operate reliably and traffic levels are still rising (156% 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 71,000 connections.
The last year has seen an unprecedented rise in external traffic with high utilisation of our JANET link. We are investigating the possibilities for increasing our external bandwidth allocation so as to be in a position to cope with future increases.
There continues to be increasing demand for wireless networking (OWL – Oxford Wireless LAN) across the University and there are now around 68 sites offering these services. The Visitor network saw 3,096 accounts being used over the year.
The anti-spam measures that have been implemented continue to be generally effective. Our anti-spam software analyses each email and adds a 'spam score' to each email. This score can then be used to filter email before they reach users inboxes. Generally scores above 5 are likely to be spam emails. Of the messages received from outside of the University, 80% are now rejected, 15% are delivered with a spam score of less than 5, and 5% are delivered with a spam score greater than, or equal to, 5.
|Period||Messages per day||Data volume per day (GB)|
The Herald system provides mail storage for more than 35,000 users, with access via POP, IMAP, and Webmail. This year, after a sustained education campaign, we were able to enforce the use of secure authentication mechanisms. Login mechanisms that exposed a user's password on the network were disabled on 3rd July 2007. This measure helps to protect the integrity of the Oxford Account passwords, which many services besides Herald depend on for their security.
During this reporting year a new project to increase the disk storage available to Herald users was initiated. This will increase users space from their relatively low levels (typically 100-300 MB per user) to a standard 1 GB, with discretionary increases available to high-volume users. This project involves a change to the IMAP server software and complete replacement of the back-end storage and server hardware. As well as increased capacity, we expect the new system to provide improved reliability and availability. The work will continue into 2007-8.
The new system consists of six Sun Fire servers, each with two 16-bay serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disk enclosures. These are populated with a total of 192 146GB SAS disks configured as multiple RAID 6 arrays. This configuration provides good capacity whilst protecting against data loss in the event of multiple disk failures. We have almost 20 TB of user visible disk storage, and the 192 spindles ensure good performance for the demanding workload of an interactive IMAP service.
We use the same type of SAS enclosures for disk-to-disk backups with high-capacity SATA disks (again in a RAID 6 configuration) providing 20 TB of holding space. These on-disk backups are currently written to tape for longer term storage. We plan to increase the capacity of the disk-to-disk backup system and replicate all of the backup data to an off-site mirror, eliminating the need for tapes all together.
The Herald IMAP service handles approximately 900,000 logins per day during term time. The table below shows the login activity of email clients on a typical day in term compared with data from the previous year:
Some users (and the client software that they employ) are far more active in logging in than others. Note that users' primary affiliations have been used to label these data, and therefore is possibly misleading where users have multiple affiliations. People who are not associated with a division are presented within the chart with their status alone. Another indicator of Herald usage is the mail stored on disk. The next chart also shows disk usage for each division.
Undergraduates cannot be associated with a division within these data. However, their use of the email facilities is on a very high scale. For example, in the same 24 hour period, there were 9951 active users who were undergraduates and this category of users accounts for 444 GB of mail stored on disk.
The following chart shows what happens to the email the University receives over a typical term day. Although Herald offers spam filtering facilities to users, most users have not activated this, so the number of messages discarded or saved to users' junk-mail folders is lower than might be expected.
The volume of email data stored by Herald has grown steadily over the last few years. We are seeing continued growth in the use of email, and are anticipating an increase in the rate of growth following the implementation of larger user mail store quotas. The following chart shows the growth in mail stored over the last academic year.
OUCS provides a secure single sign-on facility that enables service providers across the University to authenticate users against a central, trusted third-party authentication system. Networked services providing a Kerberos or GSSAPI authentication mechanism can make use of this natively. We also provide a web gateway to the Kerberos authentication system; this provides a central authentication service, WebAuth, to providers of web-based services.
The Herald POP/IMAP service and the GNU/Linux interactive shell service already offer GSSAPI-authenticated access, and we expect more OUCS services to offer this in the future. Several units outside of OUCS are experimenting with Microsoft Active Directory in a cross-realm trust relationship, with the central systems providing an authoritative authentication service. The use of WebAuth by service providers outside of OUCS is increasing steadily:
OUCS offers a central web hosting service, with basic provision for static content and limited CGI applications. This is currently used by more than 130 units across the University, including a number of colleges, departments and research groups.
The Hierarchical File Server (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.
The following graph shows the growth in terms of files and TB data for the year covering all aspects of the service. The number of files saved has increased from approximately 775 million files to just over 1 billion with the corresponding increase in data held growing from approximately 190TB to 280TB.
The following graph shows the growth in terms of files and TB data since 1996. The HFS backup service holds backups for about 3,200 desktop systems and 1,100 departmental or college servers. In a typical week, the HFS takes in over 40 million new or changed files amounting to almost 20TB – approximately twice as much as in the previous year.
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 included completion of phase two of the tape drive enhancement program, and the simultaneous migration of data to fully utilize the higher capacity and higher performance media.
The security team (Oxford Computer Emergency Response Team or OxCERT) has seen several changes over the past year. One member has left, while two new members have joined the team, restoring it to three full-time staff.
A number of hardware changes are underway in order to improve resilience and our ability to detect security incidents, and to cope with the ever-increasing network traffic levels, including forthcoming increases in the speed of the University's external network connectivity.
- systems compromised through brute-force; accounts with weak passwords (dictionary words, otherwise guessable or non-existent) are at particular risk and users must be educated of the need for strong passwords;
- exploitation of newly-discovered vulnerabilities. Where possible the team have attempted to identify systems at risk before the vulnerabilities can be exploited;
- webserver compromises, generally through coding errors in dynamic applications;
- insecure wireless networks providing access to the University network for unauthorised infected systems;
- exploitation of vulnerabilities where a fix has been available for sometime but has not been applied;
- vulnerabilities in software versions no longer supported by the vendor.
Compromised systems frequently participate in "botnets": widely-dispersed networks of compromised machines under the control of third parties. These may be used for activities such as sending unsolicited emails, sharing of illegal content, denial-of-service attacks on targeted external systems, or searching for further vulnerable hosts.
The University frequently receives notification of copyright violations, which generally relate to students sharing content over peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, despite the University regulations banning such activity. The security team now work in conjunction with the ITS3 team in handling the notifications, tracing the users responsible, promptly curtailing their network access and passing on details to colleges and departments. Local IT support staff are then responsible for liaison with the users and ensuring that they do not re-offend. Indeed many IT officers have taken pro-active measures to prevent such abuse. A handful of networks are now responsible for a substantial proportion of the notifications.
An additional project the team has taken on is a pilot project to enable examination papers in preparation (and other sensitive information) to be distributed securely by electronic means. A full working trial is expected to begin in Michaelmas 2007.
The past year saw the formation of a workgroup, led by the Help Centre managers to review OUCS’s ‘front of house’ services. The workgroup investigated the potential for improving and streamlining some of the services through consolidation, with the main focus on the Help Centre itself, the OUCS Shop, and the Operations team. The work group concluded with a recommendation to physically move the 3 services into the same room in order to provide a more joined-up service. This work started in July 2007 with a complete refurbishment of the Help Centre including the creation of a joint Shop and Job Reception counter with staff office space to the rear.
Another project during the year was the reorganisation of the Hardware Repair and Upgrade Service in order to provide a clearer and more consistent service for users. Starting in May 2007, changes include a new web-based enquiry form and a price-list for the most common jobs undertaken. The pricing now includes a non-refundable minimum labour charge of £20 which covers diagnostic work. We feel confident that this will bring OUCS better returns for the service in the long term. More details on the service are provided in the Hardware Service section.
In reviewing the usage of the Help Centre over the past year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to analyse the data based on the addresses of emailed queries. The number of messages which could not be attributed, largely due to the increased use of external addresses, rose by 50% over last year, making it impossible to compare absolute figures:
Fortunately the use of our web form has now risen to the point where it provides significant figures and with the barcode of the enquirer we can make more accurate evaluations of their affiliation. The following table shows the break-down of enquiries via the help form by division. The figures from previous years are less reliable as they represent a smaller percentage of total email queries and are more prone to inaccuracy due to affiliation changes over time. Nevertheless they show that there is not a large variance in percentage rankings and that the colleges and divisions together have taken up the top 5 ranks in help desk usage over the last 3 financial years.
The most notable change in the types of queries the help desk handles is that general software problems have now overtaken VPN-related questions which are now in third place. Help Centre login issues and queries about OUCS dial-up have dropped so that queries about Athens, with a 1% rise, have overtaken both in the rankings.
This year has been an eventful one in Hardware Repairs and Upgrades with extra resources being made available to cater for increased demand and the introduction of a new web-based system for easy registration of new jobs.
A team has been setup to handle data recovery and system re-installs. This is proving increasingly popular in cases of severe corruption of operating system software and hardware failures. The web registration provides the requester with a prompt reply and initial advice followed by an invitation to bring in the machine in need of repair.
A total of 271 machines were handled this year, a record number. Of these, 179 were repaired or upgraded and 92 had software remedies applied. The 163 laptops dominated both repairs and upgrades while the 16 desktops and towers continued their yearly decline in numbers. Interestingly, if these machines reflect recent purchasing trends, there is little interest in the compact cube designs despite being economical on space. Although there are a relatively small number of 16 Apple computers handled compared with 163 PCs, there is a definite upward trend in Apples requiring attention, with the first out of warranty Macbooks making an appearance. A small number of flash memory and external drive enclosures were also repaired. Some designs of the latter seem particularly prone to early failure due to their miniature sealed construction which inhibits heat dissipation. As these are often relied upon for backup purposes, they are a cause for concern.
- Enable account management to be devolved to the users themselves or, if that is not appropriate, then to their ITSS;
- To automate as many processes as possible.
Where we need manual intervention, we aim for a fast efficient response to queries. We are aiming to reduce the number of queries we get year-on-year and have made significant progress in this over the last 12 months.
|Reporting Year||No of RT Tickets|
A total of 38,933 Single Sign-On (SSO) accounts are being maintained (88 percent of which have been activated). An SSO account gives access to many applications such as Weblearn, software downloads, OxCort tutorial reporting, etc. (see also above Authentication Services).
A division is assigned to a user based on the Department specified on their University Card. Undergraduates cannot be assigned to a department and are listed under colleges irrespective of who runs their course.
- to include new software downloads;
- a new category of status, Virtual Access, has been introduced. This status allows non-Oxford users to access certain WebAuth protected facilities. This new category of access was piloted using the OxCORT tutorial reporting system;
- a new facility for IT support staff (ITSS) to change existing generic routings and set their own staff's individual routings has been released;
- a new utility to allow ITSS to set activation or rescue codes for Single Sign-on accounts was introduced during the year;
- we actively worked with many units to stop re-writing their mail to long form in advance of the January 2008 target;
- we have removed @anat and @physiol email in favour of @dpag; @edstud in favour of @education;
- we extended the project times for all postgraduate applicants so their accounts did not expire on 31st August, saving many ad hoc requests for account extensions;
- we worked with the Sports Federation to help with the new requirement for all clubs to have a web site with a Health and Safety policy;
- University web addresses were authorised (by contacting departmental heads) for 18 new sub-departments and Centres. Work was needed in a few other cases arising from University reorganisation.
Information Services manages the OUCS website and a number of related sites (e.g. WelcomeToIT, ICT, and those of the OeRC and e-Horizons). 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.
We have also taken on a new role in investigating and prototyping potential new services; this has included work on project management and collaborative writing systems. It also involved considering how Google Applications could be used by the University, and we are now using it internally for calendaring.
At the start of 2007, we successfully bid for a short project funded by JISC to look at the use of XCRI for course descriptions, and worked with the Careers Service and Continuing Education on the delivery of sample feeds of data.
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).
During this period the RTS obtained funding from the JISC for the e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models (eIUS) and the Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID) projects. The former is developing a set of narrative use cases relating to the usage of e-infrastructure within the UK academic research domain, whilst the latter is establishing interoperability between three discrete repository systems in Oxford: the OULS Fedora system; the OeRC Storage Resource Broker; and the OUCS ASK/Sakai e-learning repository. The British National Corpus also launched its new BNC XML edition in this period. These and other projects are further described in the project reports.
The RTS successfully completed contributions to the first round of JISC Virtual Research Environment (VRE) projects (Sakai VRE, Integrative Biology VRE, and the Building a VRE for the Humanities),and the Shibboleth-aware Portals and Information Environments (SPIE) project. The Humanities Division, with input from the RTS, was successful in a funding bid to the JISC for a subsequent phase for the Humanities VRE project (VRE for the Study of Documents and Manuscripts).
- Working with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) through membership of the Directorate;
- Establishment of a 0.5 FTE OUCS-OeRC liaison post to maintain excellent communication between each department;
- Various collaborative projects relating to shibboleth deployment, digital repositories, language resources, and e-infrastructure usage.
Staff changes over the last year included: the resignation of Randy Metcalfe from OSS Watch and the appointment of Ross Gardler as OSS watch Service Manager; and the appointment of James Wilson as Intute Arts and Humanities Service Manager.
The past year has seen a continued growth in WebLearn both in terms of accesses and in the numbers of resources available. WebLearn's public visibility has been enhanced both by allowing Google access and via podcasts accessed using iTunes. These factors have contributed to a four fold increase in total bandwidth used in Week 1 of Trinity 2007 compared with Trinity 2006.
|October 2004||November 2005||July 2006||July 2007|
|No. Floors in Academic Units||46||56||63||69|
|No. Floors in Colleges||4||9||14||19|
The following table shows that just over three quarters of accesses to WebLearn are originating from Oxford. Even though it is now over a year since the Google search engine was allowed access, the majority of WebLearn users are still the staff and students of the University. Even so, we have observed a major increase in the number of distinct search words resulting in WebLearn accesses and this indicates the breadth of resources available has widened considerably.
Starting in Michaelmas 2006, every new member of staff at Oxford University has been invited to our new termly event: Breakfast at the OUCS. Over croissants and coffee, we introduce new members to many important services at OUCS; give them a tour of our Help Centre and the Thames Suite of lecture rooms; and introduce them to the IT Learning Programme and its innovative educational technology.
We continue working in collaboration with other university services such as Careers and the Library Services. In Trinity 2007 we began a new collaborative initiative in line with the Roberts recommendations for transferable skills training for research students. The Skills Toolkit for Research Students is a free, one-day workshop, which will run once a term and offer a variety of interactive sessions which give insight into the use of familiar tools as well as introducing some novel approaches to streamlining research activities.
The ITLP team has contributed to a number of the OUCS events including Tools for Teaching, the annual OxTalent Awards, and the Shock and Beyond national conferences. The Tools for Teaching event aimed to introduce Oxford academics to a wide range of technologies and discuss how these technologies could be used within their tutorials, lectures, assessment and administration. Guides describing these new technologies can be accessed at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/crt/resources.xml along with an area in WebLearn (http://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/site/asuc/oucs/tools4teach/) that further illustrates how technologies can be used to support teaching at Oxford.
We continue to work collaboratively with the Library Services in organising lunchtime byte-sized WISER sessions on subject-specific electronic resources and most of our teaching resources can be freely accessed online through the University’s WebLearn VLE at http://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/site/asuc/oucs/itlp/materials/.
At the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2006 the ITLP became an early adopter of Ostrakon software for student-teacher evaluation. Ostrakon is a powerful tool that helps us to recognize and encourage quality and to determine areas that require attention. Feedback is provided instantly (by web interface or email), without the need to collect and digitize paper questionnaires.
Learning Technologies Group (LTG) Services provides the backbone to
many LTG activities, offering advice on and expertise in the use of
technology for learning and teaching to departments around the
University. We have particular expertise in multimedia, learning
design, systems interoperability, and gathering user requirements.
Collaborative work has included the digital image management
project, OxCLIC, with a university wide group of departments; and a
new training series to help relieve the administrative burden
through the use of ICT. LTG services is involved in several national
ICT projects funded by JISC. Funding was received for the section
staff to work on Thema (
a longitudinal study exploring the experiences of students in
technology rich environments at Oxford. We are also collaborating
with TALL at Continuing Education on ISTHUMUS, linking user-owned
technologies to institutional activities and the Design 4 Learning
Pedagogic Planner project. Through these projects (described more
fully under Project Reports) OUCS's work
on good practice in the effective use of IT in teaching and learning
The LTG Services plays a dissemination role for learning and teaching best practices. This is achieved through the projects listed above and via activities such as: running a weekly series of IT seminars — Digital Projects in Oxford, occasional workshops, the annual ‘Show and Tell’ OxTALENT event, and a series of Digital Video workshops.
LTG Services also runs two annual conferences. This year's Shock of the Old conference focused on Web 2.0 social technologies and the Beyond the Search Engine conference looked at combating plagiarism in an increasingly connected world. Finally LTG Services lent its expertise to teach on and helped support the new Master's degree course in e-Learning at the Department of Educational Studies.
- Feedback gets results (Medical Sciences)
This project allows the retention of student results until after they have given feedback online, thus ensuring virtually 100% feedback on a course.
- Turkish for self study (Humanities)
This project, produced in collaboration with the Oriental institute, is a unique multimedia resource to support the teaching of Turkish language and culture. The project produced a number of interactive learning objects, re-purposed existing tools and provided a portal to other interactive learning resources in this area.
- Development of a flexible online annotation tool
Here we investigated the possibility of integrating an existing online annotation tool into WebLearn.
- OxClic (Humanities Division)
Many images are stored in a widespread manner, and this project allows resources to be pulled together into a searchable image management database for reuse.
- Research discovery project (Medical Sciences)
The ACDT collaborated with the medical division to design a Research Discovery service, which would facilitate the recording and discovery of research activity within the medical division (and ultimately across the University).
- WebLearn use cases (cross-divisional)
In order to produce some sites which could be used as examples of 'best practice' ideas were requested from the academic community. Those projects chosen used WebLearn as the core, along with various external and internally linked resources, to provide interesting real-life teaching examples.
OxCORT (Oxford Colleges Online Reports for Tutorials) continued to be developed during the year and was rolled out as a pilot across the university. This required considerable user training and documentation. Discussions were ongoing towards the end of the year for Central Administration to take over the production service.
In June 2007 our latest call for proposals was issued, based on the suggestion box system. This has resulted in 13 full proposals, seven of which were chosen as having potential for development, dependant upon the funding regimes and feasibility studies. These are:
Work has continued on setting up ACDT's VMWare server ‘farm’. A number of Virtual Machines for different uses have now been set up for both internal (development Virtual Machines, internal knowledge bases, etc.) and external consumption (demonstration boxes, projects database, etc.). Effort was also input to OUCS branding issues and a redesign of the ACDT website which is still ongoing.
During the last academic year several staff changes have occurred in the ACDT. Joseph Talbot spent a year volunteering at an institution in Cameroon, and tele-worked with design advice for various projects. Upon his return, he initiated discussions for the formation of the new OUCS Web Design Consultancy service. In February 2007, Sophie Clarke resigned as section head to pursue other interests, and Paul Groves took over leadership.
The Computing Services 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. In January 2007, the shop counter service was augmented by the addition of an online shop. Although the current version of the online shop is very basic, this additional service allows customers to place orders and collect goods outside of normal shop opening times.
The product lines available from the shop continue to diversify and expand to reflect changing trends and customers’ computing requirements, particularly wireless networking and memory storage products. Among the many items added this year are firewire cables and adapters, digital media cards, notebook carry cases and card readers as well as larger capacity memory sticks and new printer and toner cartridge ranges. Software product ranges available from the Shop have also risen with a number of new products available from Adobe (Creative Suite range) and Microsoft (Campus Work at Home products).
OUCS administers a number of software agreements for commonly requested software packages for personal computers. The University is thus able to make considerable savings against the individual purchase cost. A total of 24,443 software licenses were issued in this year.
A Campus agreement enables us to rent the most popular Microsoft products, for example, Windows upgrades and Office Professional. Work-at-home rights are also included in this agreement. A total of 5,380 licenses were added during the year; the rental charge was £278,788.
OUCS also administers various software contracts on behalf of groups of departments to assist in gaining more favourable pricing; this year £62,612 worth of software was purchased and subsequently paid for by contributing departments.
The Computer Hardware Breakdown Service offers a very economically priced breakdown service for personal computers and their peripherals such as printers. It is available to University institutions, colleges and associated institutions. It is also available to University members, including students, on a personal basis for their privately owned equipment. In essence, for a modest fixed fee, the service provides for an engineer to visit on-site, any where on mainland UK, by the next business day from a fault being reported and the fault should be fixed within a further 8 working hours, or an equivalent item of equipment will be offered as a loan until the repair is completed.
OUCS monitors call-outs and reports of unsatisfactory service, and the service (offered by an external company) has been extremely good. The number of items registered has fallen over recent years, caused by a general trend in the industry of providing 3 year warranties as standard. However, there is scope for encouraging a greater student and staff uptake for their personally owned machines as there is evidence that this group is unlikely to have alternative breakdown cover and is often critically inconvenienced by hardware failure. A marketing program for the service has been put in place to encourage use of the service.
High precision phototypesetting / imagesetting service. The service uses a Monotype Panther Pro Imagesetter. 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;
To enhance the offset-litho printing, we took advantage of an opportunity in August 2006 to purchase a second-hand Ryobi 512H two colour printing press which was in very good condition and at a very attractive price. This press represents a significant improvement over the aging, single colour Thompson press that had, nonetheless, given very good service for a number of years. The new Ryobi press provides a four-fold increase, at least, in productivity for our offset-litho printing service, printing two colours simultaneously, at twice the speed of the Thompson. The ability to use modern ink technologies has improved the final quality of the output beyond what was possible with the old press and helped to reduce turnaround of work even more. This has allowed the service to take on more work for other departments and colleges.
The Operations Team is also responsible for the Oxprint poster printing service. During this period nearly 1,600 posters submitted by University members were printed, an increase of 23% over last year, with the majority relating to the dissemination of scientific research. Staff have continued to develop expertise in printing from a variety of packages and provide advice and support to users. The turnaround time for printing is usually under 24 hours from submission. The service also supports the production of OUCS publications. The Team continued to support an image-setting service for high resolution printing as well as A4/A3 colour laser printing and photocopying.
Towards the end of this period, the Operations Supervisor retired from OUCS. The overall management of the Computer Room is being reviewed in 07/08. OUCS is also undertaking a feasibility study, in collaboration with other parts of the University, to investigate the options for alternative computer room facilities for the collegiate University.
We have continued to invest in improvements to our virtual machine infrastructure. The IBM Blade centre, purchased nearly three years ago, was reaching capacity, running 57 production virtual servers (Windows, Linux, Netware) with two blades set aside for development and testing work. Consequently a fully populated Dell 1955 Blade system with 6TB of EMC storage was purchased in July 2007 with two blades and a section of storage allocated to the ICT Support Team for their exclusive use. The processor specification for the new equipment provides a significant increase in capacity over the old system with each blade running dual quad core Xeon processors, giving the system the potential capacity for supporting 400 or more typical servers.
Two members of NSMS have achieved the VMware Certified Professional qualification demonstrating the high level of expertise in our team. Three new services have been started, based on the team's virtualisation expertise (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/nsms/services/vm.xml). These are VM for Rent, VMware Consultancy, and VMware Infrastructure Management.
The VM for Rent service provides almost immediate access to a virtual machine running a server OS which can be any one of Linux (Red Hat, SUSE, or Debian), Windows 2003 Server or NetWare 6.5. The rental arrangement can be short, medium or long term (one month to many years).
The VMware Consultancy Service offers comprehensive and expert advice on installation, configuration, and ongoing administration of VMware solutions. Over the last six months the team has been providing consultancy to four colleges and departments that have started down the VMware road. The team has already been involved in advising seven colleges and departments.
The VMware Infrastructure Management service provides for the management of the VMware infrastructure of a server, independently of the virtual servers that may be running within this environment. With there being an ever stronger case for running most servers in a virtual environment, this service allows departments and colleges to embark on a virtual infrastructure without the difficulties and delays of a steep learning curve with the new technologies involved and the risks that adopting new technology can bring are considerably reduced.
On the storage management front, the NSMS team have been experimenting with storage virtualisation and have used a pilot implementation of SAN Melody, from DataCore to support the VM for Rent service as it has the potential to provide considerable flexibility to the storage provision of this service as it expands.
IT Support Staff Services (ITS3) has had another busy and productive year. Approximately 60 new IT Staff joined the IT Support Staff register during the year, bringing the total number of ITSS in the collegiate University to around 600. In the period covered by this report ITS3 ran three new IT Staff induction seminars and one pre-Michaelmas term roundup of news and plans from key OUCS service providers. ITS3 now has a service level description available linked from its website.
The principal events organised during the year were the IT Suppliers’ Exhibition in December 2006 and the 12th Annual IT Support Staff Conference in June 2007 (in conjunction with the IT Support Staff Group). We run several social events such as the monthly lunchtime surgery — often attracting 10-20 attendees and the drinks/games evenings at the University Club frequently attracting more. The ITSS Summer Barbecue in July, held at the Institute of Anthropology, was a huge success as it was run for the first time on a bring-your-own-food-and-drink basis.
ITS3, OUCS Staff, and IT Suppliers gave 21 separate presentations and eight separate training courses were delivered; some bought in from external suppliers. The total number of hours of presentation or training given was 167 and there were a total of 941 attendees. In total ITS3 was responsible for just over 4,000 person-hours of training or presentations during the year.
The ITSS wiki (https://wiki.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itss) has seen wide use and now contains a vast array of information of use to, and provided by, both central and distributed ITSS. ITSS in Oxford have also embraced Facebook in a group containing over 100 members. Many ITSS events and photos thereof are now advertised and hosted on that social networking website.
New developments this year include devolving more registration tasks to ITSS. They can now make rescue and activation codes and change mail routings for both generic and personal addresses in their units. ITS3 now handles copyright infringement notices on behalf of the University and acts as a broker for the UKERNA SSL server certificate service. To date around 100 certificates have been issued saving Oxford in the order of £10,000.
The Head of ITS3 has joined the UCISA Staff Development Group (SDG) and its subgroup for distributed IT Support Staff, being actively involved in the organisation of the UCISA Distributed IT Support Staff Symposium in June. The Head of ITS3 has also been a key player in the formation of the new University ICT Strategy and is now a member of the Enhanced Computing Environment (ECE) consultative group.
The new ITS3 administrator, Steve Pierce, has proven to be a successful appointment and he adds much value to the help desk operation as well as to ITS3. The addition of one of the registration staff to the ITS3 office is proving to be an excellent symbiosis with resulting improved services both from Registration and ITS3 for distributed IT Support Staff.
The ICTST is not formally part of OUCS, but is responsible for the Active Directory, WINS, and Antivirus services delivered by OUCS. The ICTST is also responsible for desktop IT services for the three central departments of the University (OUCS, Central Admin, and OULS) and the Enhanced Computing Environment (ECE) project.
The Active Directory and WINS service has seen no significant change over the last year apart from collaboration between NSMS and the ICTST delivering a workshop on integration of Windows Active Directory with the Oxford Kerberos Single Sign-on infrastructure.
As part of the OUCS Antivirus Service, the ICTST released a program to install and configure the latest release (version 7) of Sophos Anti-Virus for Windows, which was made available for the start of the academic year of 2007-8. This incorporates a number of features designed to assist with installation on Vista systems. A similar install wrapper developed for the HFS (Hierarchical File Server) Backup and Restore client was handed over to the HFS team. The ICTST also helped to deliver seminars and training information to the ITSS community relating to Sophos Antivirus.
As part of a regular refresh the ICTST managed the replacement of over 100 desktop computers running Windows XP in the Thames Suite, in support of the IT Learning Programme. Similarly, the Windows desktops in the Help Centre were replaced, and new OS X systems installed.
The ECE project delivered significant benefits to the staff of the three central departments. These included a complete refresh of desktop computers in Central Administration and the migration of OULS staff to a Microsoft Exchange email system. At the heart of the ECE is a set of Altiris desktop management tools and last year also saw the implementation of an Altiris Notification Server system and the deployment of a new Altiris Helpdesk to OULS and the Estates Directorate. The ICTST has been responsible for some Altiris training for the ITSS community to help them benefit from these excellent tools.
As the use of Apple computers amongst staff and students has continued to increase steadily it has become clear that a properly organised support infrastructure for Apple hardware and software is now essential. The Apple Supported Desktop Service (ASDS) was set up this year with the intention of putting the management of Apple computers on a similar footing to that already in place for Windows PCs. The core component of the ASDS is The Casper Suite – an imaging, application deployment and inventory solution from JAMFSoftware. The OUCS Help Centre and Lecture Room Macs are now fully managed by Casper, as are the majority of new Macs coming in to OUCS. A project is now underway to bring existing OUCS staff machines under Casper management, as well as an increasing number of Macs in several other departments in the University. Talks on how we are using Casper have been given at OUCS and at the ITSS Conference this year and there is considerable interest from Colleges and Departments where Mac use is also growing rapidly. The ASDS has also been involved with the deployment of Apple server infrastructure both within OUCS and externally. Another development has been the training and Apple certification of members of the OUCS Help Centre staff so that we can now offer a much improved Apple hardware support service. All the indications are that the ASDS will play an important role in support for Apple users across the University.
The OUCS Marketing section has been hard at work ensuring that OUCS promotes and advertises its existing, new, and upgraded services to all members of the University, whilst recognising the excellent service provided by distributed IT Support Staff. Regular adverts have been placed in Blueprint to promote new and updated services including increases in Herald email quota, the opening of the new online shop and national conferences run by OUCS. OUCS News continues to be produced once a term and distributed to all colleges and departments. Free pens and pencils are available and help people to keep the address of the OUCS home page to hand.
Much work has been done on the development of the OUCS brand and use of the OUCS logo on printed materials. Usage guidelines, power point templates, sample graphics and more have been provided via internal web pages. These pages also provide information to OUCS staff on advertising opportunities and communication mechanisms to promote their services to various sectors or the whole University.
A major event this year was the 50th Anniversary of Computing at Oxford. This marks 50 years since the first staff were appointed to the new Computing Laboratory. Their computer didn't arrive until the following year! An exhibition charting the changes in buildings, computers, services offered, support for humanities computing and more was opened with a ceremony, re-union and cake in June. The exhibition will remain on display in the public areas of OUCS until the end of 2007. Both textual and photographic information from the exhibition is being added to the History of OUCS web site to provide a longer term resource. Following requests from former members of staff, an OUCS — Past and Present group has been set up on Facebook which current and former associates of OUCS can join.
Future plans include updating and improving the content and impact of visual information provided to visitors to OUCS and investigating ways of assessing effectiveness of current promotional channels.
This period has seen the change over of all University contracts to a single spine pay system which took place on 1st August 2006. Most members of staff were transferred to the new scales with a slightly beneficial outcome, although there were a handful for whom this had the opposite effect.
During the year there were 17 recruitment events, 15 academic-related and two for support staff. These resulted in 15 appointments, two of which were promotion opportunities for existing staff members and one gave us the opportunity to redeploy a member of staff whose short term contract was coming to an end. So we welcomed nine new members of staff to OUCS and three to the ICT Support Team.
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 2006-2007 is listed below.