[CC(90) 9][CMC(90)5] (Ref. Nos. CHE/24/10)
COMPUTING TEACHING AND SERVICES MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
Annual Report of the Computing Service
25 July 1988 - 30 September 1989
Software and Service Changes
Computing in the Arts
Performance and Reliability
Appendix A. Staff in post - September 1989
Appendix B. Current User Guides
Following a decision that the Annual Report should in future be aligned with the academic year, this report is for the unusual period of fourteen months.
The period saw the deliberations of the Working Party on Academic Computing Services completed and its report presented to the Computing Council. The Working Party chose to focus on the present division of services between the Computing Service and the Computing Teaching Centre and its first two recommendations were that the two departments should be merged under a single administration, and that every effort should be made to find a single site for the combined department.
These recommendations gave rise to much debate. After lengthy consideration by both the Computing Council and the General Board, a somewhat different solution was adopted in which the two existing departments retain their separate identities, but all services are overseen by a single management committee instead of the two former committees. The new committee structure was established during Trinity Term 1989 and will go into action with the new academic year. There are also to be changes in the remit of the Users' Group, which will now become a channel for comment on the activities of the Computing Teaching Centre as well as those of the Computing Service.
Last year's report noted the establishment of the IT Working Group, whose purpose is to advise the Computing Council on new and emerging technologies, and to consider IT in the context of administrative and library services as well as teaching and research. This has proved a lively and enjoyable forum, and has made a number of proposals to Computing Council which could lead to the introduction of new services. The first of these will be an on-line information service accessible without username or password from any terminal on the data network, a prototype for which has recently been developed by the Computing Service.
While the IT Working Group has done valuable work, it was conceived as a "ginger group" and is not suitably constituted to offer high-level strategic advice to the University. The need to pursue a strategic view of IT was recognised by the Working Party on Academic Computing Services, which as its final recommendation urged Hebdomadal Council and the General Board to consider possible mechanisms for doing so. As a consequence a small group, known as the Information Technology Strategy Group, has now been set up to report directly to Council and the General Board. This group will be holding its first meetings in Michaelmas Term 1989, and its findings are awaited with great interest.
Turning to domestic matters, the final phases of the replacement of mainframe services under the programme approved and funded by the Computer Board took place during the year. These were the installation of the second part of the VAX Cluster filestore, and the provision of a number of advanced graphical workstations as a generally available service.
The new filestore was delivered during November. Physically it is in the form of sixteen of Digital's 1.2 GB RA90 drives mounted eight to a cabinet. The additional 19 GB were particularly welcome, as pressure on the 17 GB already in service had become severe.
The workstation facility is based on three Sun 3/60FC colour systems, served from a Sun 4/110 which also provides a networked general purpose Unix service. These services are still regarded as experimental: it is possible that this style of service will be more effectively provided in the future by X-windows terminals offering access to suitable host systems.
The opportunity has been taken to begin remodelling the user areas to meet the changing needs of users. Much of the main user area is now designated the Help Area, an open-plan space with two desks for the advisory service, one (replacing the former Budgets Office) for queries on user registration and resource allocation, and a fourth for operations queries. All are open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, Monday to Friday. Comfortable seats and magazines are provided to ease the lot of users who are waiting for their advisor to become free.
The adjoining graphics area has been rearranged to accommodate the new workstations, graphics terminals and output devices. This now contains Sun workstations, Pericom terminals (emulating Tektronix 4207 for graphics and VT220 for text work) and a number of user-accessible printers and plotters. The latter include a new Hewlett Packard Laserjet 2000 printer, replacing the EPS 1200 printer which had become costly to maintain.
Not the least of the innovations was the introduction of the Computing Service Shop. This has been open since the summer of 1988, selling a growing range of computer consumables, items of hardware and software, documentation, and so on. Since the opening of the Help Area the Shop has been located next to the front door, in the two rooms previously occupied by the Budgets Office. The Shop and the Help Area operate the same hours, and together have done much to improve the efficiency of many of our services.
One final change to be noted here, again a very significant one, was the completion of a new lecture room for courses and seminars, in time for the start of the 1988-9 academic year. This was constructed by conversion of an electronics workshop. The room, which is conveniently accessible from the user areas, was refitted completely and equipped with twelve Ness AT-compatible systems for course practical work. An LCD repeater device allows an image of the lecturer's screen to be projected via a standard overhead projection arrangement.
This room has been a major improvement over the older lecture room, which is by comparison extremely cramped. The new lecture room is also within the air-conditioned area and thus is much more comfortable to work in. The air conditioning was particularly appreciated during the long spells of exceptionally hot weather during the summer of 1989!
Further changes for the user areas are planned for the forthcoming year, one of which is to be the opening of a part of the building on a 24-hour basis, controlled by a card-lock system on the pattern of the existing Data Centre in the Science Area. This development has been discussed with the Users' Group in connection with proposals to reduce somewhat the hours when the building is open and manned - a change which may be unavoidable in the light of the financial retrenchment programme, which affects the Service in common with all other sectors of the University.
Discussions took place with the Joint Network Team on a strategy to enhance, over a period of time, the communications facilities both within Oxford and to JANET. There are three elements of the agreed strategy: a more powerful X.25 switch, a plan to install Ethernet links across the University, and an eventual migration of the communications backbone to 100 Mbit/s technology once this is possible with proven products.
The first stage, to take place during 1989, will be the procurement of a new X.25 switch to replace the GEC 4160 which has been in service since 1983. The requirements are a higher overall packet throughput (the JANET traffic now averages some 100 Mbytes per day), higher speeds on individual lines, the ability to support a greater number of links, and software support for the 1984 version of X.25 to which JANET is expected to move before long.
A proposal to establish an Ethernet backbone interfaced to the Computing Service systems and, through an X.25 gateway, to JANET has been approved in principle and a detailed proposal is to be submitted to the Computer Board shortly. The intention is to establish Ethernet fan-out points at several of the communications rooms in the Science Area and other central locations. Departments and other institutions will be able to connect to the backbone at their nearest access point.
Meanwhile the terminal network continues to grow steadily, with over 1500 terminal connections and a large number of host ports. The availability of the on-line library catalogue service via the terminal network has undoubtedly been a factor in this continued growth. In response to a request from the Users' Group, an 8-bit no-parity mode has been provided on most major services as an alternative to the 7-bit even-parity specification which has been our standard for many years. New dial-up equipment has been installed, offering autobaud recognition of 300/300, 1200/75, 1200/1200 or 2400/2400 baud on all dial-in lines.
In order to economise on the high running costs, the decision was taken to discontinue the local microfiche service. The service offered by ULCC appears to satisfy the great majority of users' needs, and considerable effort has been devoted to testing out facilities of the ULCC service and convenient methods of access to these from Oxford.
The principal landmarks during the year were the installation of the new disc subsystems, and the upgrade of the operating system to VMS version 5. The new discs went into user service early in November 1988. There were no unforeseen problems, and the additional filestore was available for inclusion in the annual allocation procedure which takes place in November and December.
The move from VMS version 4.7 to version 5.0 was a major step. Although most of the software was delivered during the summer of 1988, implementation was delayed by the late delivery of the Coloured Book communications software which is a vital component of the software environment. This finally arrived in December, and the change to version 5.0 was carried out on 13 December: a few problems (chiefly with Coloured Book and NFS software) were encountered, but these were successfully overcome and a smooth return to normal service effected.
A few problems remain. For a long period there was no version of MACSYMA available to run under VMS 5.0, and there is an irritating bug associated with the EDT editor. On the credit side, there are many detailed improvements in version 5, perhaps the most important to many users being the improved interface between VMS mail and Coloured Book mail. Our impression too is that the performance of the queue management, a serious concern with version 4, has been significantly improved.
New versions of Ada, APL, Fortran and Ingres were introduced with version 5. New versions of the NAG Fortran and Graphics libraries, BMDP, Genstat, Gimms, SAS and SPSSX were mounted during the period of report, and new modules for SAS and SPSSX (SAS/AF and LISREL respectively) were purchased. WordPerfect 4.2 for the VAX was also acquired and mounted on one of the VAX 11/785 systems, thus offering a VAX-based word processing service using the same software as that recommended for PCs.
The Convex system has continued to offer a stable service with few problems. The Unix operating system was upgraded twice, first to version 6.2 and subsequently to version 7.0. In early 1989 the major problems with CovueShell were finally resolved, allowing its designation as the default shell for Covue users rather than the early version of Covue with which the system had been delivered. Latterly however further incompatibilities between Covue and other Convex system software have been revealed, and with some reluctance the decision has been taken to abandon the Covue shell altogether and concentrate user support on the native Unix interface.
A number of new software products were delivered during the summer of 1989, and these are undergoing development prior to their introduction into user service. They include CX Batch, a completely new batch system for the Convex itself, Covue Batch, intended to provide an improved method of batch job submission from the VAX cluster, and Coloured Book software (file transfer but not as yet job transfer).
Transparent access from the Convex both to local VAX printers and to remote printers served from the VAX cluster has been provided.
New versions of the NAG Fortran library and Simpleplot were mounted during the year.
It is pleasant to report some expansion, however modest, in the resources allocated to microcomputer support. The Section now consists of four full-time academic-related staff, together with a manager who combines responsibility for microsystem support with publishing services, i.e. typesetting and desk-top publishing. These activities now fall within the User Services group, following a reorganisation of Service functions during 1989.
A number of new self-service facilities have been introduced: laser printing for both IBM-compatible and Macintosh environments, a format conversion system allowing users to convert between the common 5.25" and 3.5" IBM disc formats, and an Apple scanner for digitising images. All are located in the new Help Area, and are available to users whenever the building is open. During the day the Help Area advisors act as first-line help in case of problems. The laser printers are controlled by magnetic card systems, cards for which are sold in the Shop.
These facilities have been welcomed by users, and are heavily used throughout the day. They have in fact generated numerous requests for more, and more powerful, systems of the same type.
The number of site licences taken out by the University for microcomputer software is growing slowly. Increasingly these are likely to be obtained under contracts negotiated nationally by CHEST, the Combined Higher Education Software Team. Recent CHEST deals taken up include SPSS/PC+ and the NAG Workstation Library, complementing site licences for SAS/PC and GLIM which had earlier been bought with Equipment Committee funds. A site licence has also been purchased for Micro-OCP.
A new service about to come into operation is a repair scheme managed by the Computing Service. IBM-compatible PCs, the Macintosh family, BBC micros and common printers will be covered by the scheme, and other equipment may be repaired if the effort is available to tackle it. The work will be carried out by an external specialist contractor under a contract devised to meet the University's requirements. The costs of the scheme will be partially met by the Research and Equipment Committee, which has been concerned for some time over maintenance of the equipment which it funds.
As ever, the potential demand for microcomputer support continues to outstrip the facilities we are able to provide. Nevertheless the increased staff complement gives some cause for optimism, and is already showing returns in the shape of more and better services. We can but hope for more resources to be made available to the Service so that this trend can be continued.
Three new allocation groups were formed during the period: Physiology, Diabetes Research, and Biological Anthropology. There are now 43 user groupings classified as allocation groups.
With the increase in filestore which took place in November, it proved possible to satisfy user demand on the VAX cluster without major problems.
Bids for cpu time on the Convex exceeded the capacity of the system by a factor of two. If these bids were realistic, there would be considerable practical difficulties in administering the system since there is still no software for control of cpu resources, any controls having to be applied manually by Service staff. In practice however Convex users appear to be able to work satisfactorily with no more than the most informal control.
The commissioning of the new lecture room has been mentioned elsewhere. Apart from the enormous improvement in working conditions, the chief gain has been the ability to handle larger classes.
This factor was of considerable importance between January and September 1989, during which time two members of staff took maternity leave. Because of the reduced staffing levels it was not possible to give so many course modules or to introduce as many new course topics as in the previous year, but by increasing class sizes somewhat the Service succeeded in teaching much the same numbers as in the corresponding period last year. Attendances were as follows, with the numbers of course modules in parentheses:
|Introductory Courses||Special Topics|
|Mainframe||630 (56)||904 (105)|
|Microcomputer||800 (93)||692 (111)|
In total more than 3000 course attendances were recorded: the new lecture room is now in use morning and afternoon most working days, in vacation as well as in term.
New courses included additional Ingres topics, and dBase III to dBase IV conversion course. WordPerfect 5.0 has been taught instead of version 4.2 since January. Because of greater emphasis by Digital on the EVE editor, and the existence in EVE of many facilities not supported by EDT, the decision has been taken to teach EVE in the VAX introductory courses from September 1989.
Several substantial new user guides have been published during the period of report, examples being Writing DCL, Program Development, Magnetic Tape on the VAX, and the WordPerfect 5.0 user guides. User guides on microcomputer topics, especially WordPerfect, are sold in large numbers and are now printed in much larger print runs. A list of current user guides is given in Appendix B.
The Newsletter is now available on line. The format of the printed edition has been made more compact by the separation of frequently updated information, e.g. course schedules and shop prices, as loose documents.
Both ULCC and UMRCC (renamed MCC, for Manchester Computing Centre, during the year) replaced their vector supercomputers. At ULCC a Cray X-MP/28 was installed over the Christmas period, and the workload from the two Cray-1S systems transferred to it in a phased manner. At MCC an Amdahl VP1200 was installed in September 1988, and the Cyber 205 removed at Christmas. VAX/VMS front-end services have also been introduced at both centres.
The Cray services at ULCC have remained popular with Oxford users, with Class 3 usage (small projects) averaging around 4% of the Cray X-MP/28 since its arrival. In contrast, Class 3 usage of the MCC Amdahl VP1200 has been negligible.
Class 1 resources (peer-reviewed projects) are not controlled by the Computing Service, but there is substantial Class 1 usage of the Cray X-MP systems at both ULCC and the RAL Atlas Centre. There is one peer-reviewed user of the MCC VP1200.
For the allocation year beginning in July 1989 the University has been allocated 233600 shares on the ULCC Cray service. There were no requests from users for resources at MCC.
The Lasercomp typesetting service is now managed by the Microsystems and Publishing Manager as part of the mainstream User Services activities, but is reported on here for consistency with earlier Annual Reports.
The Mark 2 Lasercomp 70i was brought into service by connecting it directly on line to the VAX cluster. This provides a service, using the LASERCHECK software, essentially similar to the original service on the Mark 1 Lasercomp but with output spooled directly to the typesetter queue instead of via magnetic tape. A new laser printer proofer has been purchased, offering better quality and reliability with significantly lower running costs.
Minor problems with the Mark 2 system have been progressively resolved, and the Mark 1 system is about to be withdrawn. The service continues to be heavily used.
A change of hardware was carried out in January, with the acquisition of a Kurzweil 4000. This is a smaller and quieter system, with dramatically reduced maintenance costs. Once a few teething problems had been overcome, the new system has performed well. There has been a steady flow of work, with an average of four to five jobs completed each month and three quarters of these being from within the university community. A few commercial jobs are regularly undertaken to offset the staff costs of the KDEM service.
A trickle of orders for upgrades to version 2 of the mainframe program, and of wholly new orders for the mainframe software, is still received. Some discussions have taken place with Oxford University Press over the possibility of a further version, the design of which would be mainly influenced by the requirements of microcomputer users.
The research project funded by the British Library was completed successfully in January and the final report submitted. This focused on a number of problems with the Archive's present holdings and methods of operation, and especially on problems of copyright. The University's solicitors have been consulted on questions posed by the new Copyright Act. A new research assistantship has been set up, utilising funds attracted by this area of the Service's operation, to continue work on the provenance and state of the Archive's material.
The CTI text searching project was completed in September. The software was rewritten during the summer of 1988, with new facilities including an interface to BASIS (in addition to OCP) and the capability of displaying Cyrillic characters on screen. The software was used in courses in Italian, German and Latin during the 1988-9 academic year. In December the software was demonstrated during the course of a presentation at the CATH88 conference in Southampton, and it will be the subject of various publications.
A further Computer Board grant has been awarded, for three years beginning in April 1989, under the so-called CTI Follow-Up Centres programme. Oxford's award is for a centre in Literary and Linguistic Studies. The purpose of these centres is to act as a repository for computer-based teaching materials in identified subject areas, and a source of advice and information to academics working in these fields who wish to use computers in their teaching. It is hoped to develop the Oxford CTI centre into a longer-term and more widely based centre for humanities computing, as recommended by the Working Party on Academic Computing Services.
A course on computers in literary and linguistic research was given in Michaelmas Term, and a similar course for Modern Languages research students in Hilary Term. Members of staff have, as usual, given a number of lectures and seminars at other universities and at various meetings.
Two members of staff are participating in a major international initiative on standards for encoding of texts for scholarly purposes. This project has received funding from sources in the United States until August 1990, but is very likely to continue beyond that date.
Figures for usage and reliability for the major systems are given in Tables 1-3.
Reliability has been adequate but by no means outstanding, with several periods of worrying incidence of processor faults which have affected all of the main cluster processors. These have normally been cured by the service engineers, but on occasions the faults have disappeared with no obvious reason.
Disc faults have also been troublesome at certain times. Six head-drive assemblies were replaced during the period, five of these in a short interval during August and September 1989. Again there was no apparent reason for the sudden onset of these faults. No files were lost, as it proved possible in each case to copy the affected filestore to a spare disc and resume normal user service.
Digital now maintain a resident engineer on site, a development which we welcome not least because of the long-term relationship which can be established with the site engineer.
Reliability of the Convex has been extremely good. On one occasion there was a processor fault which took 24 hours to rectify.
This has been a difficult period for the air-conditioning system. Some six days have been lost through air-conditioning problems, roughly half due to mechanical failures or lengthy maintenance operations and half due to problems with bacterial levels in the cooling system. Discussions have been held with the Surveyor's Department on possible replacement strategies, but there seems little hope of rapid progress on this issue.
In addition there have been two power fluctuations sufficient to cause the main services to power off. The VAX cluster takes approximately two hours to reload after such a power failure.
It is noteworthy that environment failures are by some way the leading factor in causing loss of services to users, with the air-conditioning plant in particular being a cause for serious concern.
|Director||A G Robiette|
|Director's Secretary||J M Thompson|
|Systems and Operations Group|
|Group Manager||A R Gay|
|VAX/VMS Systems Manager||J T Thomason|
|Unix and Graphics Manager||J R Douglas|
|Communications Hardware Manager||G W Litchfield|
|Group Secretary||K S W Tomlinson|
|Programming Staff||M D Austen
D M L Gray
D C Hastings
K A Lewis
J M R Martin
R F Treweek
S E Treweek
|Network Controller||G B Lescott|
|Asst Network Controller||A D Kew|
A J Tregear
|Deputy Operations Manager||R I Saxton|
|Operations Controller||B H Martin|
|Operators||N M Grant
M D Hylton
E C Mahony
A F Martin
L J R McCrum
|Operations Support||N Osborn
D R Saxton
B M Thompson
|User Services Group|
|Group Manager||L Hayes|
|User Liaison Manager||C Bateman|
|Microsystems and Publishing Manager||D W Rischmiller|
|Computing in the Arts||S M Hockey|
|Group Secretary||L A Mills|
|Programming Staff (Applications)||L D Burnard
E M Crutch
D A Miles
A S Morrison
D J Rossiter
|Programming Staff (Micros and Publishing)||L P D Barnetson
S E Evans
C M Griffin
P G Higginbotham
R L Hutchings
A E Lawrence
J H Mason
L C Munro
E W Taylor
|User Liaison||R L D Rees|
|Computing in the Arts||M E Deegan
P M W Robinson
|KDEM Service||G E Cooper
A E Holl
A B Sabin
|Technical Typist||E C Hussey|
|Reception||C M Dale
M J Smith
|Library||M E Franks|
|Administrator||K A Moulden|
|Administrative Officer||A M Goudge|
|Accounts||J B McAuliffe|
|Shop||P M Cox
J B McAuliffe
J A Filmer
|Print Room||A C Hunter
|General and Cleaning Staff||J Bunce
D W F Cantell
J M Towner
W J Towner
a1.1/2 Introduction to the Computing Service
a1.2/1 Documentation Available from OUCS
a2.1/1 Glossary of VAX/VMS Terms
a3.1/2 Budgeting, Accounting and Scheduling on VAX/VMS
b1.1/2 Introduction to MS-DOS on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b1.2/2 Further Use of MS-DOS on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b2.1/1 Kermit on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b2.2/0 Kermit on BBC Microcomputers (M5.11/2)
b2.3/1 Kermit on Apple Macintosh Microcomputers
b3.1/2 Flexible-Disk Conversion Service
b3.3/1 Public-Domain Software for Microcomputers
b4.1/1 Getting Started with WordPerfect 4.2
b4.2/1 Further Use of WordPerfect 4.2
b4.3/2 Getting Started with WordPerfect 5.0
b4.4/1 Further Use of WordPerfect 5.0
b4.5/1 Word-processing facilities
b5.1/1 Graphics Cards on IBM-Compatible Microcomputers
b6.1/1 Laser-printing Facilities for IBM-Compatible Microcomputers
b6.2/1 Laserprinting Facilities for Apple Macintosh Microcomputers
c1.1/1 Getting Started on the Convex
d1.1/2 Getting Started on VAX/VMS
d1.2/1 Further Use of VAX/VMS
d1.3/1 Writing DCL
d2.1/1 Program Development
e1.1/1 Getting Started with the Editor EDT
e1.2/1 Further Use of EDT
e2.1/0 Getting Started with the Editor ECCE (G1.2/3)
e2.2/0 Creating & Editing Files, using ECCE (G1.1/2)
e3.1/1 Getting Started with the Editor EVE
f1.2/0 SIR: Scientific Information Retrieval (V3.3/1)
f2.1/1 BMDP Statistical Software
f2.2/1 Minitab: An Interactive Statistics Package
f2.3/0 PSTAT: Princeton Statistical Program (V3.4/1)
f2.4/1 SAS: Statistical Analysis System
f2.5/1 SPSS-X: A General Statistics Package
f3.1/1 CLUSTAN: Cluster Analysis Package
f3.2/1 GENSTAT: General Statistical Program
f3.3/2 GLIM: Generalised Linear Interactive Modelling
f3.4/1 MDS(X): Multidimensional Scaling Programs
f3.5/1 TSP: Time Series Processor
g1.4/1 Hewlett-Packard 7475 Plotters
g4.1/1 ASPEX: Automated Surface Perspectives
g4.2/1 GIMMS: General-Purpose Geographic Processing System
g4.3/1 SYMAP: Lineprinter Mapping
h2.1/1 FACSIMILE for Differential Equations
h2.2/1 MACSYMA: An Algebraic Manipulation Package
h2.5/1 REDUCE: An Algebraic Manipulation Package
h2.6/1 SIMAN: A Simulation Modelling Program
h3.2/1 OCP: Oxford Concordance Program
h4.1/2 LASERCHECK at OUCS
i1.1/1 VAX Cluster File Archive
i1.2/1 Restoring Files from the Old File Archive
i2.1/1 Digital VT220 Terminals
i2.3/1 Digital VT320 Terminals
i4.1/1 Magnetic Tape on the VAX
i4.2/1 Standards for Magnetic Tape Transfer
r1.1/1 VAX Network Commands
r2.1/1 The PAD: Interactive Use of Remote Computers
|Interactive||Charged Batch||Free Batch|
|4-Weeks Ending||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||% 8700||% 785|
|4-Weeks Ending||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours|