Annual Report for the year 1972-3

1. Introduction

Last year’s annual report commented on a developing ICL 1906A service, the institution of a regional computing service using the CDC 7600 computer at the University of London Computing Centre, and the start of the project to teach computing to undergraduates. In 1972-3 further enhancements have been made to the 1906A, both in hardware and software. Negotiations for a replacement computer have continued, and it is now expected some time in 1976.

2. 1906A Service

Hardware and software enhancements in the course of the year substantially improved the rate at which jobs could be processed by the machine.

The hardware reliability has not, however, increased to the level which was hoped for. The Computing Service has made representations about this to ICL and these have been supported by information about reliability of ICL 1906A computers elsewhere.

Following protracted negotiations with ICL arrangements were made to exchange the fixed disc store which was provided as part of the original contract for an additional drum and a four spindle exchangeable disc store. These will be delivered towards the end of 1973. This enhancement will considerably extend the flexibility with which the memory can be used and allow for the faster processing of jobs.

Software changes made locally and at other universities with similar equipment, have made considerable improvements to the service. A joint committee with ICL (U.I.J.P.C.) has been set up, with the support of the Computer Board, to co-ordinate this activity. A co-ordination team to support the committee has been set up in Oxford for a limited period.

3. Scale of activities

The demand for computing has continued to increase. Three-shift working has been introduced on a regular basis, and all shifts were being used to capacity towards the end of the year. The workload during July was about 3,200 background jobs and about 1,400 ‘cafeteria’ jobs per week. This compares with 2,600 background and 960 ‘cafeteria’ jobs per week in July 1972.

4. Hardware developments

During the year enhancements, funded by the Computer Board, have been made to the service facilities by the provision of a Calcomp 1136 graph plotter, extensions to the Satellite One terminal connected to the South Eastern Regional 7600, and equipment to link this with the ICL 1906A. The two last enhancements will contribute towards the convenience of running jobs using the regional service.

An application was made to the Computer Board early in 1973 for three remote card reader/line printer pairs and further peripheral equipment, including a printer working in both upper and lower case. Two sets of Data Centre equipment (card reader/line printer) were approved but the board was unable to provide the rest due to lack of funds. It is hoped that the Service may be able to provide some of this equipment from its own resources.

5. Staffing

At the end of the year the Computing Service staff totalled twenty-six senior staff and thirty-one junior staff. There were two and one vacancies respectively included in these totals. There was also a senior vacancy within the U.I.J.P.C. team.

6. Undergraduate Teaching

The Undergraduate Teaching Officer has produced courses on programming languages using television equipment and allowing for practical experience. These were run in most weeks in Full Term as well as during the number of weeks in each vacation. Many of these courses have been over-subscribed. Implementation of the original plans for this activity has been seriously hampered by the lack of posts. The Old Zoology Lecture Theatre with a CTL Satellite One computer installed and linked to the ICL 1906A, has been used for all these courses; the requests by departments for additional courses can only be met by running courses concurrently. Plans for dividing the lecture room into seminar rooms while retaining all existing facilities have been approved by the Sites and Buildings Committee.

7. Numerical Algorithms Group

This group, whose responsibility is to co-ordinate the efforts from universities in the assembly of a reliable set of mathematical library routines and to distribute the result to all universities, is, at the end of July 1973, moving to Oxford and will be associated with the Computing Service. Its activities are initially confined to routines in numerical analysis. The third Mark of the library has been produced and circulated widely; it is the standard library of subroutines in numerical analysis available to users at Oxford.

8. Future activities

Towards the end of the period under review representatives of the University held informal discussions with representatives of the Computer Board on the subject of a replacement for the ICL 1906A. As a results of these discussions work was started on the evaluation of possible equipment and the preparation of a formal application to the Computer Board. It is hoped that representatives of the board may visit Oxford later in 1973.