Table of contents
- 1. A Letter from the Director of IT
- 2. Introduction
- 3. Introduction to Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS)
- 4. Executive Summary
- 5. Strategic Issues and Development
- 6. Review 2008-09
- 6.1. University Backbone Network
- 6.2. Herald Mail System
- 6.3. Access Management Services
- 6.4. Hierarchical File Server
- 6.5. IT Security
- 6.6. Help Centre
- 6.7. Registration Services
- 6.8. Information Services
- 6.9. Research Technologies Service
- 6.10. WebLearn (Virtual Learning Environment) Service
- 6.11. The IT Learning Programme (ITLP) 2007-08
- 6.12. Learning Technology Group Services
- 6.13. Software Licensing
- 6.14. Computer Hardware Breakdown Service
- 6.15. Printing Services
- 6.16. OUCS Data Centre and Operations
- 6.17. NSMS
- 6.18. IT Support Staff Services (ITS3)
- 6.19. ICT Support Team (ICTST)
- 6.20. Marketing
- 6.21. Web Design Consultancy
- 6.22. Human Resources and Administration
- 6.23. Report on open source involvement at OUCS
- 7. Project Reports
- 7.1. British National Corpus (BNC)
- 7.2. Core User Directory Project (CUD)
- 7.3. Embedding institutional data curation services in research (EIDCSR)
- 7.4. e-Infrastructure use cases and service usage models (eIUS)
- 7.5. ENRICH
- 7.6. Erewhon
- 7.7. University Groupware Project
- 7.8. Intute: Arts and Humanities
- 7.9. Information Security Best Practice (ISBP)
- 7.10. Low Carbon ICT Project
- 7.11. Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE)
- 7.12. OSS Watch
- 7.13. Oxford Text Archive
- 7.14. Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) Project
- 7.15. OpenSpires project
- 7.16. Steeple Project
- 7.17. Modelling4All
- 7.18. First World War Poetry Digital Archive
- 7.19. System Aided Compilation and Open Distribution of European Youth Language (SACODEYL)
- 7.20. Scoping digital repository services for research data management
- 7.21. Thema: Exploring the Experiences of Master’s Students in a Digital Age
- 7.22. Text Encoding Initiative
- 7.23. VLE Service Development
- 7.24. UCISA
- 7.25. XAIRA
project ever undertaken by the department . . .’
There have been exciting developments and new opportunities in computing services at Oxford University during the past year. This annual report for 2008-2009 summarizes and celebrates the continuing efforts by Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) to deliver high quality services and to support the Information Technology needs of the collegiate University. In fulfilling this mission we are grateful for the partnership with local IT staff across the collegiate University.
A further exciting development has been a Central Machine Room2 (CMR) which is being constructed in the basement of the new Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute. The initiative is in direct response to a recommendation from the Internal Auditors to offer greater resilience for enterprise-wide services. The CMR Project will ensure capacity, resilience and energy efficiency for business-critical ICT services; it will also provide a shared service for divisions, departments and colleges that require server hosting facilities.
Revised University IT governance, commissioned during 2007-2008, developed and bedded down over the course of the year. The PRAC ICT Sub-committee3, chaired by Professor Ewan McKendrick, provided effective oversight of IT across the collegiate University, and PICT’s OUCS Management Sub-Committee provided guidance to OUCS on priorities and for taking forward recommendations from the Services Funding Working Group. OUCS has been able fund a number of projects4 from a new ICT Project Development Envelope5 which has been authorized by the PRAC Budget Sub-committee; this is designed to pump-prime initiatives which will lead to new IT services for the University.
There is an increasing emphasis on green computing. For example, a key aspect in the design of the Central Machine Room has been energy efficiency; also, a new video conferencing service – WebEx – is currently under trial, which in due course should lead to a considerable reduction in the travel currently undertaken to attend meetings. Other initiatives include a project to reduce IT power consumption and to enable idle computers to be switched off6.
Information management and security is particularly challenging in institutes where the ICT infrastructure is highly devolved. An Information Security Best Practice7 exercise has been undertaken by OUCS, working closely with an Advisory Group from the ICT Forum8. This will lead to exchange of best practices, and an agreed set of information and security policies and rules for local implementation.
Further information about our activities is available in our Five-year Strategic Plan9, which lists our priorities for coming years. I would be pleased to receive comments on this Annual Report and the Five-year Strategic Plan, and hope that you will find both documents stimulating and informative.
Finally, I would like to thank the OUCS staff who have brought their dedication and experience to bear on the services we provide; they continue to respond with enthusiasm and professionalism. It seems clear that the next twelve months is likely to bring even more challenges, but also increased opportunities for the provision of information technology to fulfil the needs of the collegiate University.
Professor Paul W. Jeffreys
Welcome to the annual report of Oxford University Computing Services for 2008-2009. In keeping with previous formats we have attempted to write a report that is informative and approachable to allow our users to get a comprehensive view of OUCS’s performance over the last year. This is our way of reporting on our services, and how we have attempted to meet the demands of the collegiate University.
The mainstay of this publication is a set of performance reports that yet again demonstrate the increasing levels of demand for OUCS’s services. Looking back over previous years, we can see an annual growth in most areas, illustrating the core nature of IT to the University. Wherever possible we have also shown the level of use of OUCS’s services broken down under the Academic Divisions, OUDCE, College-only users, and other central units. We also include a series of reports from the various Research Projects OUCS has led or been part of over the year. This aspect of OUCS is fundamental to our taking services forward for the University, both financially and strategically. We bring in about £1m per annum from external funding agencies, which in 2008-2009 contributed nearly £400k in FEC. These projects, and this funding, allow us to take forward development work of strategic importance to the University (e.g. the Low Carbon initiative).
A major undertaking this year has been the development of the Groupware service – now called Nexus. Once the product decision had been made by the University (i.e. the selection of Microsoft’s Exchange and Sharepoint platforms) OUCS was set the task of building the service – which included procuring the hardware, negotiating and agreeing licences, and most importantly preparing for the migration of the 40,000 Herald users. On top of this we were also asked to facilitate the development of a Sharepoint service. The latter, in particular, is a new venture in UK Higher Education as Oxford is perhaps the first University to attempt a controlled, targeted, roll-out. It should be noted that this is all against the backdrop of the devolved nature of IT in the University, which adds an added level of complexity. However, throughout 2008-2009 OUCS staff have met the extremely tight deadlines set by the project, kept to within budget, so that as we moved into 2009-2010 the migrations took place with minimum disruption. This year also saw the long-awaited launch of the new WebLearn service. This has involved a lot of work by the WebLearn development team and the new system provides a much better interface and a range of state-of-the-art tools to support learning and teaching at Oxford.
Over the year we have sought, and received, guidance from the OUCS Management Sub-Committee (chaired by Professor William James) on how we should be developing our service, and we continue to carry through the recommendations of the Services Funding Working Group. We are constantly attempting to address the need for the long-term planning and funding of key services, and the planned resourcing of future developments.
Finally, it should be noted that this Annual Report forms only part of the information OUCS provides. Here we attempt to indicate how we have performed over the year; but we also produce a five-year strategy looking forward (revised each January).
I hope you enjoy reading this report and find it informative,
Dr Stuart D Lee, Director, Computing Systems and Services, OUCS
OUCS is the main IT service provider for the University of Oxford, presenting a portfolio of services directly aimed at supporting academic staff, students, and administrative staff, in their learning, teaching, research, and daily work. In this sense then it is akin to services one might categorise under ‘Academic Computing’ with its primary focus being on the academic divisions and their support. However, OUCS works in a highly complicated environment for IT support based on a devolved model. All faculties, departments, colleges, and other units will have their own needs for IT support, and in many ways are autonomous in deciding on how they meet these which will often involve a mixture of centrally and locally-provided services. OUCS does not manage these local IT support staff but does attempt to provide them with extra help, advice, support, and training through a co-ordinating service (ITSSS – see section 6.18). In addition to OUCS and the local staff, it should be remembered that Business Systems and Projects (BSP) provides the technical support and development for the major IT services within UAS; SERS provides similar support for the libraries; and the ICT Support Team works across UAS, OULS, and OUCS to provide desktop support. Although none of these (BSP, SERS, or the ICT Support Team) are actually part of OUCS we do consistently work together on collaborative projects.
There has been a central IT support service for the University since 1957, out of which grew what we currently call OUCS. At present the department houses c. 130 staff (a quarter of which are on external grants), and has around an £8m turnover a year (over £2m of which comes from external grants, and pay-per-use services). We support over 40,000 users – including all the academic staff and students, college-only staff, visiting academics, staff at other central units, and so on. For over 40 years now, OUCS has been recognized by the academic staff and students as the main place to go for help and support on IT matters, but also the body that underpins the core work of the University. This is reflected in the range of services we offer – including the University Network Backbone, Security, and Telecommunications services; core services such as the University email and calendaring system (Nexus); the University’s single sign-on solution (WebAuth); the back-up and archiving Hierarchical File Server; and ‘front of house’ services such as our drop-in Help Centre facility open to all staff and students. Over the years OUCS has also adapted to the grwoing demands of academics and students to support their teaching, learning, and research and now offers services such as the largest IT training programme in any UK HEI, the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, and advice and support for e-learning and e-research activities. Moreover it continues to adapt and develop its services, as witnessed with the recent launch of Mobile Oxford aimed at delivering to the increasing number of mobile devices. This annual report lists all the varied services that we offer and presents key performance indicators.
OUCS always strives to deliver services to meet the needs of its users, and in particular the academic divisions who are the sole funders of the department. We always attempt to provide maximum value for money, and achieve service delivery and development in the most cost-effective manner. To this end we report directly to a Management committee consisting of representatives from all the divisions. This committee monitors OUCS on its service delivery related to the Service Level Descriptions agreed with the divisions, analyses OUCS’s financial accounts, helps sets its priorities, and most importantly directs its development. Crucially this involves an annual review of all services, and discussions on whether some should be phased out, others developed, new ones added, and the financial implications of all of these decisions and how these could be met by the divisions. We are a department that provides services directly to the users, the development and funding of which is decided by the users.
In addition OUCS is recognized locally, nationally, and internationally as a centre of expertise in several IT-related areas. To further this, the department is extremely successful in attracting external funding from research councils and other funding agencies – most notably the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). These projects are invaluable as they allow the department to develop services through project funding, and explore new areas that are in line with developing trends in IT services, and the University’s overall goal to maintain its reputation for excellence in teaching and research.
In section 6 we look at the performance and use of the range of services offered by OUCS throughout 2008-2009. Different services will report in different ways, but wherever possible we have tried to also break down usage according to the academic divisions and other units within the University, in line with the future implementation of the Type 123 funding model.
- the size and use of the network continues to expand – traffic has risen from 14.5GB/day in 2007-2008 to 22.3GB/day in 2008-2009 and the number of registered hosts now exceeds 80,000 (see section 5);
- at the same time the threats to the security of the network are on the increase (see 6.5);
- this was the last full-year of the Herald email service (in 2009-2010 we move to Nexus) but once again we notice the amount of email traffic increasing (see 6.13 and 6.2) and also the amount of spam (we reject about 87% of the amount of messages received each day, allowing around 560,000 through);
- the most popular means of accessing email is via a Web browser;
- demand for the HFS continues to increase with a 31-33% rise over 2007-2008 in terms of data stored (see 6.4);
- by analyzing client data across our services and surveying users we are observing an increased penetration of Apple computers (now 23-25%) and an increased demand for support for Macs;
- the Webauth Single Sign-On system is now being used across the University – not just for services provided centrally but also for those run by local units (there are 136 non-OUCS Webauth services for example). The Shibboleth service is also now firmly established (23,886 distinct users in this year of reporting);
- all our services (with the exception of dial-up which will be phased out in 2010) are witnessing increased usage including our advisory and training services, and Weblearn (6.6.1-3, 6.10, 6.11, and 6.18);
- all the divisions make substantial use of our services, but they are also heavily used by the Colleges and central units;
- the demand for additional services provided by our NSMS service continues to grow as many faculties and departments seek to offload some of their IT support issues to OUCS (6.17);
- requests for support for learning, teaching, and research are on the increase and projects such as the iTunes U service have attracted considerable support interest (6.12).
In section 7 we then report on the numerous projects we have undertaken over the year. These are absolutely key to the future of OUCS as they provide external funding at a time when resources are severely stretched that allow us to take forward the development of key University services and explore new possibilities.
- development and roll-out of the Nexus service and the migration of users from Herald;
- planning for the new Central Machine Room and the refurbishment of OUCS’s existing data centre to provide dual-site resilience for all our service;
- concerted efforts to put in place proper business continuity plans and disaster recovery processes for all our services, and communication plans in the event of such emergencies;
- deployment of wireless access points across campus and increased security and resilience for the network;
- research into information security best practice and encryption methodologies;
- a focus on Green computing and energy efficiency measures.
There has also been a greater recognition of the key role IT and the services offered by OUCS play in the University achieving its aims and objectives in terms of learning, teaching, research, administration, and other activities (e.g. outreach and widening participation).
We are witnessing a growing awareness across all sectors of the interdependency of IT services offered by central and local units, and the need to take a strategic and holistic approach to the underlying architecture. This is highlighted by the gradual adoption across the University of the Single Sign-On system (SSO), as seen in projects such as the integration of SSO with student systems. Access and Identity Management is now a major area of investigation and development and notable advances have been made with the Core User Director (on which many services will depend). For all of this to succeed, however, the University, in line with international thinking, must recognize the need for the adoption of open-standards and for systems to be flexible enough to be adapted to the specific needs of the academic users at Oxford.
Yet everything comes at a price, and whilst we note throughout this report the increased demand for, and use of existing services offered by OUCS (e.g. advisory services, HFS, the backbone) and for new services (e.g. Nexus, podcasting), such requests cannot be met unless they are matched with sufficient resources.
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.
* = Approximate count.
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.
Tools have been developed to enable support staff to register new access points and have a management interface to the wireless control system for their devices.
The OWL, Eduroam and Visitor Network services continue to be well used as wireless gains in popularity and coverage.
Operation of the email relay systems has been business-as-usual this year with no significant changes to the service.
Of the messages received from outside the University, 87% are now rejected, 3% are delivered as likely/possible spam leaving 10% delivered as legitimate email.
|Period||Average messages per day||Average data volume per day|
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.
|Method||Users in 2007||As %||Users in 2008||As %||Users in 2009||As %|
|Only POP and/or Webmail||910||4||992||4||754||3|
|IMAP and possibly other methods||7,357||32||9,658||37||10.015||39|
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.
Webauth is used extensively within the University. Table 8 shows the number of non-OUCS services that have been registered to use Webauth for visitor authentication:
|Year||Non-OUCS Webauth Services|
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.
Several non-OUCS departments and colleges use Oak LDAP, and some of these run multiple Oak LDAP-enabled services, as shown in Table 9:
|Year||Non-OUCS units using Oak LDAP||Non-OUCS services using Oak LDAP|
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|
Table 11 shows the number of users accessing Shibboleth-based services provided “internally” by Oxford University, and those accessing “external” services provided by other organisations:
|Internal Services||External Services|
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|
The figures suggest that files are getting bigger, a consistent 31-33% rise in absolute data stored compared to an increase of around 20% in the number of files stored.
Total Service Growth 2008-09
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.
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||440||13%||4||247||12%||5||413||15%||4||231||2%||5||121||13%||4|
|Health and Safety||0||0%||11||0||0%||2||0%||12||0||0%||0||0%|
|Other Related Bodies||25||1%||9||4||0%||11||11||0%||9||4||0%||10||4||0%||9|
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).
|College||15,903 (12,155)||12,072 (9,158 )||15,343 (12,374)|
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|
OUCS now allocates email addresses for all 44 colleges of the University and 173 departments out of 192. This involves mail domain creation and wind-down.
Over the last year the following domains have been created: @oxford-conferences, @ndorms. The following domains have been removed or are winding down: @ndos, @ousoc, @humsci.
Long form oxford.ac.uk email addresses were deleted in January 2009 and tailored failure messages were stopped June 2009.
OUCS Registration sends mass mailings on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Academic Registrar, Public Affairs Directorate, and other senior officers as well as for the management of OUCS services.
|Year||Number of mailings|
Registration creates and deletes EZMLM mailing lists. The numbers below are for the total number of lists broken down under the divisions.
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||864|
|University Administration and Services||90|
|Societies, Other and Companies||81|
There were three major areas of activity that unfortunately coincided this year, creating increased demands on the registration team.
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.
For this exercise, it was first necessary to provide data from the registration database to the Nexus team so that they could make the initial Active Directory entries.
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.
Warning messages were sent out to end users by Registration two weeks in advance of account migration. Users could also see the migration status of their accounts in Self-registration.
The integration of Nexus into Registration processes was a major task and is still on-going.
Thanks to work by the Nexus team, who wrote the necessary code and tied it into an IIS web server, we were able to use standard Perl modules to communicate with the Nexus system
A great deal of code had to be either written from scratch or updated to make use of this interface on the Registration back-end server and register.oucs.
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.
A completely new utility was written for Self-registration to allow end users to set a forwarding address on Nexus, change their spam filter levels, and change their sender details.
Members of the team have also been involved in:
- 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 priority documentation project during this period was the preparation for Nexus, which has involved staff across OUCS preparing technical documentation.
The course booking system has been gradually enhanced, and now includes the ability to send SMS reminders to attendees.
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.
- managing the Google Search Appliance; a new device was installed in January 2009, and new releases of the software are offering some interesting new services. Investigation into authenticated access continues;
- running termly meetings with local speakers addressing topics of common interest.
- 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.
- 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.
There has again been an increase in traffic over the previous year which is excellent considering that some units opted to use the WebLearn Beta pilot service.
|Week 1 Trinity 2005||Week 1 Trinity 2006||Week 1 Trinity 2007||Week 1 Trinity 2008||Week 1 Trinity 2009|
|Bandwidth||11.55 GB||16.24 GB||69.98 GB||42.96 GB||70.89 GB|
There was virtually no change in the number of units using old WebLearn. This is because new users were directed to the new service.
|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 distribution of traffic across the divisions has remained more or less the same as in previous years.
|Division||Week 1 Trinity 2005||Week 1 Trinity 2006||Week 1 Trinity 2007||Week 1 Trinity 2008||Week 1 Trinity 2009|
|Human.||141,542 (13.5)||193,702 (18.3)||214,380 (17.09)||235,057 (19.07)||257,634 (19.62)|
|MPLS incl. LES||387,215 (36.9)||416,886 (39.5)||370,565 (29.5)||434,965 (35.28)||456,123 (34.73)|
|Med. Sci.||364,723 (34.7)||346,608 (32.8)||505,197 (40.27)||432,260 (35.07)||450,259 (34.29)|
|Soc. Sci||116,045 (11.0)||51,594 (4.9)||86,690 (6.91)||74,270 (6.02)||87,951 (6.70)|
|Cont. Ed.||26,821 (2.6)||10,612 (1.0)||13,632 (1.09)||4,465 (0.36)||14,326 (1.09)|
|Colleges||6,367 (0.6)||12,720 (1.1)||36,557 (2.91)||40,102 (3.25)||43,530 (3.31)|
|ASUC||8,097 (0.8)||24,946 (2.4)||27,576 (2.20)||11,602 (0.94)||12,142 (0.92)|
|TOTAL||1,050,810 (100)||1,057,068 (100)||1,254,597 (100)||1,232,721 (100)||1,312,965 (100)|
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.
Behind the scenes, the course booking system has been developed further and we held a successful trial of new communication methods such as SMS text messaging.
|Course||Number of bookings|
|3 hour sessions||4227|
|Full day workshops||153|
|Strategies for Research||424|
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.
|Booking and Administration||5.0||4.6||4.7||4.6|
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!
- Area Studies
- BSP (for training on financial systems)
- Central Admin (Finance, Personnel, Student Admin, HERA, Heidi)
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine
- Public and Primary Health
- Welcome Trust
- Oriental Studies
- Energy Foresight
- Medical Research Council
- UK PubMed
- UK Serials Group
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.
A Microsoft Select agreement, operated via the Computing Services Shop, allows for the purchase of other Microsoft products. 2,392 licenses were added during the year.
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.
Table 29 shows the numbers of different types of equipment registered, and their ownership.
- 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.
The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms and stationery up to books, in single and full colour. A total of 800,000 impressions were made during the year.
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.
This is the first year that the team has had the benefit of a full time administrator and it has taken the opportunity to develop its billing procedures into a more streamlined process.
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 capacity for the VM for rent service had to be increased last year and at the same time this led to an improvement in the resilience of the service with more storage and a further server.
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.
NSMS services are currently being supplied to 75 different departments, 21 Colleges and 6 associated institutions.
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.
|Division or organisational group||Total|
|Academic Services and University Collections||17.32%|
|Business Services and Projects||20.46%|
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||2.33%|
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.
2008-09 was another busy year for the ICTST department. The following paragraphs summarise some of the highlights.
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|
|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|
The department undertakes a wide range of projects. The purpose of these is to maintain and develop the IT services and infrastructure delivered for the collegiate University. They range from ‘proof-of-principle’ projects – for example EIDCSR (Embedding institutional data curation services in research), to projects to develop a pilot service – for example the Core User Directory, to projects which deliver full mission-critical services – for example Groupware. The vast majority of these are funded from outside the University.
This section summarises the OUCS projects that are currently underway; many link with earlier parts of the Annual Report. The Core User Directory (7.2) links with ‘Access Management Services’ (6.3); EIDCSR (7.3), eIUS (7.4), Erewhon (7.6) and Scoping Digital Repository Services (7.20) link with ‘Research Technologies Service’ (6.9); ISBP (7.9) and PGP (7.14) link with ‘IT Security’; LDSE (7.11), OpenSpires (7.15), Steeple (7.16), SACODEYL (7.19), Thema (7.21) and VLE Service Development (7.23) link with ‘ITLP’ (6.11).
The British National Corpus (BNC) is a major linguistic resource, developed at OUCS and widely used by language learners and teachers worldwide as a unique snapshot of British English at the end of the 20th century.
During the year 2008-9, distribution of the BNC and of BNC-baby has continued stable, with about 250 new licences sold worldwide. The number of support queries handled has also remained fairly steady, varying between 10 and 30 a month. There have been two upgrades to the software, but no change in the corpus itself, access to which is now also available from several other sites on the Internet.
In April Lou Burnard gave an invited keynote speech on using the corpus in second language learning at the Taiwan National University of Technology.
The Core User Directory (CUD) Project, operating under the aegis of ODIT, is developing a pilot directory service, aiming to make available a minimal set of attributes and a unique identifier for any individual who has a defined relationship with the University. The work of the project is directed by the CUD Working Party, with representation from across the collegiate University.
- a data reconciliation service, which can be used to link data attributes concerning the same person but held in different data stores;
- a data provision service, which provides a useful subset of all the information known about a person directly from the CUD;
- a foreign key service, allowing data providers to store pointers to their own data within the CUD for use by others.
The CUD pilot implementation consolidates and reconciles personal data dynamically from five major central data sources: the University Card database, the Oracle Student System, the OUCS Registration database, Staff Records, and University Telecomms. As proof of concept, the CUD also includes data feeds provided by two University departments (DPAG and Earth Sciences), and by a college (New). All the data is refreshed daily.
The usability of the system was evaluated against a range of use cases, proposed when the project was initiated. The final report on the pilot (available from http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/coreuser/Pilot/finalReport.xml) describes the conduct of the project in more detail and proposes a successor service to continue it in the future.
The EIDCSR project is funded by the JISC from April 2009 until September 2010 and builds on the work undertaken as part of the ‘Scoping Digital Repository Services for Research Data Management’ project. The project aims to scope and address the research data management and curation requirements of two collaborating research groups in the University of Oxford that generate and share data.
The project is an intra-institutional collaboration led by OUCS that brings together the Cardio Mechano-Electric Feedback Group, the Computational Biology Group, OULS, OeRC, and Research Services. IBM are also contributing to the project.
The e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models (eIUS) project operated from 1 April 2007 to 31 July 2009. The project documented, though use cases and videos, how e-infrastructure is being used to facilitate research across a variety of subject areas. In total, sixteen subject areas including archaeology, bioinfomatics, electrical engineering, and organic chemistry have been documented with experience reports, use cases and short videos.
The overall methodology employed by the eIUS Project was designed to capture authentic examples of e-infrastructure usage. The use cases serve to demonstrate the ‘normality’ of using advanced IT within research, by anonymising the scenarios and focussing on the processes rather than the technologies per se. The eIUS videos are intended as ‘research trailers’ lasting from 3-5 minutes, viewable online via a dedicated youTube channel, and provide a visual means of engaging researchers with the possibilities offered by e-infrastructure.
Both the use cases and the videos proved to be attractive outputs for the participants in the project and the methodology, especially for the creation of use cases, was used by other projects within the lifetime of the eIUS Project. The creation of authentic ‘stories’ the substance of which can be traced back to experience reports (in turn derived from interviews) is a viable means of engaging with different communities, especially in order to give recognisable form to the unfamiliar.
The project outputs, including a detailed final report, are available from the eIUS Website. The project was one of three projects funded by the JISC within its Community Engagement strand and was undertaken in partnership with the National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS) in Manchester.
OUCS is a project partner on the EU-funded project ENRICH. RTS staff working on this are Lou Burnard, James Cummings, and Sebastian Rahtz, with assistance from Elizabeth Solopova in the Bodleian.
The objective of the ENRICH project is to create a base for the European digital library of cultural heritage (manuscript, incunabula, early printed books, archival papers etc.) by integration of existing but scattered electronic content within the Manuscriptorium digital library.
- completing the profile of the Text Encoding Initiative schema, with documentation and training materials;
- running a workshop at Oxford in July 2009, with a day concentrating on manuscript description;
- specifying how to work with non-Unicode characters and setting up a TEI glyph metadata repository;
- working with the University of Poznan on a generic web service to manage conversions between different formats (eg Word to TEI XML, Master XML to TEI XML, etc).
The final project meeting was in November 2009.
- implementation of a geolocation data model, syndication interface, and API for organisational resources;
- provision of location-aware applications;
- adaptation of selected Sakai tools for use on relevant mobile devices;
- guidelines on effective use of mobile devices in UK HE/FE.
- created a new data model for geolocating resources, implemented using an RDF triple store with a web service front end (this software is hosted on Sourceforge at http://gaboto.sf.net);
- converted and enhanced all the material previously collected by the OXPOINTS experiment at OUCS, and added information about new datatypes (libraries, carparks, rooms, etc);
- provided a consistent and efficient API for applications to query the data and retrieve JSON or RDF feeds;
- searching contact lists, and access to common phone numbers;
- location-aware map display of a wide variety of objects (libraries, museums, post boxes, etc), using the OXPOINTS data and other sources, including Open Streetmap;
- search of the library catalogue;
- live data feeds from local bus companies;
- webcam display from Oxford traffic hotspots.
Erewhon has a staffing of 3 FTE within Information Services at OUCS.
Groupware is software that helps users to work collaboratively within groups, and includes: email, on-line calendar, shared documents, workflows, web pages, shared contact lists and on-line collaborative tools.
The importance of a Groupware solution for the collegiate University was identified in the 2005 onwards IT Strategic Plan (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/strategy/plan/plan.xml?ID=S5). The Director of IT was asked by the University to establish the requirements for a Groupware solution for the collegiate University, and to coordinate the deployment of the subsequent Groupware service. By June 2008 a selection panel drawn from across the collegiate university had decided that Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint could offer the best route for establishing a service. By January 2009 the PRAC ICT sub-committee had approved the design of a dual-site resilient system and the project was handed to OUCS to implement.
A high priority throughout the Groupware exercise has been to engage the collegiate University and to make all processes, documentation and decisions accessible. (Full documentation is available at: http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/groupware/.) Throughout the project a Project Board representing the wider university has been determining the strategic objectives for the project.
The system design included maximum redundancy and resilience. Space was procured at Begbroke Science Park to provide a dual site failover capability, with some machinery being placed at the Churchill Hospital to allow for automatic detection of system or power failure and allow a complete handover to the site which is still running. Equipment was procured with the help of the Purchasing Office through a reverse tendering offer, taking into account the total cost of ownership of the system over a prolonged period. Additional capacity for the HFS service was purchased to provide a regular backup system once the likely capacity was determined.
An extensive programme to determine which facilities could be migrated from Herald to Nexus established that there was no way of holding Flags or Tags from the old system. In addition certain cases were established where migration would fail due to discrepancies between the systems – for instance the old system being case sensitive while the new system was case insensitive. Extensive communication with users and IT Support Staff enabled many users to rectify potential problems in advance of their migration.
Discussions were held with units who currently host their own mail servers with a view to assisting them to migrate to Nexus at a time convenient to them and their users. Extensive consultation with IT Support Staff established the most convenient windows to migrate their users with regard to other activities.
Extensive testing was undertaken with a wide range of email clients, and documentation written to enable all to interact with the new system. Full online documentation explains the system functionality and a FAQ allows users to assist themselves when problems arise. A wide-ranging Traing Plan was produced enabling multiple paths to training including online material, videos, Oxford user specific documentation and face-to-face briefings.
In June 2009 beta-tester mailboxes users were migrated across from Herald to ensure an efficient process and check for real-world problems and estimate time to provision users. The system became a supported service on 16 July 2009, when OUCS migrated as the first department, with selected volunteers from around the university the following week.
Intute is a free online gateway to the best websites for students, teachers, and researchers in UK higher education. It employs a distributed network of subject experts to find and review websites appropriate for academic use, which may then be searched and browsed via the website or searched via a Z39.50 server.
Intute: Arts and Humanities is led by the University of Oxford with staff at Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the University of the Arts London. The service is primarily funded by the JISC.
The most significant development in the services over the last year was the relaunch of the website in July 2009. The new site presents a more integrated service structure and a cleaner interface. Whilst previously each of the four subject groups had their own home page, the emphasis is now upon presenting the entire catalogue to the users as an integrated whole. The front page provides an entry into nineteen broad subject areas, such as the ‘humanities’, ‘modern languages and area studies’, and the ‘creative and performing arts’. Each broad section allows the user to drill down into specific disciplines, sub-disciplines, and topics of study. The metadata behind the service has been standardised and streamlined, and features such as the subject-specific virtual training suites have been updated and redesigned.
Other highlights of the year 2008-2009 included:
- Creating two ‘Critical Thinking’ tutorials to help develop students' academic and digital literacy skills;
- Producing eight new or updated Virtual Training Suites, for American Studies, Archaeology, History, Modern Languages, Performing Arts, Philosophy, Photography, and Religious Studies;
- Recruiting several new cataloguers to support modern languages;
- Adding to the catalogue new records for materials deposited with the former AHDS;
- Offering internet research training to students at the University of Oxford and beyond, via various workshops and presentations;
- Publishing a journal article on fostering the effective use of Web resources;
- Integrating the Arts and Humanities Group's modern languages and area studies catalogue with the Social Science Group's overlapping European studies catalogue;
- 7,284 records reviewed and updated; 3,481 new resources added to the database.
The ISBP activity was governed by the ICT Forum's Information Security Advisory Group (http://www.ictf.ox.ac.uk/siaags.html), supported by the Office of the Director of IT and OUCS, and endorsed by the PRAC ICT Sub-committee (PICT).
The ICT Forum's Information Security Advisory Group was tasked with producing a Self-Assessment Questionnaire, which asked units to assess their own approach to Information Security against a set of best practice recommendations: http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/ISBP/selfassess/questionnaire.pdf. The questionnaire was based on the two policy documents written by the Office of the Director of IT: Conditions for Connection (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/ITgovernance/conditionsforconnection.xml) and Security of Information (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/ITgovernance/securityofinformation.xml). These documents complemented reports produced by the University’s Internal Auditors. They address the issues relating to effective and secure operation of services across a devolved ICT infrastructure (such as exists within the collegiate University).
The questionnaire was designed to help units within the University to assess their approach to IT management, security and operations. Returns were received from 60 units: 18 Colleges and Halls, 32 Departments/Faculties and 10 Central Service providers and Museums. Each of these units will receive a confidential report based on the answers provided, to help that unit identify its strengths and weaknesses. (Information provided remains confidential and is anonymised within the reports.)
An individual report shows a unit’s responses as compared with the responses of similar units (e.g. Colleges and Halls, Departments/Faculties or Central Service providers and Museums) The report focuses on areas where further resources may need allocating and is intended to be the first step in helping units to identify and deploy such resources.
When the self-assessment exercise began, the Director of IT committed to supporting units that identify where resources are required. The extent of that support is dependant upon the resources made available from PICT. The possibility of this follow up support was brought before PICT at its meeting in Michaelmas term 2009); PICT were supportive of a follow up activity which gave further support to units. The Budget Sub-committee have therefore been asked to consider funding in this area whilst PICT considers the appropriate framework for the follow up activity.
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/greenit/index.xml?ID=desktop (detailed information about the service at Oxford); http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/lowcarbonict/ (public project website)
- Develop a production-level institutional wake on LAN service
- Develop a prototype desktop power management monitoring service
- Host two open-invite conferences on the theme of green computing
- Conduct further research into low-carbon ICT (see eg paper by Noble, Curtis and Tang: http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/GreenDesktopComputingattheUniv/182037)
The final event organised by the team – Keeping IT Clean – was held at Said Business School in May 2009. It brought together experts from Higher and Further Education to discuss how educational organisations can reduce IT-related greenhouse gas emissions. This event built on a conference held in the previous year to stimulate discussion on the practical measures that can be taken to build ICT services that both reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate the effects that higher energy prices have on our institutions.
During the course of the low-carbon ICT project, the team developed tools and techniques to reduce energy consumption and costs in networked desktop computing environments. By installing a ‘FiDo’ server software, IT support staff can plug into two new services:
The power management monitoring service (PMM) plots a graph of how many computers are switched on at any moment; as the expression goes, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. This facility helps groups to see how many devices are consuming electricity during the day and night, which in turn supports the objective of reducing the number of devices that are switched on when they are not doing useful work.
At the time of the 2008 conference it was policy or simply common practice for most departments and colleges to leave desktop computers switched on all the time. This need no longer be the case: the tools developed through the project allow desktop computers to be powered down when not in use with, importantly, no inconvenience to the user nor to their IT support teams.
The Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) project began in September 2008. Funded by the ESRC/EPSRC’s TLRP-TEL programme, it builds on previous research into ways to support learning design, including the Phoebe Pedagogy Planner tool developed by the LTG and TALL. Specifically, the project is researching and designing an online environment that will allow lecturers in HE to experiment with innovative approaches to the curriculum and the creative possibilities opened up by digital technologies. The aim is to make it easier – and more appealing – for them to draw inspiration from good practice by other teachers and to gain access to the fruits of research into teaching and learning. The conceptual design of the LDSE is underpinned by a model of online collaborative learning, with teachers developing their practice through reflection, discussion and sharing of ideas and materials within and across institutions.
OSS Watch is a JISC-funded innovation support centre. We provide advice, guidance and support to UK Further and Higher Education wishing to engage with open source software development and use. OSS Watch has been hosted by OUCS since its inception in 2003.
- producing content on issues relating to open source software;
- development support for open source projects;
- community engagement in open source projects;
- technology transfer guidance for institutions;
This year saw the introduction of strategic projects, which receive additional support from the OSS Watch team. This has been highly successful with, for example, the OpenCast community receiving grant funding from the Mellon Foundation and Wookie, from the University of Bolton, being accepted into the Apache Software Foundations Incubator.
In the last year we have published many briefing notes, conference reports, and case studies covering issues such as sustainable open source development, community management and engagement, IPR management, and commercialisation of open source solutions.
OSS Watch have also been successful in securing funding from the European Commission to extend their reach into teaching open source development practices within higher and further education.
- Project development
- project bid support; face-to-face project consultations; telephone and/or email consultations; a conference on procuring open source at the institutional level; multiple workshops; and representation at many third-party events (both national and international).
- Knowledge transfer
- engaged with a significant number of institutions directly plus engagement with services such as JISC legal, and ISIS Innovation.
- Liason and collaboration
- assisted a number of education focused organisations in their engagement with open source development, use or exploitation (including Research Services in Oxford).
The Oxford Text Archive continues to collect, archive, preserve and distribute literary and linguistic resources in electronic form, providing repository services not only for researchers in Oxford, but nationally and internationally as well. As well as access to the archive, scholars within Oxford can also benefit from advice and support in the planning, creation, description and use of electronic resources. The OTA works within the Research Technologies Service to support research within Oxford, and also to investigate and build the research support infrastructure. The key initiative in which the OTA is currently involved is CLARIN, the major pan-European research infrastructure for language resources and technologies. The OTA's current workplan within the CLARIN framework involves building the technical underpinnings for large-scale collaborative research with the many diverse datasets and tools in repositories and across across Europe and beyond.
The OTA co-ordinates an informal network of people interested in working with linguistic corpora in Oxford, runs an OUCS course on methods in corpus linguistics in Hilary term, and also works closely with the Oxford e-Research Centre in developing research projects in the Humanities, in particular through the Digital Humanities at Oxford initiative. It is one of the key repository services within the emerging frameworks for research data management across the University. Through these numerous connections and ventures, the OTA seeks to constantly renew and revitalise its connections with research in the University, and ensure that it not only preserves the data in the archive, but makes its services relevant to the constantly evolving needs of scholarship in the digital age.
Following the progress report written in April 2008, a service level definition (SLD) detailing the conditions under which the trial should run was agreed with the Proctors in August 2008. Following the configuration of the server, an induction session was arranged at OUCS in October 2008 for IT support staff from the 4 volunteer units. With one unit dropping out on the day of the induction the numbers were reduced to 3 units taking part in the trial. Each unit was offered between 10-15 licences and, based on the induction session, the local ITSS were asked to assist with the rollout of the software within the unit. This would include assisting users with the installation process then providing local support to the end users. Support was provided on a best efforts basis to the IT support staff themselves. The ITSS taking part were asked to provide any results/feedback by the end of Hilary Term. Despite initial enthusiasm, the numbers of end users taking part in the trial has proved to be low with only 10 licences being used, in total, specifically for the exam papers project with an additional 7 licences being used internally for initial testing. Only the Faculty of Law provided a report at the end of the trial period. OUCS ran the PGP Universal Server for the management of policies and cryptographic keys.
The Units taking part and the number of users involved were therefore as follows:
Faculty of Law (4 licences)
Medical Sciences (4 licences)
Physics (2 licences)
This service is not currently being widely used, and decisions now need to be made on whether, and how, to offer the service. This could be solely for the use of exam papers in preparation, or it could be adopted by the Groupware programme in order to offer a more widely available encryption service. For the purposes of this trial the project is now complete and a full report will be posted to http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/pgp/
In April 2008, the Learning Technologies Group received national funding from the JISC and HEA for OpenSpires, a one-year pilot project investigating the release of open educational resources.
The OpenSpires project will build upon the success of Oxford on iTunes U by releasing more audio and video material from Oxford as ‘Open Content’. This means that the material will be free to re-use and redistribute provided it is used non-commercially and the creator is attributed.
- increase the amount of audio and video content released from Oxford as Open Content Resources (OER);
- enable the University to investigate and disseminate the institutional implications of making some of this material available as ‘Open Content’
- making more high quality material openly available for teaching, learning and research;
- ensuring expert legal scrutiny - the complex licensing and IPR issues associated with Open Content will be overseen by Legal Services;
- improving support for colleagues in making informed choices for open content licensing and distribution.
On October 2008 the JISC agreed to support a collaborative project between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge along with the Open University, to build on and disseminate their experiences of setting up a podcasting service for an institution. The overall aim of the project is to streamline processes involved in podcasting on an institutional scale and is largely a technical project. To that end, work packages have been created and distributed amongst the core partners on topics ranging from hardware and systems to legal policies and frameworks, institutional change, data aggregation systems, and more.
The success of the work has generated a wide community of UK HEI partners who are learning from and working with us to develop the project further. The project has also received further funding from the JISC to support a Benefits Realisation programme that is being led by the Cambridge partners. Within the next year, the initial project will have completed its objectives to document, report, and disseminate its findings and the BR programme should be reaching the end of its initial funding.
Reports, software and podcasts from the project are available at http://steeple.oucs.ox.ac.uk/
The Modelling4All Project is developing a web-based tool designed to support teachers, learners and researchers, including those with little or no programming experience, to build, share, and discuss computer models. From within a Web browser, users assemble model components. Biology students build models of epidemics that spread over social networks during a single lab session, Said Business School students build models of artificial economies. All of this is tied together within a Web 2.0 community. The project is funded by the Eduserv Foundation from August 2007 to July 2010.
On the 11th November 2008, the joint project between OUCS and the English Faculty went live – launching the web site of the First World War Poetry Digital Archive and the Great War Archive (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit). This was a two-year project funded by JISC (completing in March 2009) presenting free to the world, primary source material related to the poetry and history of the war for anyone to use. It also placed this in an historical context, and created a series of teaching tools. The project also created the Great War Archive which was an experiment in engaging the public in a University research project by contributing material they personally owned. Overall the site exposed over 12,000 objects consisting of digital images, audio, and video.
- created a great amount of interest in the concept of ‘community collections’ with benefits for outreach and widening participation, with Oxford seen now as one of the leading sites of expertise;
- in turn this has led to extra funding for 2009-2010 to promote and develop this concept across a range of subject areas;
- considerable expertise in using Web 2.0 technologies for increasing the impact of a research project and also for education. This has including work with community sites such as FlickR and Facebook, developing timelines using MIT’s SIMILE system, mashups with GoogleMaps, Mindmaps using Tuft’s VUE software, and podcasting;
- developed a system to allow projects to offer an annotated path facility through collections;
- developed a simple system for collecting contributions online;
- working with teachers and lecturers through two focused workshops to create online learning resources;
- furthered our expertise in digitization, collection management systems (ContentDM), metadata, federated searching (via WorldCat), costs of sustainability, project management, copyright and licensing, managing the media.
The project now moves into a new stage – entitled RunCoCo (Running a Community Collection) – funded by JISC, to train and promote people in seting up online contribution sites to engage the public.
The aim of this three-year project, which concluded on 31 September 2008, has been to develop an ICT-based system for the assisted compilation and open distribution of European teenagers’ talk in the context of language education. The project compiled spoken corpora for seven European languages and made these available in text, sound, and video format, together with language learning exercises based on the corpora. Tools, methods, and techniques developed for the project are also made available to facilitate future creation and use of similar corpus resources.
The project was supported by the European Commission within the Socrates/Minerva scheme (http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/socrates/minerva/index_en.html), bringing together researchers from seven European institutions, led by the University of Murcia, Spain. OUCS played an important part in designing the strategies and methods for the corpus collection, creation and annotation and also created the English component of the corpus as well as a portion of the English language learning material.
This scoping study was performed between January 2008 and March 2009 with the overall aim to scope the requirements for services to manage and curate research data generated at Oxford. The project interviewed researchers and service units across the university and organized three internal workshops. In addition to this, the project contributed to the UK Research Data Service feasibility study and the JISC funded DISC-UK DataShare project.
The project was led by the Digital Repositories Research Coordinator, based in the OeRC, who reported to the Head of Infrastructure Systems and Services, OUCS and the Keeper of Special Collections (Associate Director), Bodleian Library. The project was funded by the John Fell Fund through the ODIT.
The Thema project (1st March 2007 to 30th November 2008) investigated the experiences of taught Master’s students at Oxford University in 2007-8, with specific reference to the role of digital technologies in supporting their academic and social lives. The project conducted a longitudinal exploration of the holistic experience of 23 students in order to uncover their learning strategies, the relationship between personally-owned and institutionally-provided technologies, changes in their use of technology and their significant learning experiences. The primary outputs from the project were 11 narrative case studies, supplemented by two online surveys gathering data from a larger sample of students on the same programmes.
- students know when to “e-” and when not to “e-”, blending the affordances of tools and interactions in the online and real worlds, and recognising the special atmosphere engendered when students and lecturers are co-present in the classroom;
- students’ perception of their proficiency in their use of digital technologies may be at variance with the range of tools that they actually use and their curiosity in finding out what is available;
- postgraduate students consider social networks inappropriate environments for formal learning.
Thema was funded by the JISC Learner Experiences of E-learning programme.
Oxford is one of the four host organizations of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Consortium, an international project creating detailed guidelines and XML schemata for the encoding of texts.
The editorial support team at Oxford (Lou Burnard, Sebastian Rahtz and James Cummings) have guided and implemented the decisions of the TEI Technical Council, and prepared releases of the TEI in November 2008, February 2009 and July 2009. These staff are also elected members of the TEI's Board of Directors (LB) and Technical Council (SR and LB).
Eight two- and three-day courses on the TEI were taught by one or more of the above in France, Ireland, Russia and Taiwan, and a week-long summer school with over 30 participants was offered in Oxford in July 2009.
Working through the RTS, staff have given assistance to University projects in History, Politics, English, and Classics, and to the Bodleian Library’s Shakespeare Quarto project. Arno Mittelbach and James Cummings created a new tool for comparing two editions of Holinshed's Chronicles, and Sebastian Rahtz worked with the CLAROS project to produce RDF against the CIDOC CRM for the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names.
Sebastian Rahtz and Arno Mittelbach worked from April 2008 to November 2008 with the central secretariat of the International Standards Organisation to define a TEI profile for authoring ISO standards, and developed tools for conversion to and from Microsoft Word 2007. This resulted in a successful proof of concept system demonstrated to other standards bodies, and a second stage pilot was commissioned for delivery in October 2009.
From August 2008 to July 2009, the VLE team has been developing two separate systems: the pilot WebLearn Beta service (based on the Sakai CLE) and, to a minimal extent, the current WebLearn service (based on Bodington VLE).
Enhancements to the current service have included a few bug fixes and user requests, as well as the introduction of new tools to allow content and user group information to be moved to the upcoming new service.
Enhancements to the pilot service have centred on configuration, adding functionality to replicate facilities already available in the current service, services to aid the interoperability between the old and new WebLearn services and adding features that have been requested during user pilots or are required due to the unique nature of Oxford University.
Examples of work undertaken include: the further development of the hierarchy service to support the devolved IT model used at Oxford; integration with the OUCS Oak LDAP “people” service; integration with the JISC’s Turnitin plagiarism detection service; basic integration with OLIS; secure https access; the introduction of a Tutorial Sign-up tool; the ability to restore deleted files; and general bug fixes and improvements.
There have also been a number of initiatives on the user support side. A formal ITLP training course called “WebLearn Fundamentals” has been developed and successfully run several times. Two sets of user guides have been produced covering the majority of new WebLearn’s tools. These are known as “Step-by-step” and “Least You Need to Know” guides. All the guidance and training is coordinated through a combination of the completely revamped WebLearn area of the OUCS website and the “WebLearn Guidance” site hosted in the new WebLearn service. The latter site also contains case studies, showcase sites and information about accessibility, copyright and plagiarism detection.
Throughout the pilot year approximately 40 units or individuals were involved in the WebLearn Beta pilot program. The pilots have been drawn from each of the four academic divisions and cover both graduate and undergraduate courses. The pilot year has been judged a great success and has provided valuable feedback to the central team.
The new WebLearn production service was formally launched by Dr Stuart Lee to an invited audience of senior University staff on 30th June 2009; this service comprises old and new WebLearn running in parallel and will last for a two years at which point the old WebLearn system will become read-only for a year before being decommissioned.
The Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) is hosted by OUCS. UCISA represents those responsible for delivering information systems and technology services in universities, colleges, and related institutions. UCISA’s main aims are to promote best practice amongst its members through events, awards, publications, and a network of contacts; and to represent the interests of its membership through lobbying, responding to consultations, relationships with other groups, and taking part in appropriate working groups and committees.
UCISA ran sixteen events last year. These ranged from one day seminars covering subjects as diverse as the implementation of the points based immigration system, supporting users with disabilities and electronic document and records management, to three multi-day conferences for directors of Information Services, heads of Corporate Information Services, and user support staff. The second leadership forum for heads of service was held in January.
UCISA published the results of its survey on technology enhanced learning in September 2008. The survey has been cited in publications by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, HEFCE and the JISC.
UCISA represented the community in discussions with a number of Government departments and its agencies during 2008-09. The implementation of the points based immigration system was a key topic during the year with UCISA representing the interests of both the higher and further education institutions and suppliers of student records systems. Work on shared services has continued during the year continues to top the agenda with UCISA being represented on the HEFCE Shared Services Advisory Group and taking part in discussions with suppliers. UCISA is on the steering group of the MIAP (Managing Information Across Partners) Programme and has worked closely with the JISC on their Green ICT and Flexible Service Delivery programmes.
Finally, UCISA responded to a number of consultations on behalf of the community on various topics including HEFCE’s sustainability policy, the Digital Britain paper and the proposals for legislation for addressing illicit peer to peer filesharing (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) and the Inquiry into Higher Education launched by John Denham.
XAIRA is a text searching program originally developed at OUCS for use with the British National Corpus (BNC) and subsequently revised as a general purpose open source XML search engine, usable on any corpus of well-formed XML documents.
At the end of this year, we announced a new stable release of the system. Version 1.25 fixes several outstanding issues and has been updated to work with the most recent versions of the underlying ICU and XERCES-C libraries.