6. Review 2008-09
The backbone continues to operate reliably with traffic levels still rising and showing no sign of abating. Sufficient bandwidth is available to cope with peak loading levels. Similarly, the number of registered hosts connected to the network increases each year and now exceeds 81,000 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|
|31 July 2009||81453|
With the continued increases in traffic levels we are well on the way to using, at peak times, the full 2 Gbps capacity that we currently have. As we expect traffic levels to rise further in the next year, we have plans in place to increase the speed of our external (JANET) link to 10 Gbps before the start of the next academic year.
As described in its Service Level Description, the dial-up service is unsupported and unmaintained. In addition, the usage is low. The service on 01865 792444 failed terminally as a result of the power outage on 31st July 2009. Service continued on 01865 434527 but this cannot be guaranteed. Users are very strongly advised to move to a broadband connection with an Internet Service Provider for use away from the University network as this service is likely to be terminated.
The existing VPN equipment has reached its manufacturers end-of-life and no further development will take place for it. As part of our upgrade plans we have purchased new hardware, that will also support more platforms such as 64-bit Windows, and we expect to have this in service by the start of the next academic year.
The last year saw the start of OWL Phase 2 and the recruitment of an additional staff member to focus on this. The latest chosen access-points were not available until January 2009 so the first few months were taken up with site surveys, infrastructure setup and giving advice on the transition to OWL Phase 2.
To date, we have five Cisco wireless controller units installed providing resilient support for 400 wireless access points. We have 322 access points registered to run on this system comprising 114 new deployments and 208 migrations from previous installations. These numbers are expected to continue rising throughout the lifetime of the project.
Herald has been the University’s main email service for this reporting period. The service offers a mailbox for each user, with a default allocation of 1GB. Access is supported via IMAP, POP, and Webmail allowing users a choice of a wide variety of email clients, web browsers and platforms to access their email. Upgrades to the backup system (disk-to-disk backup with an off-site mirror) were completed as scheduled towards the end of 2008. The older components of the Herald system received hardware and operating system upgrades in March to ensure the availability of ongoing support.
The Herald service is due to be retired within 12 months. Nexus will take over as the University’s email service provided: new users will be provisioned with email accounts on Nexus from 1st September 2009, and the bulk of existing users will have been migrated by Christmas 2009.
The Herald IMAP service handles approximately 900,000 client logins per day (by approximately 26,000 unique users, with some email clients accessing the service multiple times per session). See Figure 1 and Table 7 for details of login activity.
It remains the case that students form the primary constituency of Herald users. We are unable to break undergraduate usage down by division, so their usage is included in the “college” category which accounts for approximately 30% of the overall Herald mailstore usage.
OUCS provides a range of access management services to the University. Webauth, Oak LDAP, and Shibboleth are available for general use by ITSS who wish to implement access control for their own resources and services, in addition to being used for centrally hosted facilities.
Webauth is a web single sign-on system enabling authentication and identification of web visitors, who identify themselves using their Oxford SSO credentials. Subsequent visits to other (Oxford) Webauth sites do not require further login. The Oxford Webauth service is based on the Stanford WebAuth system, but includes additional facilities for account activation, and password change/reset.
In July 2009 the Webauth process was changed to enable activation with a “Student Number” as assigned in the Oracle Student System. This change was required to enable activation and login for new students ('under-offer') wishing to access the OSS self-service interface for pre-registration and registration activities before coming to Oxford and being assigned a University card.
Oak LDAP provides a convenient source of person-based information that can be used as the basis for authorisation decisions, mapping between multiple identifiers for a person, and the retrieval of naming and contact data.
Oak LDAP has been transitioned into a production service after a successful pilot period. A service level description is now published on the OUCS web site. There have been a number of updates to the service, triggered primarily by changes in the data sources that are used to populate the directory. In particular, Oak LDAP is now able to offer information about under-offer students and students who have recently left.
Our Shibboleth service enables Oxford University to participate in federated access management. This makes it possible for Oxford University members to access resources provided by other organisations, including many of the bibliographic and other electronic resources that the University subscribes to. It also supports the possibility of making Oxford-hosted resources available to members of other registered organisations, such as other UK universities.
Earlier this year OUCS proposed the use of Shibboleth to enable single sign-on (SSO) for web-based access to the Oracle Student System. This project has delivered the key objective of providing SSO for student access, and supported the online retrieval of public examination results during July 2009.
An enhanced offering of this service is planned. This will provide greater flexibility in adapting to specific requirements of individual service providers and clustering for increased capacity, serviceability, and resilience.
As of 2009-09-28 there are 12 registered Shibboleth service providers within Oxford University. It should be noted that this figure includes development systems, and although it provides an indication of the take-up of Shibboleth as an access management system, it does not reflect directly on the work of OUCS.
Table 10 shows a count of the number of distinct users identified by our Shibboleth service - this approximates to the number of Oxford University members accessing Shibboleth-protected resources (figure in parentheses shows the result excluding the Oracle Student System):
|Year||Number of distinct users|
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.
The constant challenge for the HFS is to meet and absorb the growth in the backup and archive requirements of an ever-increasing number and size of desktop and server machines, and research and digitization projects, around Oxford. As Table 12 shows, growth has been even across all three major service areas:
|Desktop Backup||Server Backup||Archive|
|N Files||Data||N Files||Data||N Files||Data|
Major activities in the past year have centred around the move of half of the HFS service from two old host machines to one new host. Happily, the dual-path redundancy built into the HFS systems allowed this to be achieved without any major interruption to service.
The previous year saw the acquisition of two disk servers that have now been brought fully into service. Maintenance of these servers has been a challenge with a level of firmware code from IBM causing a total service crash earlier this year. Disaster recovery procedures were then tested for real and the entire service was restored within 24 hours with no data loss.
Additional data and additional numbers of client users (c. 15%) bring with them additional support requirements and 50% of HFS staff time is now engaged in direct client support. With the loss of one team member (seconded to the University Groupware project0, the team has been extremely busy all year.
In spite of the above, we have still managed to bring online a trial backup over the wireless service (via Eduroam). We have also introduced dedicated client software for backup of Exchange and MS SQL databases. The former has allowed us to provide a dedicated backup service to the Groupware project with a 90-day, 90-version retention of data. At the time of writing we now hold c. 40TB of Groupware mail backup and are taking around 1TB of fresh backup every night.
In the next year the major focus for the HFS service will be on the migration path of the large database systems that underpin the service to a DB2 architecture. This will offer major service enhancements – not least a fully consistent SQL language to query the servers and a proven DB2 database engine to drive them. However, resource disk, CPU and memory requirements will be considerably greater than at present.
Other activities will include continued provision of up-to-date client software to include new software platforms such as Windows 7, 2008R2, Mac Snow Leopard and new versions of many Linux distributions. Other areas of focus will include investigating tape technology and how we can maximise tape usage and the extension of provision of dedicated backup software for MS SQL and other databases.
The past year has proven to be a busy one for the network security team (OxCERT), with the need for incident response necessarily taking priority. The number of security incidents handled has more than doubled to almost 1,300, with 261 in October 2008 alone. The majority of incidents affect a single system but some have been serious enough to take major systems or even entire colleges/departments offline pending a thorough cleanup. Additionally the team have handled over 130 reports of copyright violation in conjunction with the ITS3 team.
- Keyloggers and information stealers
- Sophisticated malware designed to record user activity, particularly any usernames, passwords or financial details entered, and communicate them back to attackers for use for criminal purposes
- DNS-changing malware
- Allows attackers to redirect users' traffic through malicious servers under their control. Frequently operates as a rogue DHCP server, supplying the same DNS settings to other clients on an insufficiently-secured local network
- Phishing attacks
- We have seen a huge increase over the past year in the number of attempts to gather login credentials for email services. Typically around 1% of recipients of such messages respond, and some accounts have been abused as a result. OxCERT, in conjunction with others, have put in considerable work to increase awareness and reporting, and to reduce the impact of such scams.
- The Conficker worm
- Much hyped in the press, but with relatively mild impact in the University environment
69 security bulletins (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/bulletins/) were issued by OxCERT over the past year, alerting IT support staff and other interested parties around the University to threats of particular note. The format of OxCERT's monthly reports (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/reports/) has been revised to include a tabular summary of the types of incidents handled and more details on subjects of interest.
OxCERT continue to be involved in several local, national, and international groups and projects. Team members have attended meetings and conferences in locations from Loughborough to Latvia and have given several presentations, slides from which are available from OxCERT's web pages (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/index.xml?ID=links). Staff from OxCERT also played a leading role in the Information Security Best Practice (ISBP) Project, including chairing the Information Security Advisory Group.
Finally, the team has been given funding for a project to automate much of the process of malware analysis, with the aim of identifying network traffic signatures that can be used to detect further instances of the same malware on the University network. Hardware for this project has arrived at OUCS and is in the process of being set up. Time permitting this should replace the team's current malware submission service over the coming year.
- An IT help desk
- An online shop providing a service payment facility and site licensed or bulk discounted software
- 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
The year has been characterised by preparation work for a number of major changes in centralised University services, all of which the Help Centre is either directly or indirectly involved with. The end of the reporting period found the Help Desk gearing up for supporting new students as they activate Oxford Single Sign-On accounts before reaching the University. The team also migrated to the new Nexus Groupware service in July in order to learn the ropes and be ready to help the rest of the University with the new system.
At close to 1000 extra messages, the increase in queries either emailed to the help desk or submitted via our web form is significantly higher than last year. Staff, senior members and postgraduates continue to be our main customers, with all three submitting more queries than ever before. The demand for appointments with operating system specialists has stabilised at the low level of last year, which indicates that the help desk continues to solve a high percentage of problems during the initial consultation.
The usage of our help form for submitting queries has increased from 31% of electronic queries last year to 44% this year. The data from the form allows us to attribute queries to academic divisions. The colleges and divisions continue to hold the top 5 ranks in number of queries, accounting for 86% of the total.
In analysing the types of queries the help desk handles, we introduced a few new categories and sectioned operating systems off from the general software category. It is interesting to see that 28% of the total operating system queries concerned Apple Macs. The percentage of queries involving the Oxford account has risen noticeably over last year’s 29% but can be accounted for by the increase in University-wide systems using Webauth for authentication – notably OxLip and the Oracle Student Systems. The modification of OxLip to use Webauth for accessing online journals also accounts for a drop in the percentage of queries relating to VPN. For the first time this year we have also looked at the number of queries we get about services offered elsewhere in the University. Although the overall percentage is very low, the time spent answering these on a best effort basis can be quite significant.
Since the inception of the online shop facility in 2007, over 3,500 individuals have registered for online accounts, of which close to 360 are enabled for College or Departmental use. Over 5,300 single and multiple orders have been processed during this time with 3,797 of these being placed during the reporting year.
The Shop Counter Service closed at the end of July 2008, and with posted and emailed orders being phased out by Christmas 2008, the Online Shop became the sole means for payment and distribution of software licences and media packs to the University community. Additional services, which include colour printing, hardware repairs, data backup, system re-installation, email recovery and typesetting, can also be purchased online.
With over 1,100 licence registrations for the newly introduced, site licensed Nuance PDF Convertor software, the once dominant position of Adobe Acrobat is being contested. However, Adobe and Microsoft products continue to make up the bulk of licences distributed through the online shop, with Endnote continuing to increase in popularity. The value of licences purchased through the shop remains broadly similar to last year, due mainly to the appointment of a new supplier for Adobe products, resulting in much lower licence costs.
The current version of the online shop is due to be replaced in late 2009. The new version will offer improved customer and administrator information facilities, not least being the provision of a search button!
Sadly, a faulty system board normally renders a laptop beyond economic repair as the parts cost of this item is usually a significant proportion of the purchase price. This does not apply to desktops in most cases, where most system boards are of standard design and are therefore easily and cheaply available. Such failures may be due to defective components which will be covered if the machine is still within the warranty period. Liquid spillages, dropping a laptop, or using unsuitable power supplies often account for many failures and these are not covered by most manufacturers’ warranties.
The service has continued to repair and upgrade a wide variety of laptops and desktops, and by adapting to the requirements of emerging technologies, we are able to approach the latest machines with confidence. When they are not viable to repair, we have a suite of software tools to enable us to maximise the chances of recovering data for use with other machines.
It has again been a busy year for registration. The registration RT queue now only covers the specialized registration services eg. name changes, project accounts generic address creation- the bulk of the general registration queries are now handled on the Help Centre queue. Effort has been put into getting end users and ITSS to do things for themselves through our Self Registration and ITSS Registration services; however, the specialised queries still remain high.
|Reporting Year||No of RT Tickets|
A total of 42,560 Single Sign-On (SSO) accounts (cf 37,498 last year) are being maintained, 90% of which have been activated (cf 86 % last year) . An SSO account gives access to many applications such as Weblearn, software downloads, OxCort tutorial reporting, external journals, Student Records etc.
A division is assigned to a user based on the Department specified on their University Card. Undergraduates (in brackets) are listed under colleges, irrespective of who runs their course. The increase in the students is explained by the fact that these now contain ‘leavers’ (see below).
Remote access (VPN and OWL) accounts give access to ox.ac.uk restricted resources when not in Oxford. We had expected a bigger drop in this as resources are now protected through Webauth eg via Shibboleth for e-journals, Oxams etc. However its use for access to the OWL wireless network has ensured its popularity.
|Year||Number of accounts|
Student Records made the decision in March 2009 to use the Oxford Single Sign-On Username (SSO) via Webauth for students accessing OSS Student Self-Service. This had major effects on OUCS’s provisioning of SSO accounts. The first change was that in order to access exam results and request transcripts, students needed access to OSS, GSS, and Oxcort for 6 months after the date we would normally have stopped their accounts. We had to allow access to those resources but stop access to facilities to which they were no longer entitled, e.g. e-journals and email. This was enabled by assigning and propagating the new status of leaver. Secondly, we needed to provision new students with a username and activation code before they arrived in Oxford so that they could perform their Student Self-Service Registration after 1 Sept. Working with College undergraduate and postgraduate administrators, letters were posted to students’ home addresses. Balliol, St Edmund Hall (postgrads), Christ Church (undergrads), and St. Antony's took part in provisioning by email alone. We had to ensure they could not access facilities that they were not yet entitled to before they had signed their University Contracts, and the statuses ugoffer for undergraduate applicants and pgoffer for postgraduate applicants were assigned and propagated. The new process is still to be reviewed.
- A new data feed out of OSS had to be created to contain all the students still being considered for starting the following year (the poor data quality caused significant extra work);
- An external contractor merged the new data feed with the existing Card data;
- The Systems section had to change Webauth to accept ‘student number’ rather than ‘barcode’;
- The new data had to get into the ldap.oak server so that accounts could be activated and other accesses controlled;
- Meetings and mailing lists were set up with college undergraduate and postgraduate administrators;
- UST, OUCS and ITSS had to be kept up-to-date with what was happening;
- Major developments made of new scripts to safely add applicants to the OUCS registration database from the new data, create accounts for new people, resurrect accounts for returners, print letters, reports and send to colleges in a time scale they needed for sending out;
- Update scripts which warn people finishing, terminate accounts and manage the increased number of exceptions caused by status changing;
- Create new webpages for administrators and update other web pages.
This data was then used to determine which Herald accounts needed to be migrated. A new application was written for IT support staff that gave them some flexibility in selecting when their users should be migrated. This data was fed to the Nexus team to allow them to refine migration dates. The migration list had to be regularly updated to remove records when users left, or add them as users had their university cards updated, thus making their accounts eligible for migration.
Once migrations had started we received data back from the Nexus team on the success (or otherwise) of migrations. When migrations were successful, more new code handled the creation of records in the registration database, and also altered mail routings to point to Nexus rather than Herald.
The first requirement was to keep the registration database in sync with Active Directory. We then had to work out a way of generating new mailboxes on Nexus while still creating SSO accounts in Kerberos as well as minimal ‘herald’ accounts so that users still had access to the Linux shell service and the web server on users.ox.ac.uk.
Nexus accounts also had to be integrated into the account expiry warning/extension/deletion system so that users received warning of account expiry, and AD records were either updated if a card was extended, or deleted on card expiry.
- approving www and email domain allocations;
- liaising with the Sports Federation and Proctors Office over access to resources for Student Clubs and Societies;
- implementing Proctors’ decisions on rusticated students’ access to resources;
- 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;
- liaison with Academic Administration, Conference of Colleges, and IT Support Staff.
Information Services manages the OUCS website, a number of related sites (e.g. WelcomeToIT and ICT), and various intranet services (wikis, blogs etc). The OUCS site mainly provides technical information for staff, students, and IT support staff in the University.
The internal workflow for writing pages in semantic XML was simplified by introducing a tighter schema, customization of the oXygen editor, and a fixed mechanism for publishing pages. We have also been introducing more automatic auditing and content checking. The Axkit-specific XSP pages which have been used to provide dynamic content are now more or less extinct.
- 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.
Help for IT related research issues is offered for all departments and divisions within the university and for individual projects. Contact should be made initially via the RTS email address. Initial consultation is free and further help should be costed into grant applications, RTS can also give advice and figures for this aspect.
New projects started during the past year include Steeple, Erewhon, Enriching the First World War Poetry Archive, and Open Spires. Ongoing research projects across OUCS include the Low Carbon ICT project now extended with a Benefits Realisation award from JISC, the Groupware project and internal projects concerned with developing our service provision such as Core User Directory, an OUCS blogging service, and the refurbishment of the Data Centre; all of these are detailed in the report section. 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.
Work is also continuing on the British National Corpus and the TEI initiative. 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 that have finished during the year include eIUS Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models, Modelling4All, and the Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID). Projects have been funded by a number of research organisations including the AHRC, JISC, ESRC and Eduserv.
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.
2008-09 saw the introduction of the new WebLearn service (“WebLearn Beta”) albeit in pilot phase. The pilot year saw 66 different people or units (split across all academic divisions and including 9 colleges, UAS and ASUC) begin to use the new system and over 4,500 separate users logged in to the system. Many of these units do not have a presence in the production service. During this period over 250 people attended OUCS WebLearn Beta training sessions.
Almost all departments and colleges continued to use the production WebLearn service for the majority of their day-to-day work but OUCS ran a large number of awareness-raising initiatives to ensure that the University was kept well informed of the upcoming changes.
|October 2004||November 2005||July 2006||July 2007||June 2008||June 2009|
|No. Floors in Academic Units||50||65||77||89||104||105|
|(of which Colleges)||(4)||(9)||(14)||(19)||(30)||(31)|
The new WebLearn dual service was launched by Dr Stuart Lee to an invited audience of senior University staff on 30th June 2009; this service comprises the old and new WebLearn running in parallel. This dual service will last for two years at which point the old WebLearn system will become read-only for a year before being decommissioned.
The ITLP team has won another Oxford University Teaching and Learning Award – this time for its collaborative work on developing the Graduate Skills Toolkit for Research Students. A joint initiative with the Libraries and Careers Services, this focussed workshop offers graduate students and researchers a range of technologies carefully chosen to support their work, with targeted hands-on encounters and follow-up online.
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 events. We work to ensure that the course programme reflects the needs of the University and meets the requirements of staff and students. This year the ITLP team delivered over 600 courses and the level of bookings for 2008-2009 is comparable with academic year 2007-08, even though the renovation of two rooms interrupted our programme. It is notable that the Fundamentals series, which are free, saw an increase of over 60% in bookings.
As an integral part of the taught programme, the teachers also provide consultancy and solutions on request, primarily to academics and staff of the University. These contacts mostly arise from courses. We provide advice and guidance on the use of educational technology by academics and educators, and pass our experience of teaching and room design to other areas of the University.
The 2008-2009 programme saw a number of additions and changes. In response to feedback we offered courses out of term as well as in full term. Our collection of study materials became available through WebLearn where any member of the University can use them at anytime.
We introduced several one-day workshops on topics such as Copyright, Digital Imaging and Microsoft Project. We took the decision to end the core European Computing Driving Licence (ECDL) at Oxford. As IT skill levels increase we aim to meet the need for certification by expanding the Advanced ECDL training programme to provide an internationally recognised computing qualification for staff and students.
In addition to our regular programme of courses, we created a number of ‘closed’ courses built according to the specific needs of a faculty or department. These specialised courses are aimed at research students, postgraduates, and/or University staff. In 2008-09 we delivered 26 such courses, (totaling 125 hours), to 449 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. These two-hour workshops are the result of a joint collaboration between the IT Learning Programme at OUCS, Library Services and the Careers Services at Oxford University. The workshops have secured a small sponsorship from the Graduate Skills Advisory Group (GSAG) and Adept Scientific.
Training in transferable skills forms a very important part of the personal development of all graduate research students at Oxford. In 2008-9 the workshops were generic and were designed for first and second year research students from all divisions. The main focus of these workshops is on the skills and tools required for streamlining academic work in line with the Research Councils “Joint Statement of Skills”.
The Skills Toolkit for Research Students:
- provides an exceptional opportunity to learn about a broad range of resources in one concentrated, time-efficient session
- focuses on the skills and tools that help streamline academic work
- provides an opportunity to try out some tools and offers key skills needed to progress in future careers
- gives guidance on the range of further training available
The three service providers will further develop the “Skills Toolkit for research Students” by:
- offering it as a subject-specific module for all new first year graduate research students by Michaelmas 2011;
- tailoring it to the unique requirements of each subject;
- making it relevant to graduate research students’ needs at the beginning of their studies with the aim of promoting transferable skills.
In 2008-09 ‘Breakfast at OUCS’ ran 3 times. Every new member of staff in any department or service of Oxford University is 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 Indicate (by Ostrakon) allows us to continue to maintain the highest level of teaching excellence. The tool helps us recognize and encourage quality and determine areas that require attention. Feedback is provided through a web interface and email, without the need to collect and digitize paper questionnaires. Summaries of student comments and feedback are generated automatically. A number of Colleges and departments have now adopted Indicate for their student feedback systems.
Our Thames Suite of 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.
During 2008/09 the Cherwell room has been transformed into an Apple Mac teaching space. In Trinity 09 it was already in use to deliver Mac-based courses, and recently received approval as an Apple Approved Training Centre for Education (AATCe).
We also designed and oversaw the complete renovation of a workroom into a new teaching and meeting space. The Kennet room offers a complementary provision with easily configurable desking, multi-use projection space, and walls that can be written on!
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 audio-video multimedia, learning design, systems interoperability, and gathering user requirements. Key 2008-09 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 VLE software.
A major initiative in this period was preparing the technical architecture and content for a University-wide podcasting service and from October 7th 2008 launching the service in partnership with Apple as Oxford on iTunes U. The free Oxford on iTunes U service features audio and video podcasts aimed at the general public, including potential applicants and those interested in Oxford research. Highlights include lectures by senior academics; information about Oxford's world-leading research projects; a film about Oxford’s major fundraising campaign featuring Michael Palin; and podcasts about how to apply to the University, including choosing a college and a course and preparing for interviews.
Since the launch the section has continued to improve and expand the help, support and services offered by the Podcasting Team at OUCS, including regular briefing sessions run fortnightly and by providing a framework, OXITEMS, that allows departments to adopt a standard workflow for releasing audio and video content into these global portals. The core of the work has been made possible through additions to the RSS service OXITEMS by the OUCS Information Services Team.
LTG Services is involved in several national ICT projects funded by external sources such as the JISC. Funding was received for the section staff to work on Steeple (http://steeple.oucs.ox.ac.uk/) — a study exploring enterprise-level technology for audio and video processing. Steeple is a collaboration with the University of Cambridge and The Open University, sharing technical knowledge and skills. LTGS also received funding from the HEA and JISC for OpenSpires (http://openspires.oucs.ox.ac.uk), a one-year pilot project finishing in May 2010, to instigate and document the process of creating more open content from Oxford’s institutional podcasting activities. This project involves working closely with academics from a range of departments who wish to release more of their content to a global audience. The team also started the Learning Design Support Environment for Lecturers (LDSE) project, which is developing an interactive learning design tool to support teachers who are moving to blended learning. The LDSE project (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/) is led by the Institute of Education, London and is funded by /ESRC/EPSRC.
LTG Services also plays a role in disseminating best practice in learning and teaching. Activities include: running IT seminars; occasional workshops such as copyright for teaching and learning; the annual ‘Show and Tell’ OxTALENT event; and a regular series fortnightly series on communication techniques for podcasting and iTunesU. The section also runs two annual ITC conferences in the spring, which this year attracted international speakers and were both oversubscribed. This year’s Shock of the Old conference focused on Digital Literacy, and the Beyond Walls conference looked at developments in enterprise level audio-visual technology and podcasting. 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.
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 26,743 software licenses were issued this year.
A Campus agreement enables us to rent the most popular Microsoft products, eg Windows upgrades and Office Professional. Work-at-home rights are also included in this agreement. 4,010 licenses were added during the year; the rental charge was £313,944.
The budget for site-licensed software used throughout the University currently stands at £101,296. Products include SPSS, EndNote, Exceed, and Sophos for which 4,305 licenses were added this year. Following a review of software funded from this budget we were able to add Matlab and Reference Manager, previously funded by departmental contribution. Two new products: Sigmaplot and PDF Convertor Pro have been added, each has funding secured for three years.
OUCS also administers various software contracts on behalf of groups of departments to assist in gaining more favourable pricing; this year £53,169 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.
- 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 which outputs on film. 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 provides the department with the ability to produce very high quality full colour print runs for its publications as well as the capacity to take on work from other departments and colleges.
A reconfiguration of the air-flow into the data centre was carried out in the spring of 2009. Modern data centres introduce cool air via a raised floor plenum and hot exhaust air is extracted via the ceiling (either in a plenum or just from the free space at ceiling height). The OUCS data centre has an air conditioning system which was designed in the opposite configuration. Cold air is introduced via the ceiling plenum and waste heat is extracted via the floor plenum. In a modern centre this is obviously inefficient as waste heat will always try to rise. Extra floor grilles and ceiling vents were fitted as part of this exercise which has reduced the overall temperature in the data centre and reduced “hot spot” areas.
The lighting in the data centre will be converted to motion sensing passive infrared (PIR) detection (October 2009). This will reduce the lighting bill for the centre and also reduce the heat load by around 9-10kW which will make the air conditioning more efficient.
During Michaelmas term 2009 a tender will be put together to carry out a feasibility study into refurbishing the facility. This will look at the viability of refurbishing whilst the facility is operational.
A new Data Centre is being constructed in the basement of the Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute (OMPI) Building in the University Science Area. The building is currently under construction and the data centre space is due to be handed over to OUCS in the first quarter of 2011.
NSMS are a team of IT professionals who, as part of OUCS, works throughout Oxford University, within departments, colleges and associated institutions. The team offers a wide range of chargeable IT services which are aimed specifically at departments (which may or may not have an IT officer), colleges, associated institutions and any member of the University in need of specific IT services to supplement existing internally provided services or as the primary source of IT support. The team has the flexibility to act quickly and aims to bridge the gap between what an organisation wants to achieve and what its time and resources allow. SMS activities have continued to expand over the last year.
The requirement for Apple Mac workstation and server support continues to expand within the University so in order to meet this demand, a new member will be recruited to the team to assist in this area.
The shared virtual infrastructure that was developed for BSP and the ICT ST during the first half of 2008 went into service in mid July 08. This was a major new venture for BSP and the ICT ST, involving a highly resilient system design split across two sites. It exploits virtualisation technology to provide a highly resilient, high availability infrastructure that can be seen as a proof of concept for an internal cloud infrastructure. The NSMS team is managing the underlying infrastructure (VMware ESX, storage and network), leaving BSP and ICT staff free to concentrate on the transfer of existing services and the development of new services into this highly resilient virtual environment. Currently there are over 160 servers running in the infrastructure, at this time consisting of only 14 physical servers. As might be expected, the system has reached capacity and new storage has been purchased, with plans for more physical servers in the near future.
Colleges and departments continue to consider virtualising their infrastructure and the NSMS team has been involved in a number of these projects, advising on system design, implementation and trouble shooting.
Table 30 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, and University Club.
The ITS3 service level description was last updated in May 2009 and may be consulted at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/sld/its3.xml.
ITS3 has recruited a new 50% FTE technical assistant (Rob Zachlod) who started in January 2009 and another member of staff (Elsa Smith) has taken on ITS3 administration on a part-time basis. Both have made excellent starts to their work with ITS3.
The Head of ITS3 continues to serve on UCISA Staff Development Group (SDG) and its subgroup for distributed IT Support Staff. ITS3 acts as the contact point for the Oxford University British Computer Society Group which now available to all registered IT Support Staff. The Head of ITS3 has in the reporting period undertaken a large-scale review of IT provision, management and support in a college and in the department of Chemistry. The Head of ITS3 has taken part in several recruitment exercises with colleges and departments as well as helping the Help Centre in recruiting a new advisor.
ITS3 has been working closely with the Groupware Implementation Team, taking a major role in planning and consultation with IT Support Staff and has hosted a large number of briefing and training sessions to prepare support staff for the mass migration in Autumn 2009. ITS3 has worked with the Office of the Director of IT on the Conditions of Connection exercise, helping to define the scope for the project, making the financial bid, and hosting five briefing events to enable ITSS to engage properly with the process.
ITS3 web resources continue to grow and ITS3 is particularly grateful to all ITSS (including those in OUCS) who have made valuable contributions to the ITSS Wiki: there have been edits to just over 100 distinct pages during the reporting period.
ITS3 continues to provide seminars and information sessions for IT Support Staff in the reporting period around 50 distinct sessions of about 1 hour, with an average of 10-20 IT Staff attending, were delivered. Topics have included technical training on MS Exchange 2007 and Windows 2008; Linux administration; VMWare; 3Com Switches, Cisco CCNA and ITILv3. ITS3 ran three new IT Staff induction seminars and a roundup of news and plans from key OUCS service providers in advance of Michaelmas term.
The principal events organised during the year were the IT Suppliers’ Exhibition in December 2008 and the 2009 ICT Forum conference in July, with a record 343 attendees. Social events also continue to gain in popularity, many of these being arranged by ITSS outside of OUCS. The ITSS Summer Barbecue, once again held at the Institute of Anthropology in August, was a huge success despite the awful weather on the morning of the day it took place. The Christmas dinner at Pembroke College attracted a higher than usual number of guests.
The ICT Support Team (ICTST) is a free-standing department within the Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC) division which collaborates closely with OUCS and delivers some University-wide services on their behalf.
The ICTST department was formed in January 2006 and is responsible for desktop IT services for the Computing Service (OUCS), The Library Service (OULS) and University Administration and Services (UAS). The services we provide to these departments include a centralised helpdesk, computer authentication, server management/support, network filestores, backup/restore services, building data networks, IT equipment purchasing/disposal, printing, PC/laptop management/support and computer security.
We are also responsible for some University wide services including Sophos Antivirus, WINS service, OUCS VPN and computer management as well as support for the OUCS lecture rooms and help centre. In addition to these services the ICTST department is delivering a number of IT service improvement and development projects aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of desktop IT services or in order to meet the changing requirements of the departments we support.
Our purchasing team organised a tender for desktop and laptop computers. These tenders were awarded to Dell and Lenovo respectively. We have opened these contracts to staff across the University so that they can take advantage of the price discounts when ordering new PCs or laptops.
We have expanded our desktop administration team to improve the packaging and management of applications. This has allowed us to keep on top of the increased numbers of application security vulnerabilities that are being actively exploited. We now fully manage a core set of applications and update them on staff computers in the three central departments when security vulnerabilities are announced. The same team has helped with the development and support for Apple Mac computers in the new Cherwell lecture room at OUCS.
The infrastructure team has improved services in OULS by delivering wireless coverage for 32 reading rooms across OULS. We have also built the server infrastructure for the new Search Oxford Libraries Online (SOLO) service and have implemented scanning to email in the Law, Social Sciences and Radcliffe Science libraries.
The Enhanced Computing Environment project (ECE) continued to deliver improvements for the three central departments of the University. Last year we built, with the assistance of NSMS and BSP, a highly resilient Virtual Infrastructure with the aim of improving server reliability and to consolidate systems. This year we have continued to move critical services from ageing hardware onto this more reliable and cost effective Virtual Infrastructure. We have also developed an identity management system to automate the management of computer user accounts and this has deployed in OUCS.
Although the ECE projects were delivering significant improvements for UAS staff, some problems remained and a more accelerated approach was requested. We have collaborated with BSP in the delivery of several projects aimed at modernising UAS IT systems. Notable projects include an XP upgrade, data network improvements, a Citrix remote access service, MS Office 2007 upgrade and printing improvements.
This year the OUCS Marketing section has been focusing on using existing methods of communication and publicity to promote new and upgraded services. Leaflets, posters, web pages, Blueprint adverts, newsfeeds and banners have been used within OUCS, at specific events and around the wider University to promote diverse items such as the introduction of Nexus groupware, OUCS becoming a certified Apple centre, the launch of the new WebLearn service, the demise of long form email addresses, and developments in mobile computing. With all these advancements and changes, OUCS is very grateful for the continuing support, co-operation and high level of expertise provided by distributed IT Support Staff, for example in scheduling email migrations.
OUCS regularly provides reports to University committees and groups, such as the ICT Forum. This year has seen the development of an email list, oucs-news, which any member of the University can sign up to and which provides termly updates of news from OUCS plus special notices and features. Next year, we plan to develop a podcast about the work of OUCS for download and display at events such as the UAS Conference, ICTF Exhibition and Freshers Fair. OUCS News continues to be produced once a term and distributed to all colleges and departments.
The Web Design Consultancy (WDC) was established in September 2007 to provide support for the University in its web-related activities. The service was in part established in order to replace the discontinued Academic Computing Development Team which formerly provided support in this area. WDC provides a central point of guidance on Web design within the University, helping to ensure that Oxford-affiliated websites are attractive, usable, accessible and fit-for-purpose, and that they adhere to the relevant guidelines. The WDC also aims to ensure that these goals be achieved at an appropriate cost.
WDC has continued to make progress over the last year. The service assisted approximately 65 groups within the University, including divisions, colleges, departments, research groups and research projects. This is an increase from the approximately 45 units assisted in its first year of operation. The vast majority of these groups have received at least one consultancy meeting.
The service has also undertaken design and development work for 13 clients and has assisted a dozen groups in finding freelance developers. WDC has also provided in-depth consultancy on a number of Web projects, including a detailed scoping project for the Ashmolean Museum.
To evaluate this new service, the WDC produced a survey that was sent to all WDC's clients from its first year of operation (2007-08). The survey indicated that clients find an initial consultancy meeting extremely useful. Respondents reported that advice given during consultation meetings was very useful; 95% of respondents indicated that the assistance they received saved them time. This is a clear indication that time spent meeting individuals to discuss their Web projects is time well spent. The survey also indicated that specific advice on Web design was very useful.
OUCS has seen many changes this year with the formation of the Nexus team, the i-Tunes U project and external funding being secured for many new projects. The total number of staff has increased to 148, made up of 109 Academic related staff and 39 Support staff grades.
We have carried out 27 recruitment exercises during the period that resulted in 15 new members of staff (some recruitment campaigns were hard to fill and so were re-advertised). We also said goodbye to 7 members of staff, including one who returned to his native Australia and others who returned to full-time study. It proved hard to find staff with the relevant skills and expertise to fill some of the Nexus posts which resulted in secondment opportunities for some of our existing staff.
Changes in UK Border regulations meant having to put into place extra procedures to deal with visa requirements. In addition to this the University has introduced a new recruitment protocol; all new recruitment and existing posts are now subjected to a rigorous approval process, specifically designed to challenge the affordability of recruitment and to ensure that the department’s needs are being fully met.
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 2008-2009 is listed below.
|November 2008||Barry Cornelius||CakePHP open source web application framework|
|May 2009||Barry Cornelius||Open source version of OXITEMS.|
|May 2009||Guy Edwards||Scripts to trawl through a directory of maintained code and then present a web interface of the general health of the code in the form of certain code metrics. For example https://overlord.oucs.ox.ac.uk/codesummary|
|July 2009||Tom Jones||Following on from work done by R. Miller|
|July 2009||David Ford, Oliver Gorwits||Applications and libraries to convert Linux Netfilter connection tracking data into Cisco NetFlow format.|
|July 2009||Jonathan Ashton, David Ford, Robin Stevens||Applications and packages to collect, process and alert participating sites of connections to a darknet. Data related to this are recorded in Argus format, and email alerts are sent to alert sites to affected hosts.|
|August 2009||James Cummings, Sevastian Rahtz, Arno Mittlebach||Edition comparison engine and frontend.|
|October 2009||Tom Jones||Patch to Authen::Krb5 - Perl extension for Kerberos 5 http://search.cpan.org/~jhorwitz/Krb5-1.8/Krb5.pm|
|November 2009||Tom Jones||Firefox extension to delete session cookies.|
|December 2009||Dominic Hargreaves||Request Tracker Debian packaging, and Request Tracker and associated tools|