COMMITTEE FOR THE COMPUTING SERVICE

Annual Report for the year 1971-2

1. Introduction

Last year’s Annual Report noted that 1970-1 had seen the completion of the new building, installation, and start of service on 1906A, and the start of rundown of KDF9. In 1971-2 the rundown of KDF9 was completed; the 1906A service was further developed; there were some substantial enhancements to the 1906A; and the University started thinking about its replacement.

2. KDF9 closedown

KDF9 continued to work on a single shift in parallel with 1906A from August to December. There was a hard core of users who were either completing projects which were not worth transferring to 1906A, or were busy converting them for 1906A. The machine was finally closed down just before Christmas 1971; the overlap with 1906A had been approximately nine months compared with initial estimates of twelve months, and there were no requests for KDF9 time to be made available on machines elsewhere.

The KDF9 was sold to a computer maintenance organization (the proceeds being returned to the Treasury). The PDP8 was retained and transferred to 19 Banbury Road: plans were in hand to use it to support a graphics device attached to 1906A. The graph plotter equipment was also retained.

3. 1906A Service

At the beginning of the period under review, the 1906A was processing substantially more work than it had been possible to process on KDF9. The quality of service and reliability of both hardware and software did, however, leave much to be desired.

During the year hardware reliability improved slowly although it tended to fall immediately after major hardware changes to the system; by the end of the year it was running at a the rate of about four hardware faults per week.

The mean time between software faults improved from about 10 hours at the beginning of the period to about 40 hours at the end. More important, the mean time between faults causing loss of filestore - the most disruptive occurrence in the system - improved from about 30 hours to several weeks.

The service made various changes to the operational software to improve operational efficiency and reliability, or to improve user facilities. An increased number of applications packages were supported, including principally the first two marks of the Nottingham Algorithms Group (NAG) Library.

During the year the Computer Board funded a seven spindle exchangeable disc store system, and an additional 128K of core store. This equipment resulted in a better balanced configuration, and substantially improved throughput of the system. Particularly important benefits were a much faster response to the cafeteria service, and the ability to support more MOP consoles at an acceptable level of system performance. The board also approved the provision of improved graph plotting facilities, the first phase of which (an off-line controller to run the plotter transferred from KDF9) was installed during the year; the second phase, an improved graph plotter, was approved for 1972-3.

4. Regional Computing Service

During the year the Computer Board decided to install a CDC 7600 computer at the University of London Computer Centre to provide a regional service to London and eight other universities in the South East. The University was involved in various committees in deciding how the regional service should be organized, what equipment should be used to communicate with it, and how the computing time should be shared between universities.

Dr R J Elliott was nominated to be the university representative on the Regional Computing Committee, with the Computer Manager in attendance as adviser. It was subsequently decided by the Computer Board that Oxford’s share of the CDC 7600 should be 9 per cent, which is approximately equal to the power of 1906A.

5. Staffing

At the end of the previous year the staff of the Computing Service was 14 senior staff and 23 junior staff, by the end of the year there was a total of 39 staff, comprising 20 seniors and 19 juniors with 2 senior vacancies and 4 junior vacancies.

6. Scale of activities

At the end of July 1971 the 1906A was operated on single shift with some overtime. It was running about 1,500 background jobs per week, and about 500 cafeteria jobs; there were twenty MOP consoles connected. At the end of July 1972 the 1906A was running on two full shifts; during June (before the core store enhancement had been installed) it had been necessary to operate about three hours of overtime per night to clear the backlog of work. The workload was about 2,600 background jobs and about 960 cafeteria jobs per week, and there were forty MOP consoles connected.

7. Undergraduate Teaching

The Undergraduate Teaching Officer - Mr F R Pettit was appointed in November 1971 to undertake the teaching of computing to undergraduates as decided by the U.G.C. and the Computer Board. Courses were given at the end of Hilary Term and throughout Trinity Term, and production of television-based courses was planned. The Equipment Committee of the General Board approved provision of funds for television equipment for producing and giving the courses, and a Satellite One computer for transmitting the undergraduate work to and from the Computer Centre. The Old Zoology Lecture Theatre was allocated to the Computing Service for use for undergraduate teaching; plans for making better use of the space were being investigated.

8. Future development

At the end of the academic year 1971-2 the University had requested the Computer Board to support a project to link the Satellite One provided for the regional service to the 1906A; this project was subsequently approved.

In May 1972 the Computer Board indicated that the increasing concentration of regional facilities made it extremely unlikely that it would be able to provide a new large computer systems to replace 1906A in 1975-6 as had been envisaged in the University’s forward estimates. The University started negotiations with the board over the replacement for 1906A; these negotiations are still in progress.