3. Service Reports
The FroDo project has been successfully completed and we now have a presence in every main University and college building offering a variety of services and connections.
The backbone continues to operate reliably and traffic levels are still rising with no sign of abating. Similarly, the number of registered hosts connected to the network increases each year and now exceeds 76,000 connections.
|31 July 2001||41,016|
|31 July 2002||44,935|
|31 July 2003||50,797|
|31 July 2004||55,186|
|31 July 2005||60,659|
|31 July 2006||66,063|
|31 July 2007||71,394|
|31 July 2008||76,742|
The last year has seen a continued rise in traffic both to and from JANET. The single 1 Gb/s link between Oxford University and JANET has been augmented by a second 1 Gb/s link thus doubling our throughput capacity. Traffic is load-shared between these two connections and they have been provisioned in a resilient manner so that the loss of either connection enables traffic to continue passing, albeit at a lower bandwidth.
The dial-up service saw a further drop in its usage with only low numbers of concurrent users. The equipment operating this service is now quite old and is unsupported by the original supplier. Although we have adequate spares for the foreseeable future, this is a rapidly declining service with throughput significantly below that offered by broadband. Users are advised to consider the alternatives and not to rely on this for the future.
* = Approximate count.
Use of the VPN service has doubled in the last year. This reflects the increasing requirement for mobile computer use both external to the University and through wireless connectivity.
There continues to be increasing demand for wireless networking (OWL — Oxford Wireless LAN) across the University. The last year has seen the introduction of the Eduroam service across a number of locations and which has proved to be popular.
There are now 94 FroDo units serving OWL, which is up significantly from last year. Visitor usage is similarly rising with over 300 active users each day during the conference season.
OUCS has invested in improvements to the infrastructure supporting OWL, Eduroam, and the Visitor Network services, including resilience upgrades to firewalls and database servers, and network enhancement.
We are now busy planning the introduction of OWL Phase 2 following the award of a grant to introduce wireless networking in public areas across the University. This 3-year project will start in August 2008 and significantly increase wireless availability.
Operation of the email relay systems has seen little change in the past year apart from the anticipated rises in both the number of messages and the total volume of data handled.
Of the messages received from outside the University, 85% are now rejected, 4% are delivered as likely/possible spam leaving 11% delivered as legitimate email.
|Period||Average messages per day||Average data volume per day|
Herald provides the University’s email service for over 35,000 users. The service supports access via IMAP, Webmail, and POP allowing users a choice of a wide variety of email clients, web browsers, and platforms to access their email. In September 2007 OUCS completed the first phase of a major upgrade to the Herald email service, including a migration to new IMAP software and a complete replacement of the server and storage hardware. The upgrade project enabled us to allocate every user, whether student or staff, an initial quota of 1 GB (with a process to allow discretionary increases for higher volume users). The new system provides a greater level of resilience, resulting in no unscheduled downtime for the service between September 2007 and July 2008. The second phase of the upgrade project, completing at the end of 2008, provides a robust disk-to-disk backup system together with an off-site mirror. The provision of off-site backup is in line with the recognition by OUCS and other IT providers that the University’s business depends on many of the services we provide, necessitating the mitigation of various risks, including the loss of the OUCS Data Centre.
The Herald IMAP service handles approximately 900,000 client logins per day during term time (by approximately 26,000 unique users, with some email clients accessing the service multiple times per session). The table below shows the number of unique users using different login methods in a sample term-time period compared with equivalent data from the previous year:
|Method||Users in 2007||As %||Users in 2008||As %|
|Only POP and/or Webmail||910||4||992||4|
|IMAP and possibly other methods||7,357||32||9,658||37|
The following chart shows login activity over one 24-hour period in term-time in 2008:
A further indicator of Herald usage is the mailstore usage broken down by division:
As in previous reports, we are unable to indicate undergraduate usage by division. However, it remains the case that students form the primary constituency of Herald users. Undergraduate email data occupies approximately 32% of the Herald mailstore.
As reported above, in September 2008 we increased every user’s quota to 1 GB. The following chart illustrates the rate of growth of the mailstore. It is clear that the actual usage of the mailstore grew at a more rapid pace from Sept 2008 onwards. It is likely that users are, perhaps inevitably, taking a more relaxed approach to inbox and folder management (e.g. storing attachments with emails, failing to clear out junk-mail or deleted-mail folders, and so on).
On a typical day Herald handles nearly 30 GB of email messages (see following chart).
Of these the vast majority are delivered to the appropriate mailbox. A significant number are automatically forwarded to other email addresses; others are filtered into a user’s junk-mail folder, based on Herald filter settings applied by the user.
OUCS provides the University access management service. Until now the service focused primarily on providing a secure single sign-on authentication service, centred around Kerberos and, for Web-based access, Webauth. The following lists the number of services, provided by units across the University (i.e. colleges, departments, etc.), that are using the Webauth service.
|Year||Non-OUCS WebAuth Services|
During this period OUCS released two further services: Oak LDAP to enable authorisation decisions to be made; and Shibboleth for federated access management.
The Oak LDAP service is the first of a planned re-branding of the access management services provided by OUCS. The LDAP service enables authorisation decisions to be taken by service providers in the University. Data on unit affiliations (departments and Colleges), and the nature of people’s relationships with the University (student, staff, etc.) are provided. The directory information in Oak LDAP can also be used to map between people’s different identifiers (SSO username, barcode, etc.), and to retrieve contact data and names for people and units. The service can be used in conjunction with the Kerberos and Webauth services. During this period the service was made available as a ‘production pilot’ for University IT providers. Requests for enhancements were encouraged and many of these will be implemented for the 2008/09 academic year.
|Units registered for Oak LDAP pilot||Services using Oak LDAP pilot|
The rollout of support for the Shibboleth access management protocol has enabled Oxford to join the new UK Access Management Federation for Education and Research. This has proved particularly important for access to electronic resources supported by the Library Services, hitherto available via an Athens username and password. Oxford’s subscription to Athens ceased at the end of July 2008. OUCS has collaborated closely with OULS in their rollout of a library portal and proxy service which, through a combination of Shibboleth and the single sign-on service, enables the use of the Oxford username to access bibliographic and other electronic resources from outside the Oxford network. Although the OULS library portal was launched on 1 August 2008, access to electronic resources via Shibboleth has been available to users for most of this reporting period. Even though the service was not actively promoted for most of this time, a significant number of users accessed resources using this method.
|Unique users using Shibboleth service|
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 a backup service for both desktops and departmental and college servers, and a long-term data repository service for the University’s digital assets.
As the number and size of local desktop and server machines in and around Oxford grows, so the challenge for the HFS is to meet and absorb this growth. Equally, increasing numbers of research projects, together with various digitisation projects, require that their data are securely archived over the course of the respective projects and beyond.
This increasing demand manifests itself in all indices of the HFS service, as illustrated in the graphs below.
HFS — Total Service Growth 2007-08
The amount of data secured by the HFS has grown from about 290TB to about 400TB in the last year. The number of files has grown accordingly from just over 1 billion to 1.4 billion.
Below, the total Backup data held is broken down by division (excludes Archive data).
In a typical week, the HFS takes in somewhere between 40 to 60 million new or changed files amounting to around 20 to 25TB — an increase of 25-50% over the previous year.
The real challenge to the HFS is to meet the inexorable growth in demand for Backup and Archive services both effectively and efficiently. To this end, major activities in the past year have centred around the acquisition of two new disk servers and associated SAN hardware. This has allowed for more client data to be staged to disk in any one 24-hour period and thence to allow the faster movement of this data to secure tape copies. Accordingly, the HFS raised the daily backup limits for clients earlier in 2008 to 100 GB/day for Desktops, 200 GB/day for Servers, and 300 GB/day for Large Servers.
Other activities have focused on managing the amount of old and erroneous Backup data. A more proactive approach to identifying and removing these has resulted in the long-term growth of data held in the service slowing. Total data occupancy is now anticipated to double every 24 months, whereas previously it was doubling every 18 months.
In September 2007 the HFS Team organised and hosted the highly-regarded TSM Symposium at St. Catherine’s College. We have run this 4-day conference every alternate year since 1999 and it continues to attract keynote speakers from IBM Storage together with delegates from all over the world.
Future activities of the HFS Team will focus on several areas, including: replacing two ageing host servers; investigating the next generation of tape drives; piloting new dedicated TSM backup client software for Exchange, MS SQL and other databases; and opening remote client backups over VPN. At the same time we are participating in a beta program looking at enhancements to the management of the extremely large database systems that underpin the HFS Service.
Over the past year OxCERT have handled around 600 security incidents, ranging from instances of malicious software on single machines to large-scale compromises affecting dozens of machines across several colleges and departments. Several of the most major incidents have resulted in considerable disruption for units for several days while incidents were investigated and critical servers cleaned.
Major new vulnerabilities from the past year include flaws in the HFS client software, in Adobe Flash Player, in SSL libraries used on certain Linux platforms, and the discovery of a major threat affecting the majority of DNS resolver implementations. Such problems have required prompt action from many parties in order to reduce the University’s exposure to the threat, as exploits often appear in the wild within days of the initial announcement, or in some cases before any vulnerability has been announced.
The year has seen a number of new developments, notably a major upgrade to several critical back-end systems, allowing the team to monitor the University’s upgraded JANET connection and to handle the ever-increasing volumes of data collected. Further enhancements are planned over the coming months.
The OxCERT webpages have been redeveloped as part of the OUCS website. A new series of monthly reports and security advisories has been started, each accompanied by an RSS feed provided through OXITEMS. Documentation will be expanded as time permits.
The team interacts with other security groups, vendors, and law enforcement agencies in the UK and around the globe, either on a regular basis or in response to specific incidents, and has been represented at meetings and conferences on a local, national, and international level.
The team assists the ITS3 section with the handling of copyright violation notices, which arrive at an average rate of two per week, although at times the rate is considerably higher. In two recent cases the accuracy of the data in the notices was called into question, while a study at the University of Washington has raised doubts regarding the detection methods used. We await feedback from the rights holders as to what steps are being taken to avoid this problem in future.
The team has also been involved in a a pilot project to enable examination papers in preparation (and other sensitive information) to be distributed securely by electronic means; work on this continues but has encountered numerous technical problems and deficiencies in the software used.
During the past year the Help Centre has undergone a period of changes and expansion. This started with a merger of the OUCS Shop and Help Centre in August 2007 under the management of the Help Centre co-managers. The Shop was physically moved into the Help Centre at the end of October, improving the interaction between Shop and Help Desk and allowing staff from both services to start assisting each other. Changes continued with a farewell to Peter Higginbotham, who decided to take early retirement in April 2008, and is much missed. He has not been replaced directly: instead, the post of deputy Help Centre Manager was created. The most recent changes stem from the closure of the OUCS Shop counter (see the Shop report for more details) and have resulted in the following services now being included in the Help Centre:
A help desk which will provide a more consistent service as one of the two staff on duty will come from a pool of 3 full-time Help Centre staff
An online shop providing software delivered within the UK and a service payment facility
A hardware repair service with two full-time technicians qualified to work on PCs and Apple Macs
Creation and management of accounts for central computer-based facilities and administration of University email addresses
We continue to find it very difficult to analyse the data on Help Desk usage because of the high proportion of queries emailed from non-University addresses and a drop in the use of our online help form. We can say with confidence, however, that the number of emailed queries (including those using the help form) has risen by almost 12% and that staff, postgraduates, and members of congregation continue to be the biggest user groups (see table below). The marked drop in the number of appointments booked with specialists has two causes: appointments for hardware problems were replaced in May 2007 by an enquiry form and this data shows the first full year without such appointments. In addition, the skills and experience of the Help Desk staff have increased to the point where they can handle a larger number of issues without having to resort to specialists. This is a very encouraging trend, making IT problem-handling more efficient both for the user and OUCS.
The data from queries channelled through the help form shows that the colleges and divisions account for the highest use of the Help Desk, generating over 85% of the queries (see table below). The Department of Continuing Education leads the field of other affiliations, having overtaken Academic Services from last year.
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||247||5||413||4||231||5||121||4|
|Health and Safety||0||2||12||0||0|
|Other Related Bodies||4||11||11||9||4||10||4||9|
The most noticeable change in the type of queries handled by the Help Desk is a growth in the percentage of both general software and VPN-related questions. VPN queries have chiefly increased due to difficulties with the early versions of VPN for Vista. Vista questions also partly account for the software query increase because operating system problems are included in this category. The other main contributor is Mac OS X, as the help desk is increasingly called on to help with start-up and configuration problems of Apple Macs. For next year we plan to break down our logging by operating system.
Both the hardware repairs and upgrades, and data recovery/installation services, have experienced an increased demand this year. A total of 306 machines were handled, which is an increase of 13% over last year. Of these, 78% were PCs and 18% were Apple Macs. The remainder were peripheral devices and machine examinations for the preparation of reports for use by insurance companies. Perhaps the most unusual work undertaken was to remove a large number of African ants from inside a laptop, many of which were still alive. Remarkably, the machine remained in a working condition throughout the period of infestation.
Many student owned machines are laptops where their portability is appreciated. Indeed, only 7% of the total number were desktops. Judging by the increasing numbers of external hard drives encountered, there seems to be a greater awareness of the advantages of backing up data to safeguard against hard drive failure. Recent trends towards the use of solid state drives, which would lessen this risk because of their increased reliability, are still being held back by high prices.
Conversely, the falling prices of laptops have tended to limit the scope for extensive repairs of these machines. There is a critical cost where it is economically preferable to discard the existing machine in favour of purchasing a new one. Increasingly demanding software and hardware obsolescence hastens this decision. We have noticed that more owners accept the need to balance the cost of repairing a machine against the price of purchasing a new one, particularly as it can be a straightforward matter to convert data between differing file formats, even when using different hardware platforms.
In cases where software corruption has been responsible for the machine’s malfunction, our data recovery and install service has become popular, accounting for 22% of our caseload. Where the laptop or desktop is beyond economical repair and the hard drive has been unaffected by the malfunction, data can be retrieved for the owner. Software corruption or a severely infected operating system can be cured by replacing the operating system and reinstating personal data.
We continue to provide a multifaceted approach in the provision of hardware and software remedies for distressed machines and hope to widen our remit as the needs of our customers present themselves.
It has again been a busy year for registration. We continue to look for ways of reducing the manual operations needed by the front desk by automating more processes and devolving management to the user and to ITSS for managing usernames, email addresses, remote access accounts, TSM registration, software downloads.
We are aiming to reduce the number of queries we get year-on-year and have again made significant progress in this over the last 12 months.
|Reporting Year||No of RT Tickets|
The decline in RT tickets received by registration is set against a background of high account use over all divisions.
A total of 37,498 (38,933) Single Sign-On (SSO) accounts are being maintained — 86 (88) percent of which have been activated. An SSO account gives access to many applications such as Weblearn, software downloads, OxCort tutorial reporting, external journals etc. (Last year’s figures are given in brackets.)
A division is assigned to a user based on the Department specified on their University Card. Undergraduates are listed under colleges, irrespective of who runs their course.
|Division||Total||(Last year’s figures)|
|Other Related Bodies||76||(83)|
* = 9158 of whom are undergraduates (as compared to 12,374 last year)
|Status||Total||(Last year’s figures)|
Remote access (VPN) accounts give access to ox.ac.uk restricted resources when not in Oxford.
|Division||Total||(Last year’s figures)|
|Other Related Bodies||16|
|Status||Total||(Last year’s figures)|
OUCS now allocates email addresses for all 44 colleges of the University and 171 departments out of 193. This involves mail domain creation and wind-down.
Over the last year the following domains have been created: alumni, careers, gtc, education, ludwig, manor-road, msdtc, odit, ouam, oxford-man, smithschool. The following domains have been removed or are winding down: brazil, cas, edstud, green, greyfriars, online, templeton.
Registration has been managing the wind-down of oxford.ac.uk email addresses over the last 4 years. There are currently an additional 17,244 long form email addresses being managed, not counted in the figures above, which are due to be deleted in January 2009.
An SSO account is now created for users with Card Holder card status, so that ITSS can allow them into local applications such as meal bookings. Users with Card Holder status (unlike those with Virtual Access status) have a physical card.
New facilities are now available for ITSS, allowing them to see their users’ data and apply for project accounts. Also, additional data about the states of TSM backup is now available both to help desk staff and to the users themselves via self registration.
The move towards greater automation continues: automated notification of expiry of email addresses (in addition to expiry warnings for University cards and SSO accounts) is now provided; account/address wind-down is now an automated nightly job (rather than a monthly manual job); more software is now available for download through self-registration; and we again extended the project times for all undergraduates applying to return as postgraduates so that their accounts did not expire on 31st August, thus saving many ad hoc requests for account extensions.
Athens usernames were wound down for the 31 July 2008 cutoff; this involved liaison with Library Services and repeated updates to OUCS web pages due to late changes in the JISC plans.
The withdrawal of the paying-user service was completed, although one institution raised questions of status, involving a lot of extra work over several months.
We continue to contact people who are still sending with the deprecated long form address oxford.ac.uk which expires in January 2009.
Members of the team have also been involved in:
- implementing Proctors’ decisions on rusticated students’ access to resources;
- mass mailing for Central Admin (e.g. Vice Chancellor, Academic Registrar, Public Affairs Directorate, etc.);
- a Wake-On-LAN (WOL) project which will allow registered machines to be woken remotely if needed, e.g. for backup or patching;
- the Core User Directory project;
- payroll replacement procurement (i.e. HR review);
- OSS web services evaluation; and
- liaison with Academic Administration, Conference of Colleges, and IT Support Staff.
Over the past year we have been investigating provision of a new Content Management System for OUCS websites. An internal survey, analysis of systems used elsewhere in the University, and evaluation of shortlisted systems have led to a much better understanding of our needs. In preparation for changes, we have gradually replaced all web forms which depend on our current AxKit delivery system with a more generic system.
Support for the University webmaster community has been an important activity this year, with termly meetings organised, and management of the webmaster mailing lists.
We have also been:
- advising departments on use of the Google Search Appliance, which was upgraded to a capacity of 1 million documents during the year;
- enhancing and promoting the OXITEMS system, notably for use with the iTunes U podcasting system;
- assisting other groups within OUCS, on:
- iTunes U setup and management;
- Groupware procurement;
- rewriting the Oxford Text Archive interface to texts.
We have also continued to support web calendaring, wikis, and other dynamic systems.
The Research Technologies Service provides a service for Oxford University staff and students which consists of a centre of expertise in a range of services: research facilities, support services and information, advice and support for research projects. The RTS service has a remit which covers Oxford University and the following areas:
advice and promotion of e-infrastructure;
advice and support for research projects;
provision of specific research services such as Intute and OSS Watch;
contacts within the research community.
During this year the RTS has developed an integrated research project advice and assistance facility. This has been set up under four research categories which follow the usual research project progression:
Pre-project: assistance with writing and IT requirements for inclusion in funding bids, initial contacts, and dealing with research funders;
Project start up: setting up the project, requirements analysis, selecting hardware and software, web site creation;
Project running: ongoing support, dissemination, hardware and software problems, changes in needs, annual reports, archiving, storage, website maintenance;
Project end: dissemination, backup, archiving and publication, as well as sustainability issues for IT projects.
The RTS has continued to provide specific research services through the provision of the Intute Arts and Humanities services and with OSS Watch — the Open Source advisory service.
During the year the Oxford Text Archive has had reduced funding; this has meant that the service provided has been restricted to the depositing of specific, funded, or pre-arranged resources. A research award enabled the purchase of equipment which allowed the continuation of a limited service and for further storage facilities.
Projects which have continued from last year include eIUS Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models and the Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID); the latter was completed during the year. Work is also continuing on the British National Corpus and the TEI initiative. Ongoing research projects across OUCS include the Low Carbon ICT project, the Groupware project, Modelling4All, Phoebe, Thema and the SACODEYL project; all of these are detailed in the report section.
Several European projects are being undertaken by OUCS with a range of European partners. These include CLARIN, DARIAH, and ENRICH; and others are under consideration by the European Commission.
Projects have been funded by a number of research organisations including the AHRC, JISC, and Eduserve. Staff contributions to other projects within the University include: Low Carbon ICT; Scoping digital repository services for research data management (with OeRC); and Virtual Research Environments. Research links with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) have continued with joint research funding applications, liaison and director posts, and collaborative projects such as Shibboleth deployment, digital repositories, and e-infrastructure usage. Several departments and the Oxford Internet Institute have also been involved with joint bid submissions.
Staff changes over the year include Alan Morrison and Greg Simpson leaving, and Sue Fenley (Research Facilitator) joining RTS.
Michaelmas 2007 saw the WebLearn migration project get into gear with awareness-raising activities and the launch of pre-pilots. This has inevitably affected usage of WebLearn, with some Units choosing to hold back to some extent in using the present service and try new areas in the Beta service.
Even so the past year has seen usage fairly well sustained for the existing service; consideration of usage in Week 1 of Trinity 2007 has seen dips in the number of visitors and visits in terms of accesses counterbalanced by increases in the pages accessed.
|Number of visits||8,647||13,647||18,978||17,728|
|Bandwidth||11.55 GB||16.24 GB||69.98 GB||42.96 GB|
Growth in resource creation has been substantial, and now well over half of the Colleges have a presence in the VLE.
|October 2004||November 2005||July 2006||July 2007||June 2008|
|No. Floors in Academic Units||50||65||77||89||104|
|(of which Colleges)||(4)||(9)||(14)||(19)||(30)|
The distribution of traffic has become more even between 3 out 4 of the academic divisions, though the Social Sciences Division’s usage is marginally down.
Week 1 |
Week 1 |
Week 1 |
Week 1 |
The table shows that accesses from within Oxford are c. 75% of the total, so the majority of users are still the staff and students of the University. However, the number of distinct search queries resulting in WebLearn accesses indicates the continued widening of resources.
|Trinity 2005||Trinity 2006||Trinity 2007||Trinity 2008|
|Accesses from ox.ac.uk (%)||88.9||80.6||77.4||77.4|
|Requests where users followed links from search engines||3,520||18,348||20,146||24,041|
|Distinct search queries that resulted in WebLearn accesses||71||2,910||7,425||8,328|
The IT Learning Programme (ITLP) is part of the Learning Technologies Group (LTG). Led by a team of experienced teachers, the ITLP offers a wide range of IT courses and ensures that the course programme reflects the needs of the University and meets the requirements of staff and students. The ITLP programme is run with both technological and pedagogical proficiency. The academic year 2007-08 has been another record year for the provision of IT courses to students and staff. The ITLP team delivered over 150 modules per term to over 12,000 course participants.
|3 hour sessions||5,252|
The figures above are based on a combination of bookings via the online booking system and manually collected figures.
Our courses are open to all University members and other affiliated groups. The following charts show bookings by status and by affiliation.
The figures above come from the ITLP online booking system.
In addition to our regular programme of courses, we are able to create ‘closed’ courses built according to the specific needs of a faculty or department. These specialised courses are aimed at graduates, undergraduates and/or University staff. In 2007-08 we delivered 21 such courses, totalling 132 hours, to 513 members of Oxford University. Some of our tailor-made courses have proved so successful that they have then become part of the regular curriculum for a number of University departments.
We continue to deliver the Skills Toolkit for Research Students. This is a one-day workshop, in collaboration with the Careers and Library Services. The workshop is designed to present a selection of some of the University’s most useful resources for researchers through a variety of interactive sessions. These sessions offer insights into the use of familiar tools (mainly electronic) as well as introducing some novel approaches to streamlining research activities. The sponsorship of £500 per workshop from Adept Scientific along with £2,000 per year from the Graduate Skills Group to cover our running costs has been secured for future workshops.
In 2007-08 Breakfast at OUCS has run 3 times. Every new member of staff in any department or service of Oxford University has been invited. Over croissants and coffee, we introduce staff members to many important services at OUCS; to the cutting-edge lecture rooms and other facilities; and to the IT Learning Programme and its innovative use of educational technology.
Our student feedback system (Ostrakon) allows us to continue to maintain the highest level of teaching excellence. Ostrakon is a powerful tool that helps us to recognize and encourage quality and to determine areas that require attention. Feedback is provided instantly through a web interface and by email, without the need to collect and digitize paper questionnaires. Student comments and overall summaries are generated automatically. A number of Colleges and departments have now adopted Ostrakon for their student feedback systems.
|Booking and Administration||5.0||4.6||4.5||4.6|
We have introduced the following new courses during the academic year:
Byte size courses
Mac — iLife 08: DVD with iDVD
Mac — iLife 08: Music with GarageBand
Mac — iLife 08: Podcasts with GarageBand
Music Production: An Introduction to Logic Express
Mac Level 2: Security and Maintenance
OSS Data: Views for academics
Protecting your privacy and security on the web
Google Maps and Google Earth
Facebook: teaching, communicating and collaborating
Research Theses: preparation for the Oxford Research Archive
Copyright in software and open source licensing
Webtools: Building communities around online resources
Three hour modules
Google Earth: A resource for teaching history and geography
MapInfo level 2: Fundamentals
MapInfo level 3: Databases and thematic mapping
MapInfo level 3: Raster imagery
Planning a digital project in the Humanities
Podcasting for education: basics and beyond
Web tools: Building communities around online resources
Digital Imaging: Using your digital camera
Digital Imaging: Correcting and improving your digital images
Digital Imaging: Managing and using your digital images
Programming level X: An introduction to SQL
PowerPoint: Getting the message across
STATA: Intermediate data management
STATA: Introduction to programming
Details of all our courses are available through the A-Z listing on our website at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itlp
Our Thames Suite of four lecture rooms combines an exceptionally high standard of computer and presentation facilities with innovative room design and layout to provide a professional environment for both learning and presenting.
Designed specifically to meet the needs of teachers and students, presenters and audiences, the suite’s integral flexibility enables each of the rooms to be adapted easily to suitable configurations for computer training, seminars, presentations, workshops or conferences. Our flexible accommodation and high specifications have made it a venue that is much sought after by departments that need to host IT-oriented events, and it is increasingly being used by external organisations. All Thames Suite facilities are maintained to a very high standard.
As well as our own programme the Thames Suite has been used by other units and departments at the University including:
- Area Studies
- BSP (for training on financial systems)
- Central Admin (Finance, Personnel, Student Admin, HERA, Heidi)
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine
- Mansfield College
- Public and Primary Health
- Welcome Trust
It has also been used by external organisations including:
- UK Cochrane
- UK Serials Group
- University of Southampton
- Medical Research Council
Learning Technology 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. Key work has included preparing the transition for departments to move to the next generation of the institutional learning environment WebLearn Beta. This pilot work has involved the selection of early adopters, and running training sessions and outreach activities to pilot all the new features of this institutional software. There has also been a regular training series to help relieve the administrative burden of staff 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 (http://thema.oucs.ox.ac.uk/) — a longitudinal study exploring the experiences of students in technology rich environments at Oxford. We are also collaborating with TALL at Continuing Education on a number of projects, including looking at user-owned social technologies and the Design 4 Learning Pedagogic Planner project. This project work (described more fully in separate entries) has informed OUCS’s work on good practice in the effective use of IT in teaching and learning.
A major initiative in this period has been preparing the technical architecture for providing a University-wide podcasting service. By providing advice, audio/video encoding engines and an RSS podcasting framework this has allowed departments to adopt a standard workflow for releasing audio and video content into a new web portal: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/. The core of the work has been made possible through additions to the RSS service OXITEMS by the OUCS Information Services Team. This initiative has created a unique portfolio of teaching and outreach material and for the first time allowed access to key audio and video material through a single institutional standards-based web portal.
LTG Services also plays a role in disseminating best practice in learning and teaching. Activities include: 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. The section also runs two annual conferences. This year’s Shock of the Old conference focused on Web 2.0 social technologies, and the Beyond Digital Natives conference looked at developments in the student experience of ICT. Finally, LTG Services lent its expertise to teach on and help support the Master’s degree course in e-Learning at the Department of Educational Studies.
Following a review of ACDT in the middle of the year the divisions felt that the services offered by the ACDT were no longer needed (or should be pay-per-use), and that the resources used for such a service could be better employed. When the ACDT was formed ten years ago there was no access to generalised services as now offered by systems such as WebLearn, but times have changed. The resources have been reallocated within OUCS.
ACDT’s final year saw the following projects being completed and handed to the sponsoring departments:
- WebLearn usability study
- This looked at usability aspects of Sakai and made recommendations as to the needed improvements for accessibility.
- Poetic Miscellanies database
- This project provided a database structure for capture of information of the extensive poetic miscellanies in the Library.
- Zoology distribution of infectious diseases modelling study
- This project investigated the way that the current model for disease prediction operated and produced a detailed schema to allow it to be ported to the web.
- Online Language teaching
- This was a multimedia project which allowed for Chinese language teaching. It is currently being quality assured for release as open source.
- Design of Museums booking system
- In collaboration with the Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History a design was produced to allow capture of all the requisite information for bookings, reporting etc. No off-the-shelf package was found that could meet all requirements.
- Bodleian Integrated Documentation System scoping
- After the initial consultations this project was closed.
- Western Manuscripts at Christchurch: an online catalogue
- This project was scoped, and a quote was produced, but it was shelved pending raising of funding.
OxCORT (Oxford Colleges Online Reports for Tutorials) was finally rolled out across the University, and responsibility for the production service was passed to Central Administration.
The 2007-08 year has been one of numerous changes for the Computing Services Shop. The reporting year opened with new management, the shop having moved in OUCS’s internal structure to merge with the Help Centre. This change followed on from last year’s ‘front of house’ services review, with the aim of making more effective use of the shop counter staff and full-time help desk personnel. A physical move followed at the end of October, making the Shop more visible in a new location within the Help Centre. This brought the two staff groups closer together and improved the interaction between the two services and also the Poster Printing Service.
Unfortunately shop counter sales of IT accessories have been decreasing over the past few years, largely due to the convenience and competitive pricing of online alternatives. Although the new location showed a slight increase in sales, they no longer justify the 2+ shop counter posts necessary to run the service. A decision was made in Hilary term to restructure the way in which the OUCS Shop services are offered. The changes agreed were as follows:
The OUCS Shop counter would cease trading on 31 July, 2008.
A vending machine capable of dispensing delicate items such as hard drives would be installed in the Help Centre in mid-September. Laptops can be ordered via the machine and then delivered to the address specified. The vending machine will provide the top-selling shop counter items without the man-power requirement.
Improvements would be undertaken in the online Shop so that:
all software ordered would be delivered to any address within the UK;
the front page would be much simpler to navigate;
all prices would be listed with and without VAT;
departments could supply purchase order numbers when ordering software or paying for services, and would no longer need to post or fax a form.
The shop counter staff have been redeployed either wholly or partially to the Hardware Repair Service and the IT Support Staff Services.
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 29,159 software licenses were issued 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. 5,683 licenses were added during the year; the rental charge was £295,048.
A Microsoft Select agreement, operated via the Computing Services Shop, allows for the purchase of other Microsoft products. 2,050 licenses were added during the year.
The budget for site-licensed software used throughout the University currently stands at £98,345. Products include SPSS, EndNote, Exceed, and Sophos for which 3,237 licenses (in total) were added this year.
OUCS also administers various software contracts on behalf of groups of departments to assist in gaining more favourable pricing; this year £51,744 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, anywhere in the mainland UK, by the next business day after a fault being reported; 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 continues to fall, caused by a general trend in the industry of providing at least three year warranties as standard; in the case of equipment purchased by the ICT Support Team, a four year warranty is purchased. 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 less likely to have alternative breakdown cover and is often critically inconvenienced by hardware failure. The marketing and incentive program that has been running over the last year to encourage student uptake is continuing.
The table below shows the numbers of different types of equipment registered, and their ownership.
|University Owned Equipment||College Owned Equipment||Staff Owned Equipment||Student Owned Equipment||Totals|
OUCS offered a number of different types of printing service during the year:
self-service A3 and A4 colour and black and white printing, available via the Help Centre;
high quality A0 and A1 posters for display purposes;
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;
high quality offset-litho printing service, including full colour printing.
The Ryobi 512H two colour printing press which was purchased last year has proved to be an excellent device, allowing the service to take on more work from other departments and colleges.
The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms and stationery up to books, in single and full colour. A total of 840,215 impressions were made during the year.
The OUCS includes the Data Centre (formerly known as the Machine Room or Computer Room), housing servers, network equipment, and storage systems that enable the provision of all OUCS’s online services. A small, dedicated team monitors the mechanical and electrical infrastructure; handles manual backup rotation (including at our offsite tape store); and operates the large-format printing services.
During 2007-08 OUCS contributed to a feasibility study for a new, shared University data centre. Towards the end of the year, PRAC approved the allocation of funding to a Central Machine Room project (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/CentralMachineRoom/), under the aegis of ODIT and the Estates Directorate. The project includes, in the first instance, a project design phase for the refurbishment of the OUCS Data Centre. The refurbishment project is likely to start in 09/10 and will allow the existing facilities to meet the standards for a modern data centre, including better resilience and energy efficiency. In the meantime, OUCS continues to work with OUED and its contractors to ensure the continued maintenance of power and cooling systems.
The OxPrint poster printing service continued to prove a popular service, especially amongst those members of the research community presenting posters at conferences.
NSMS activities have continued to expand steadily over the last year. This has required expansion of the team to 11 FTE. Approximately .7 FTE of the team is allocated to OUCS projects, including involvement with the Podcast Producer project. The continued growth in scale and complexity of activities led to the decision to take on a full time administrator who is responsible for day-to-day financial management and budgeting, customer relations, and assistance with team work management.
There has been significant expansion in the requirement for Apple Mac workstation and server support within the University and NSMS has expanded its staff resources and training to meet this demand.
At the end of the last year, a ‘VM for rent’ service was introduced; demand for this prototype service has now reached the capacity of the initial resource, so plans for its expansion and further development are now being considered. Towards the end of this year a prototype Request Tracker service was developed with a view to launching it for general use later in the year. The Request Tracker system is already familiar to many IT support staff, who are using their own implementation. However, there is interest in a fully managed and secure centrally provided service for those without the resources to do it for themselves. Furthermore, we are providing information about the service to non-IT staff as the facilities are relevant to many service providers that need to track interactions with their customer base.
For some years now, NSMS has been making a major commitment to the use of virtualisation and has developed the leading expertise within the University in VMware ESX technology. The availability of this expertise has lead to NSMS involvement in a major virtualisation project with BSP and ICT ST. They have over 200 physical servers for which hardware replacement plans had to be made and they decided to transfer the services to a virtual infrastructure. That in itself was fundamentally a straightforward project, but NSMS also suggested investigating extending the scope of the project to encompass a high availability option by incorporating a dual site design. The result of this was a very exciting and innovative project involving the provision of two server farms and their SAN infrastructure, at two sites, one of which is at OUCS, with dedicated, dual, independently routed fibre links between the sites, running at 10 Gb/s. The network connectivity between the sites permitted synchronous storage replication between the sites. The communications infrastructure required for this design was available at little capital cost to the project because of the fibre optic infrastructure that the University has developed throughout the city; it was a very simple matter to exploit available dark fibre to provide the high performance inter-site connections. Without this existing infrastructure, it would have required a considerable expense to provide the links and this aspect of the design would almost certainly not have been achievable. The installation of the system was carried out by the NSMS team and it was completed on time in July 08. The NSMS team is managing the virtual, storage and network infrastructure of the production system. This leaves BSP and ICT staff free to concentrate on the transfer of their services to this new, highly resilient virtual environment.
A number of colleges and departments have started to virtualise their infrastructure and the NSMS team has been involved in a number of these projects, advising on system design, implementation and trouble shooting. A VMware emergency support service, designed to support these environments, will be launched later in the year.
The table below shows the distribution of NSMS income by University division, college and other groupings. The Central Administration group includes the following departments: Careers Service, Counselling Service, Development Office, Examination Schools, Occupational Health, Oxford Learning Institute, PRAS, Public Affairs Directorate, Safety Office, Sheldonian, Sports, University Club.
|Division or organisational group||Total|
|Academic Services and University Collections||25.84%|
|Business Services and Projects||9.90%|
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||0.80%|
ITS3 has had another busy and productive year. 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 2007 and the 2008 ICT Forum conference in July. This was the largest event of its type ever with 330 attendees. Social events continue to gain in popularity and it is pleasing to see them being arranged by ITSS outside of OUCS as well as by ITS3. The ITSS Summer Barbecue in August, held at the Institute of Anthropology, was a huge success again and the rain held off for most of the evening.
ITS3 ran the elections for the ICT Forum Steering Committee in July 2008; the Committee is now in place and operating as a steering group for ITS3 as well as for ICTF.
ITS3 continues to provide a large number of seminars, with six ‘lunch & learn’ sessions happening in the last year, providing 110 person-hours of training. Bought-in courses have increased greatly in number, with the following having been run in the last year:
- TCPIP Networking +
- Altiris SVS hands-on
- SQL 2005 administration
- Supporting Vista Desktop (x2)
- Active Directory Design and Implementation
- Linux Administration
- Security +
- Windows 2003 administration
- Tailored Network +
- Ethical Hacking
A VMWARE fast-track course was successfully provided at the end of this report’s period. Running these courses in Oxford saves the collegiate University significant amounts of money in travel and accommodation expenses and adds considerable value to the experience as it enables Oxford IT Staff to train together and build rapport so they can continue to benefit from the training after the end of the course.
Several one-off seminars have been given including the pre-term roundup in September 2007, and several briefings from OUCS/ICTST staff including Sophos and MacOS 10.5 (Leopard). ITSS induction has taken place 3 times and 40 new IT staff have been inducted. Some ITSS events were organised outside of OUCS including a session about Oxford Supercomputing at Begbroke and one about Subversion SVN at the department of Statistics.
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 400 certificates have been issued saving Oxford in the order of £100,000 at average prices. ITS3 is extremely grateful for the help provided by ITSS in dealing promptly with copyright infringements and the reduction in risk to the University this represents.
The Head of ITS3 continues to serve on the UCISA Staff Development Group (SDG) and its subgroup for distributed IT Support Staff. ITS3 acts as the contact point for the OUCS British Computer Society Group and plans to expand this group to the wider University in late 2008.
The ITS3 administrator has been working approximately half-time since October 2007 and this has had some impact on ITS3 services. This situation will be resolved soon after the end of this reporting period thus allowing ITS3 to continue to develop and expand.
During 2007-08 the ICT Support Team (ICTST) did a major update of the documentation for the Sophos (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/viruses/) and the Active Directory (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/windows/active/) services. The ICTST also made available new products from Sophos that were included in the recent software licence negotiation conducted by the OUCS software licensing team. The Sophos licence has now been extended until September 2013 and includes the following additional products: NAC Manager (endpoint security tool); Mobile Security for Windows 5/6; and Puremessage (anti-virus and anti-spyware tool for Microsoft Exchange).
The Enhanced Computing Environment (ECE) project continued to deliver improvements for the three central departments of the University. The Virtual Infrastructure project delivered a new enterprise standard server and data storage infrastructure which was built in collaboration with OUCS and NSMS. This is a redundant system split across two geographically distinct sites in order to provide resilience and to facilitate maintenance during normal working hours. The hardware runs VMware software which allows existing physical servers to be consolidated and will allow more efficient use of hardware. The Virtual Infrastructure also includes a Storage Area Network (SAN) which is expected to improve the efficiency and reliability of data storage for our users. The key advantages of the new virtual infrastructure are improved reliability, more efficient use of resources, reduced disruption to users, and ease of provisioning servers for new services.
Further improvements have been made in the systems and procedures used to manage desktop computers. The Altiris Helpdesk has now been rolled out to all three central departments, i.e. OULS, UAS (formerly Central Administration), and OUCS. An Altiris team was formed to develop training and to deliver small projects that will contribute to a managed desktop service for the three central departments.
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.
A number of projects have run throughout the year including a prize draw to promote the relocation of the OUCS shop to within the Help Centre, and rebranding of the OUCS web pages to provide a clearer, more consistent look to the different sections. A number of posters advertising OUCS services and sections have been put up in the Reception area and a project to improve the content and design of the display screens in Reception and the Refreshment Area is under way. This should improve the visibility, clarity, timeliness, and relevance of the information displayed.
OUCS regularly provides reports to University committees and groups, such as the ICT Forum. Work has been done on ‘Introduction to OUCS’ presentations: OUCS can supply a person to give an illustrated talk or others can use our Powerpoint slides in their own presentation. ‘Breakfast at OUCS’ events give new staff an overview of the department, and we have worked with the Public Affairs Directorate on IT-related content for the new Staff Gateway.
Regular adverts in Blueprint in the last year have promoted: the shop prize draw; the new Web Design Consultancy service; The Great War Archive project’s call for contributions; NSMS IT consultancy and server management services; how to access Herald email on mobile devices; the Groupware project and request for participation; Intute’s expert-evaluated web resources; and international conferences run by OUCS.
A new venture was using the online social networking site Facebook to advertise to members of the Oxford network (i.e. people with ox.ac.uk email addresses). Also new was the use of laptops to gather data on students’ IT use and experience electronically at Freshers’ Fair. Both of these were successful and will be developed and extended in the future.
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.
OUCS has gone through many changes this year with the reorganisation of the Shop and Help Centre, funding being withdrawn from some projects and new money being found for others.
In OUCS the total number of staff has remained similar to last year, going from 97 to 95 FTE in the Academic-related grades 6–10, and from 33 to 34.5 FTE in the Support staff grades 1–5.
We carried out 16 recruitment exercises during the period, which resulted in new job opportunities for three existing staff; and we welcomed eight new members. Some posts had to be advertised twice before being successfully filled, and there are others where the chosen candidate has not joined us yet. We said goodbye to nine members of staff, four of whom retired.
The ICT Support Team has increased in number from 27 to 29. One person left and they advertised posts on five occasions. Like OUCS they found it hard to recruit new members of staff through advertising during this year and resorted to using agencies.
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.
|April 2006||Oliver Gorwits||Net::MAC: Perl extension for representing and manipulating MAC addresses|
|July 2006||Barry Cornelius||Meeting Room Booking System (MRBS)|
|August 2006||Oliver Gorwits||Three Perl modules to assist in the automated management and update of network appliances, in particular
|September 2006||Barry Cornelius||MoinMoin wiki software|
|September 2006||Barry Cornelius||WebCalendar application used to maintain calendars.|
|November 2006||Oliver Gorwits||Development of our wireless services, including OWL-VISITOR.|
|March 2007||Oliver Gorwits||Source patches contributed to various network monitoring and management tools, including the SNMP::Info Perl module and the netdisco application.|
|August 2007||Barry Cornelius, Sebastian Rahtz||xhtml2vcal.xsl stylesheet for scraping an XHTML file to produce a .ics file|
|November 2007||Dominic Hargreaves||ikiwiki wiki software|
|January 2008||Guy Edwards||dotproject open source project management tool|
|April 2008||Christian Fernau||keystore used for sysdev team internal purposes|
|November 2008||Barry Cornelius||CakePHP open source web application framework|
|All Year||Adam Marshall||Lusid: PDP system http://lusid.org.uk/|
|All Year||Matthew Buckett, Alexis O’Connor, Colin Tatham||Bodington: VLE http://bodington.org|
|All Year||Matthew Buckett||Sakai: VLE http://sakaiproject.org|