To provide basic IT infrastructure and other IT services to the whole University and College community in a cost-effective and efficient manner. OUCS focuses on those IT services that can only be or are best provided by a single provider within the University.
It believes that this has been accomplished in a most satisfactory fashion. It has maintained existing infrastructure at a very high level of availability and performance, it has responded to ever growing demand by judicious expansion and growth of facilities and services, without incurring substantial additional expenses (indeed, while keeping costs static); it has introduced new services as the need has arisen or it has been requested to do so; it has ensured that fee-for-service offerings do in fact cover their costs (overall); and it has closed down, redeployed or transformed services where need has changed. It has done this through careful attention to technological change, to changing demand, and to the needs of the University community as expressed through the large range of consultative and advisory groups which guide it.
Overall turnover for the year was £6.25 million, to which the basic General Board grant contributed £3.16 million. The balance was made up of income from the sale of services (nearly 1.5 million, with an overall surplus of just £5,000), external grants (£0.5 million), and special General Board grants for special purposes (eg the Microsoft Campus Agreement), totalling just over £1 million. Overall, OUCS had a small deficit for the year, which was covered from reserves. This was only kept modest by careful pruning of the equipment spending, and cost cutting in other areas wherever possible. Great care was taken not to defer equipment upgrades which would only create congestion or poor performance, resulting ultimately in false economies (as well as irate customers!).
The year to come, 2000/2001 will be quite difficult, as the general cuts in General Board grants will be hard to absorb, and it will almost certainly not be possible further to delay some equipment expenditures already deferred from 1999/2000.
Much discussion took place during the year, principally in the IT Committee and its General Purposes Committee, as to the funding arrangements to be put into place under Divisionalisation, from 2001/2002. In many ways, OUCS is well placed, since its finances have been scrutinised carefully several times over the past few years. In particular, services have been categorised as `core' (ie infrastructure, vital to the whole University, and so a necessary top-slice on Divisions' funds), secondary (some income is derived, but not fully self-financing — these services have now been reduced to just two), discretionary (eg trading, which are expected to be fully self-financing), and overheads (administration and other unavoidable costs, so again a necessary `tax' on each Division).
OUCS is also proud of the fact that the main general grant it receives, as a fraction of the overall turnover of the University, is the smallest of all the main UK research universities. This indicates that OUCS is the most efficient central IT unit of all these 19 universities. The University and the Divisions can take comfort in this fact, when agreeing to the OUCS grants for 2001/2002 and beyond.
As indicated above, there continues to be much growth in IT activity employing OUCS services and facilities. In some cases (eg Janet traffic), this continues at the staggering pace of doubling every year. All systems have satisfactorily withstood this assault, and there has even been a small improvement in availability and reliability of many services. This is partly a testimony to the improving performance of IT equipment, but is also attributable to the sterling efforts of many OUCS staff who keep them running in the face of faults or other problems (eg those caused by expanding workloads!), and often also to the judicious choice of equipment and software that gives long-term greater return on investment than merely the cheapest in capital terms.
The above growth in activity is unfortunately not restricted to legitimate academic activity within the University. The high profile of Oxford University, coupled with its well-developed networks, ensures that it is often the target of hacker attacks. In conjunction with many systems staff across the University and Colleges, OUCS has built up a wide repertoire of defences from such things as `denial of service' attacks, where computers outside Oxford (and usually, outside the UK) launch hordes of network queries on particular Oxford systems, which quickly overload the system's ability to cope, effectively denying it the ability to service genuine requests.
OxCERT (Oxford's Computer Emergency Response Team) is the lynchpin of these defences. These staff offer concerted responses to actual or suspected attacks, often working at the most unsociable hours, and have developed considerable skill in detecting and dealing with incidents. They also collaborate fully with similar teams elsewhere in the UK and internationally, as well (as needed) with police authorities. Their skill and diligence have kept Oxford free from the worst damages.
What is of great concern in such a diverse and distributed university as this (geographically and administratively) is the frequency with which computer systems are poorly configured or poorly administered when they are introduced to the network. It is not really possible to monitor or check for this, but the rest of the University's network (let alone the information assets of the systems concerned) is jeopardised as a consequence. The Firewall and some policies introduced with the backing of the IT Committee will help, but significant exposure remains. Those who employ such OUCS services as the Network Systems Management Service (NSMS) can rest assured that their systems are configured and maintained to the highest standards; but it is regrettable that shortages of IT staff resources, or shortcomings in training programmes, may be exposing the University unnecessarily. OUCS will continue to address this by: raising `public' awareness of the risks; promoting use of its professional services (eg NSMS); advocating and running appropriate training courses for IT staff; and bringing its concerns to the political arena, to ensure that the University as a whole is aware of the dangers.
This has been the first year of the scheme, introduced following the 1996/7 Review of OUCS, whereby those departments in receipt of RAWP funding could opt not to use the OUCS Help Desk and receive a portion of OUCS' grant. Several departments opted out, and OUCS funds were reduced by over £90,000 in total.
The scheme has had mixed success. Those departments which opted out have received their funds, and made their own arrangements for dealing with the increase in user queries. Several have indicated they find the arrangement satisfactory. Inevitably, the resource has rarely been sufficient to deal with all the queries, but that is as much due to the general increase in use of IT, the increase in complexity of IT systems, and perhaps the increasing adventurousness of users, as to the passing of workload from OUCS.
From the OUCS perspective, the scheme has not really been of any benefit. Although its funds have been reduced, it has not been able to reduce its costs (partly because so many of them are fixed, and partly because the costs the Review Committee used in the first place were quite crude estimates), and indeed OUCS incurred additional expense in administering the scheme. Morale has also been affected, among OUCS staff and among disgruntled users who have to be turned away. The only success seems to be the ease with which the undergraduate enquiry load has been able to be absorbed by the Colleges. There has been a decline in use of the Help Desk, but that only continues a trend already established — and this obscures the fact that the degree of difficulty of the queries that are brought has increased substantially.
A fuller discussion of the factors and issues involved in this scheme can be found in the body of this Report, but it does seem clear that a radical overhaul or abandonment of the scheme will be necessary. Indeed, the new funding arrangements under Divisionalisation will require such a change.
OUCS continues to be committed to the provision of IT training widely within the University. Ultimately, this is the only proper way to address the difficulties with IT systems which users invariably encounter (and which are addressed by the above Help Desk arrangements, and their equivalent within departments and colleges). Unlike the Help Desk, training addresses these problems at their root.
In addition, this training provides the means for students to acquire transferable skills, now a national (Dearing) as well as local (North Commission) priority. And it helps fulfil the University's responsibility as an employer towards appropriate training for its employees.
It is to be regretted that some courses had to be curtailed somewhat during this year, due to staff shortages and redirection. This was partly due to the urgent need to establish a training regime for IT staff throughout the University, which has proved very popular and highly effective. It is to be hoped that the University will soon agree properly to fund this activity, rather than have it impact on more general IT training (but equally important in the long run).
Overall, all OUCS staff contribute in a myriad of vital ways to the mission of the University of Oxford, and tribute must be paid to their consistently valuable efforts. OUCS is also grateful for the high degree of cooperation which others within the University and Colleges who also provide IT services accord us. We also do believe that we must and do operate in partnership with academic and other colleagues, rather than `merely' as servants (though we do also believe in a service-oriented approach to our work).
Some members of staff have been recognised for their achievements outside Oxford, which underscores the quality and value of the staff OUCS employs. An example of this is one member of staff who was the recipient of a `Special Recognition Award' from the TeX Users' Group; he was awarded a specially commissioned, nicely framed cartoon by the Californian artist Duane Bibby displaying his TeX-related achievements over the last 15 years.
One staff member was seconded to the Registrar's Office during much of 1999 to coordinate University-wide efforts to minimise the impact of Year 2000 problems. Of course, OUCS itself undertook careful analysis of its systems to ensure there would be continuous operation over the year-end, prepared and published advice and instructions on Y2K issues generally (especially regarding personal computers), and made arrangements for staff to be on stand-by over the year-end itself in case of unforseen difficulties. In the event, the year change proceeded almost without incident, no doubt in part due to the efforts of everyone concerned to deal with potential problems. In retrospect, the potential impact seems to have been over-hyped, but anything other than a fully professional approach before the event would have been irresponsible.
There continues to be a significant turnover in the OUCS staff complement. To some extent, this is only to be expected in the IT industry, and OUCS rates are not noticeably higher than the average, though salaries generally are quite a bit lower than industry norms. This loyalty must be due to the fact that the University environment provides an interesting and challenging place to work, and also to OUCS' commitment to training, career development, recognition of merit (limited though that has to be), and general staff support.
It must, however, again be said that OUCS is in some areas critically dependent on the skills and goodwill of a few key individuals to maintain some of its most important core services. Although OUCS undertakes risk assessment exercises from time to time, it remains true that the risk of not being able to back up or replace such staff remains one of the greatest risks.
Overall, there continues to be a small growth in staff numbers from year to year. This is caused by the growth in externally funded or self-financing systems, or in a few cases by OUCS being asked by the University to `host' some staff (eg those shared between several humanities faculties). This continues to put pressure on the accommodation at 7-19 Banbury Road We still have some basements that are capable of being made habitable, and there is room for expansion on the roof of the computer room, but such increases in accommodation will require much advance planning and will, we assume, be costly (although they do add to the fabric of the University). So consideration must be given now to how this need is to be addressed.
We said farewell to Sue Brooks as Assistant Director (Distributed Computing) at the end of the year (she moved to Sussex University as Director of Electronic Services); however, we were able to welcome John Jenkins (formerly IT Manager at the Said Business School) as her replacement not long afterwards.
Although it fell outside the reporting period for this Report, it should be noted that the Director, Alex Reid, announced his resignation, effective 24-Nov-00, in order to take up a post at the University of Western Australia (where, in Perth, he will be able to rejoin the bulk of his family). It is to be hoped that the University is able to recruit a suitable replacement before long, as technological, structural and financial developments will not stand still!
Alex has many regrets in leaving Oxford, having really enjoyed his seven years here. He is very grateful to all who have assisted, supported and encouraged him during this seven years, especially all the staff of OUCS. He wishes OUCS and Oxford University every success in the future.
The connection of the University network to Janet (SuperJanet3) is provided by means of a 34 Mbps ATM link shared with Oxford Brookes. Outgoing traffic bandwidth is set by UKERNA (which operates Janet) on the instruction of JISC at 8Mbps. The incoming bandwidth is unconstrained, except by the effective 25Mbps capacity of the line (and the capacity consumed by Brookes (which has risen to as high as 30% of Oxford's at times).
It is noteworthy that the patterns of usage of incoming and outgoing traffic through the day are remarkably similar, indicting activity matched to a UK work cycle [figures 3 & 4]. The peaks and troughs of activity on incoming traffic are predictable (the troughs being in the early hours of the morning when Oxford users are at their quietest). But the fact that the outgoing traffic follows much the same pattern suggests it too is being largely generated by Oxford users, rather than by, say, American surfers devouring Oxford's Web pages!
UKERNA's contract with Cable & Wireless for Janet (SuperJanet3) expires at the end of March 2001. Considerable effort, coordinated by JISC, has been expended nationally to develop a replacement. Comprehensive Spending Review funds were secured to ensure a capital injection sufficient to be able to control ongoing costs. The general principle was expounded (though not actually made compulsory) that Janet henceforth would be responsible for interconnecting regional networks (which usually have the misnomer `MANs').
OUCS undertook investigations, in conjunction with Oxford Brookes and UKERNA, to determine the most effective way for Oxford to be connected to this proposed national backbone. At one time, it appeared possible that Oxford might consider joining the proposed MAN Lense (covering the area bounded by Guildford, Southampton and Brighton). However, this made no real sense (economically or otherwise), since Oxford's traffic is national and international, not regional.
Ultimately, UKERNA agreed to develop a `Thames Valley Network', with a connection to the backbone at Reading, and providing for the two Oxford universities, together with Reading and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. UKERNA is providing the funds, from its national budget, and is managing the acquisition and installation (and possibly its ongoing operation). Tenders were called, and the contract awarded to Scottish and Southern Electric, which will provide 622Mbps lines interconnecting the 3 sites (thus providing valuable resilience, as well as a useful direct link between Oxford and RAL). These will be installed in January 2001. A valuable feature of the contract is the ability to upgrade at modest cost to 2.5Gbps circuits within 2 years if needed. The links to be provided will be based on DWDM technology, as for Janet itself.
- If Parkinson's Law continues to hold (capacity is consumed at whatever level it is provided), then there may be concerns about the ability of internal networks to cope; the new Backbone (see below) is timely, but may need a `mid-term upgrade' earlier than expected; the biggest bottleneck may prove to be departmental or college networks, some of which are still operating at 10Mbps;
- The current technology employed in the Oxford Firewall is unlikely to be able to cope if traffic does grow to fill the 622Mbps lines; much of Oxford's defences against hacker attack are dependent on this device; it may be very expensive to upgrade it to technology capable of keeping pace with this level of traffic volume growth;
- If the proportion of trans-Atlantic traffic remains much the same (about 40-50% of the total incoming traffic), as seems likely, then there could be a dramatic increase in the charges Oxford is levied by JISC (see below); in any case, because of Oxford's relatively well-developed network, it is likely to be able to ramp up its usage faster than most other HEIs — with charges based on relative shares of traffic, this could increase Oxford's charge substantially (the only redeeming factor is that, if charges continue to be based on the previous year's usage, there will be a lag before this increased usage translates into increased charges).
Traffic patterns will need to be carefully monitored once TVN is installed so as to be ready to deal with such problems before they become critical. OUCS has also been investigating the possibility of obtaining a secondary Internet connection from a commercial provider, to which it might endeavour to divert much recreational traffic; at this stage, this does not really seem to be cost-effective, but is being kept under review.
It is very difficult to know how these charges may vary in future. The present arrangement has a number of anomalies (eg see above), which are certain to be redressed before long. During the year, JISC undertook a consultation exercise to seek opinion from the HE community; Oxford responded to this, among other things pressing for continued (or greater) top-slicing; it is thought that around 50% of the community also pressed for top-slicing model. However, there was a considerable divergence of opinion on other related matters, with a vocal minority seeking full cost recovery based on actual current usage. Furthermore, it is understood that the Funding Councils are very much against further top-slicing. JISC has as yet given little indication how it will respond to the quest for an improved cost-recovery model.
For 2001/2002, indications are that charges will be formulated in the same way as for 2000/2001. It seems very likely that, subsequently, charges will take into account all incoming traffic, not just trans-Atlantic traffic (originally, this was the fastest-growing component of Janet's costs, but this is no longer the case). It is also not clear whether the present incentive to use the national cache will remain in the longer term. This is something that OUCS will continue to monitor and influence as best it can [figure 7].
The hardware used for this, the Acedirector, routes requests to one of the seven proxy servers which are connected to it, which themselves pass on requests to the national cache. Domains within the UK will be requested directly.
During Hilary Term, about 55 million requests for Web objects were handled by the cache farm each week. During Trinity this increased to over 60 million per week. The amount of data served to Web browsers per week was 350 megabytes in Hilary, and 400 megabytes in Trinity [figures 8, 9 & 10]. Approximately 25% of the data requested by local Web clients is served from the local caches.
Gigabit Ethernet does not have the same degree of intrinsic resilience as FDDI, so care was taken to design a configuration that offered similar security. The network was progressively deployed during the year, and has proceeded with minimal difficulties, and almost no disruption to traffic. At year end, there were still about 25% of networks to be transferred. The target for completion, December 2000, seems likely to be met.
As far as the geographic distribution of the backbone is concerned [figure 15], there has only been very modest development this year. In any event, resources have been devoted very substantially to deployment of the Gigabit Ethernet [figure 16].
For the longer term, OUCS has no plans to reduce or abandon this service, which a few universities appear to be doing. In such a case, users would have to dial-up another ISP and gain connection that way. Economically, this makes some sense; however, the chief impediment is that access to many electronic resources is governed by the IP address of the user. Dialling-up OUCS ensures it is within Oxford, whereas dialling up an external ISP would result in access being barred. Since Oxford has probably the largest collection of electronic resources in the country, this is a much greater factor for us than most others.
- Domain Name Server (DNS)
- Email relay server
- Network time server
- Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) service
- Web cache (discussed above)
- Web server
- Email POP and IMAP servers
- Network News server
- Mailing List server
- File backup and archive server (Hierarchical File Store, HFS)
- Windows Internet name server
- Novell Directory Services (NDS) tree server
There are now 10,000 users on Herald. Performance and availability remain excellent. The IMAP/POP service had two outages: one for a scheduled reboot of the cluster nodes to avoid a problem that occurs in that vintage of Linux kernel when 497 days uptime is reached; the other when the memory and disk controller of one IMAP server both failed and the node needed replacing with a warm spare. There was also one WING outage (the web-mail gateway) on a separate occasion. The amount of disk store available was increased to allow for a larger allocation to staff users.
http://www.ja.net/usenet/- out of date). The primary server is at Rutherford and the secondary one at ULCC. This service continues to be extremely reliable. The amount of news received by news.ox.ac.uk has stayed relatively constant, with an average of 168,000 messages being received per day [figures 27 & 28]. This is approximately half a gigabyte in volume. The average number of client connections to the server was 7,829 per day, but peaked at over 11,500 per day during term [figure 29]. At the end of July 2000 the server was carrying about 5,200 newsgroups in 50 different hierarchies.
By July 2000, it was acting as Web server for 108 domains — mostly colleges and departments within the University, with addresses of the form `www.department.ox.ac.uk'. Weekly hits rose to a fairly stable average of 3 million, peaking to 5.6 million one week [figure 32]. It holds the home pages of 1800 users, and holds 325,000 web pages in all, totalling 10 Gbytes. Of that, 14,000 pages totalling 300 Mbytes make up the OUCS Web hierarchy [figure 31].
Analysis of the workload showed that the `desktop' service and the `departmental/college server' service were approximately equal so in July 2000 an RS6000/M80 was installed to take over the `server' workload with the `desktop' service to remain on the H70. The intention was also for the M80 to take over running the ADSM Archive/HSM server, transferring it from one of the original R40s [figures 35 & 36].
The archival repository holdings grew steadily in terms of new projects and data stored with the major holding continuing to be dominated by the Celtic and Mediaeval Manuscripts pilot. This five year project which came to a close this summer had archived 4.5TB data comprising more than 140,000 valuable images.
Consideration is now being given to the consolidation of the Sable workload onto Ermine, possibly in summer 2001. Thereafter, it may be worth moving the whole workload onto a PC-based system, which would be much more economical to operate. However, that will depend on the level of demand for an ongoing Unix service.
The number of users on Ermine has decreased from 8,000 to 7,000 as more email-only users migrate to Herald. During the year, Ermine has had a few outages: some for hardware reasons (replacing a faulty memory card and a firmware upgrade) and the others for similar reasons to Sable's outages.
For both Sable and Ermine, the POP protocol email service has given endless trouble, so it is planned to discontinue that service, with users being urged to either convert to IMAP protocol or move to Herald as the POP server (the service on that computer is more robust). In general, the POP protocol is deprecated in favour of IMAP, which supports much greater mobility.
The computer room is staffed from 08:00 until 22:00 each weekday. Operations staff are responsible for all operational duties associated with the large number of computers and network equipment housed there. This includes the central Unix computers, the HFS and its robot tape library, all the network servers, the servers for the OUCS departmental network (including teaching and public area computers) and servers associated with the NSMS service. In addition, OUCS houses (a limited form of Facilities Management) various major computers belonging to other University departments and units; these include the large supercomputers housed on behalf of Oscar and the Materials Department, the main OLIS Library and other library systems, servers for Central Administration and the Bioinformatics system.
In addition to standard operational services, the evening operations staff also provide a degree of help to users in the Work Area. Evening staff consist of one permanent employee plus a collection of casual staff, mostly drawn from the ranks of postgraduates.
This service is based around a walk-in `surgery' run 3 afternoons a week, with experts on hand to answer any and all queries. These range from detailed advice on what computer to purchase, assistance in using supported software packages, recovery of files from a corrupted disk, diagnosis of failing software, recovery following a virus attack, diagnosis and repair of networking problems on PCs, etc.
The service is not available to undergraduates or to staff from departments that have opted out of using the OUCS Help services (except for IT staff). The advice service is provided at all times to IT staff by phone and email, rather than in person. Staff will not normally make visits to users' sites, but users are expected to bring their computers with them if they are needed to resolve the problem (this is not often the case).
Equipment is available in the Personal Computing consulting area for demonstrations, etc. Increasingly, advice is consolidated and placed on the Web. The Personal Computing pages are now very extensive (see /pcsupport/). In addition, special attention is given to advising and helping IT staff, so that they are better equipped to deal with queries from users locally. This includes the above preparation of material, individual advice, delivering of seminars (see section 6), responding to queries on mailing lists and via that medium on reporting new initiatives, information and guidance of a general nature. We are endeavouring to log some of this advice and guidance, so that a better picture of needs can be built up, follow-up can be more assured, referrals can be more seamless and some idea gained of how demand is distributed across the University.
Infections, sometimes severe, have continued to occur across the University, though there is no particular pattern to them [figure 45]. The most severe which have emerged this year are based around email attachments of Microsoft Office documents or Windows scripts. In many cases they exploit Microsoft Outlook email facilities, if installed and in use, to facilitate their rapid propagation.
They continue to grow in sophistication. It should be noted that we only have records of those virus infections which are reported; and that the reporting may actually occur some time after the infection (as some viruses sleep for some time before activating). It is very important that all virus infections be reported, so that patterns, trends, warnings, etc can be derived.
OUCS continues to offer a personal computer upgrade service. Advice is given on the best means of increasing the performance or functionality of PCs and Macs, as often substantial improvements can be made with minimal investment. Where requested, upgrades can be undertaken by OUCS in-house, at cost. Similarly, some repairs (for unmaintained equipment) can be undertaken in-house, again, on a cost-recovery basis. However, OUCS would recommend the maintenance service (see above) as a more effective solution to the personal computer breakdown risk. Numbers have remained stable [figure 51].
As one example of the repairs that are undertaken, the most traumatic type for the user is when a machine that has been switched to accept 110 volts mains supply, is subjected to 240 volts. Alternatively, a properly adjusted 240 volt machine can be inadvertently switched to the lower voltage. In one recent case, the operating system had been corrupted by an application; the user panicked and decided to alter the position of every switch he could find in an endeavour to restore normal operation, including the 110/240 volts switch. Thus the machine experienced 240 volts mains fed into a newly switched 110 volts power supply. In such a case, the power supply responds with a loud retort, often accompanied by a smell of burning plastic and a small amount of smoke. Unfortunately the damage does not usually end there as the supply is unable to keep the excess voltage to itself. The system board and other components are at risk from permanent damage.
The OUCS Shop sells a wide range of computer items, ranging from personal computers (Macs and several ranges of PCs to suit all pockets and needs), through peripherals (eg printers and Ethernet cards), to software and documentation. Of course, the Shop takes advantage of the special pricing negotiated as national deals for the HE sector. In addition, it has been possible to negotiate improvements on these deals from some suppliers. The rise in the sale of Ethernet cards witnessed last year continues.
The Shop also provides the vehicle for making available all the site-licensed and bulk-purchased software, with most of it now supplied on CD-ROM rather than floppy disk: media copying for the most part is undertaken in-house [figure 55]. Details of all items for sale through the Shop, together with price lists, can be seen at /shop/.
In addition to normal `retail' activities conducted within the Shop's physical premises just inside the door of 13 Banbury Road, OUCS also undertakes personal purchasing for recipients of Humanities equipment grants; this often requires non-standard hardware and software, with special efforts made to locate, price and acquire such special items.
- in the past, various activities for which the Shop provides a `retail' facility for other parts of OUCS (eg some software trading, user registration fees) have been bundled with the Shop's turnover, but efforts have been made to extract as much of that activity as possible;
- the cost of computer hardware continues to fall, thus turnover and profit will fall with it;
- the mark-up on computer hardware is becoming smaller and smaller as suppliers squeeze their own margins; this in turn reduces our margins;
- the decline in special purchasing for humanities is probably brought about by increased confidence in that sector in undertaking the purchases themselves; this activity has always struggled to `break even', and has been treated as a subsidised service to the University (like the central Purchasing Office, which also does not cover its costs);
- the change to the HelpDesk (especially as it affects undergraduate students) has resulted in a decline in traffic into the OUCS buildings, so this will have had an impact on sales;
- the prominence given to a number of new computer retailers in Oxford will also probably have had a negative impact on trade;
- more and more students are arriving at Oxford having already purchased a PC; this has resulted, for instance, in a high level of sales of Ethernet cards, but of course these are much less costly than PCs;
- the introduction of the Microsoft Campus Agreement has seen the number of Select licences issued fall from 3,350 in 98/99 to 902 in 99/00; the Select deal provides a healthy margin on sales, whereas the Campus Agreement provides no margin; this has also impacted sales turnover and margins.
Clearly such trends bear careful monitoring, and the Shop will be reviewing its operations to ensure that, even if the volume of trade declines, it still is able to pay for itself; its current level of reserves will allow it to make modest deficits such as this year's.
OUCS undertakes a variety of activities designed to make the acquisition of software (primarily) for personal computers more straightforward and less costly. The various arrangements it has made probably save the University hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.
Nevertheless, the savings have already been very substantial: if all copies that have been installed were to be paid for at Select rates, the cost would have about doubled; note that the cost in the years prior to this Agreement had shown substantial year-on-year growth, so that growth has now been halted. In addition, there is the very real saving in staff time keeping meticulous track of issued licences; and there is the benefit of eliminating the risk of piracy of these products taking place within the University.
The second arrangement, which has been in place now for about 5 years, uses a special grant made to OUCS to purchase site licences for various appropriate software products. A committee appointed by the IT Committee oversees this expenditure, to ensure that it matches academic needs, that it continues to represent good value for money, and that the benefit is experienced by all disciplines within the University.
It too has been a most successful scheme, and small increments in the amount of funding have allowed more and more software to be acquired this way (and accommodated some inevitable price rises), though requests continue to outstrip the available funding. One case in point is the desire for a site licence for Endnote (bibliographic software); however, despite substantial efforts both locally and nationally, we have not yet been able to persuade the supplier to offer a realistic deal. We depend to a large extent on national deals arranged by the CHEST. The only cost to the user is for the media on which the software is supplied.
- P-Counter Maintenance — all updates and support for the P-Counter printer accounting software — maintenance renewable yearly;
- MapInfo GIS mapping software — this includes maintenance until 24-Aug-03;
- Maple Home-Use Licence — enables all staff and students to install a copy of the Maple software on a personal machine — renewable yearly;
- MathType — tool to generate mathematical notation — this includes maintenance until 31-Jul-03.
- Adobe Indesign (publishing package), GoLive (tool for generating web sites), and Premier (video editing package) — now included in our Adobe agreement;
- Visio diagramming tool — now available under a volume purchase deal and under the Microsoft Select deal (licences vary);
- SSH Secure Shell client & server software — software with SSH protocol for encrypted terminal connections and secure file transfer over the Internet — free education site licence obtained;
- Multiplex v1.4 (remote control of networked PCs) and Perfect Screens v3.4 (desktop management facility) — site licence (perpetual).
- SPSS statistical software — the CHEST/SPSS agreement was renewed in December 1999 to cover the SPSS products until December 2004. The new agreement includes unlimited Unix servers and more modules for PC, such as Data Entry Builder, Answer Trees, and Trial Run. The PC products for the SPSS agreement are part of the Site Licence Scheme.
- NAG Fortran, Graphics & C Libraries — the CHEST/NAG agreement was renewed in July 2000 to cover the NAG Libraries until July 2005. The NAG Libraries are also funded under the Site Licence Scheme.
OUCS offers a very cost-effective maintenance service for the Ethernet network hardware used by most departments and colleges, which has continued to expand during the year. It utilises a board-replacement arrangement, so that networks can be restored rapidly and then the boards repaired, if appropriate, off-line. Details can be found at /network/lan/
This service (NSMS) is a facilities management service that has been established to meet a growing demand in Departments and Colleges for managed Client/Server networks. The Service draws on the expertise that OUCS staff have with PCs, Macs and network servers, particularly Novell Netware, Windows NT, Sun Solaris and Linux servers. The NSMS staff set up, update, and troubleshoot file servers, supporting Windows / Windows 95 & 98 / Windows NT/2000, DOS and Macintosh applications, on a Departmental or College network. The service will also support the configuration of workstations which are either stand alone, or connected to the University's network and possibly to a fileserver. The expertise of the support staff enables them to provide a high level of service at a price far below other alternatives. The NSMS staff work closely with existing IT staff within the department or college, and, by taking on responsibility for critical central services, free them to deal with other pressing issues. Details of all these services can be seen at /nsms/.
NSMS must charge for its services. The fees charged are very modest by commercial standards as they do not include full cost recovery or profit. The basic server management service is subsidised by the General Board for humanities faculty users, since they have not been funded to enable the level of cost associated with these specialist services to be met.
This service is steadily expanding and is provided by 6 full time members of staff. It currently has service agreements with 23 departments and 10 colleges and associated institutions, involving the support of 25 servers and approximately 250 workstations. Netware, Windows NT and Unix servers are being supported and the workstations use either Windows NT, 98, 95 or MacOS. These facilities are supporting a staff and student population of approximately 4,400.
The development of a Web server facility, which had just been started last year, has been completed. It is intended to complement the freely available Web service that has been provided by OUCS as a general service to all departments and colleges for some time as this provides only
limited server facilities. The NSMS Web server provides a flexible, securely managed server offering both a Windows NT and a Unix Apache Web server environment. It provides a very full range of facilities for the presentation of Web pages, supporting full CGI scripting, Active Server Pages technology and database support, amongst many other things. It is therefore a valuable complement to the existing, more limited Web server service provided by OUCS. Amongst the 9 sites from different departments and colleges currently being supported are the Modern History Faculty and, in particular, the Gunpowder, Compass and Printing Press teaching site, the Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language and the Theology Faculty Teaching Resources. It is also supporting the University Museum of Natural History Specimen Catalogues site that is still under construction.
One other new service introduced by NSMS this year is the `holiday cover' service, which is already proving very popular (see /nsms/#Holiday-Service). NSMS staff become familiar with local systems that are normally managed by local IT staff, and can then give cover during periods of absence. This is especially relevant to those departments and colleges that only have one IT staff member.
OUCS has a specialised Unit that undertakes custom construction of microprocessor-controlled equipment for a variety of science and medical departments. This service includes the analysis of needs for experimental control and other devices, identification of suitable off-the-shelf equipment where it is available, or the design and construction where no suitable equipment is available. This can involve building from the printed circuit board and micro-chip level up, as well as the development, often, of specialised software. The unit is involved in consultations with University members on PC and data acquisition topics and C programming, as well as continuing to build on its professional competence in hardware development systems.
- the visible Help Desk, providing general advice and assistance;
- the specialised microcomputing `surgeries' (see 5.1);
- help in certain key application areas, where access to specialist expertise is especially important — this includes statistical computing (complementing the Statistics Department Consultancy service), database design and use, some specialised graphics applications, and use of national data collections;
- general efforts across OUCS to provide advice and assistance in using OUCS facilities; this sometimes takes the form of face-face consulting, but is dominated by preparation of Web-based information and advice (as well as some training course preparation);
- responding to problems which appear to be caused by faults in OUCS facilities;
- a moderate amount of help provided by the computer room operations staff after hours;
- providing virus advice and help — see 5.2 (this of course should never have been included in the cost of the `Help Desk', but is a relic of the rather imprecise process that the Review Committee employed).
This year was marked by being the first year of the new regime whereby those departments in receipt of RAWP-formula funding from the General Board could opt-out of the OUCS Help services, and receive some of OUCS' funding; except for IT staff, all staff and students (undergrad and postgrad) were required to seek help from local IT staff. In addition, all undergraduates were excluded. The scheme has had decidedly mixed results.
Out of 24 eligible departments, 10 opted out; these were Chemistry, Clinical departments, Computing Laboratory, Engineering Science, Human Anatomy, Mathematical Institute, Pathology, Pharmacology, Physics, and Plant Sciences. In February 2000, Human Anatomy opted back in. For 2000/2001 (starting on 1-Aug-00), one more department (Earth Sciences) has indicated it will opt out. Another (a Social Science) had planned to do so, but it became obvious that this was not possible, owing to the paucity of information in the University Card database — it is not possible to identify postgrad students from this one department, because they are identified only by faculty; accordingly, the IT Committee ruled that the department could not opt out.
There has actually been a significant cost to OUCS to implement the scheme: it had to acquire equipment and software to enable rapid checks on eligibility to be carried out; it had to establish a `vetting station' prior to the Help Desk to check on eligibility (to avoid the situation where someone queues for ages only to find they are not eligible — actually, this desk has also been able to deal with various minor queries). There has also been a significant impact on staff morale — these folk have for years been trained and equipped to be of help wherever they can, and it disturbs them to be prevented from doing so. There has also been some loss of goodwill, as inevitably, some users had not realised or been told that their departments had opted out, and get understandably peeved when turned away.
Of course, there has been a significant decline in numbers of enquiries. On the other hand, this actually just continues a trend already observed, so it may be incorrect to attribute this to the new arrangements. Furthermore, there has been a noticeable increase in the complexity and difficulty of the queries that have been received (coupled, perhaps, with an increase in the numbers of problems brought by IT staff). As a result (and because of the way staff resources are employed by the Help Desk), the cost of OUCS (setting aside the above start-up costs) has not appreciably declined.
It is to be regretted that due to the pressure of work in other areas (eg updating the Registration database, on which authorisation to use most OUCS services depends), it was not possible during the year to make much progress on refining the Help Desk software (AHD). This is necessary if we are to leverage the information (on types of problem, types of user) which is now being collected to improve or redirect services elsewhere in OUCS, to make it available outside OUCS, or (most importantly) incorporate email enquiries into it.
The registration service not only registers all users for the various OUCS services that require it (increasingly, offering Web interfaces so that the process can be self-service), but also ensures that OUCS has current and correct data on staff, students, visitors, etc from the University Offices, and maintains OUCS' own database of individuals. It also assists users with queries relating to their accounts, eg passwords, email quotas, disk quotas, expiry and renewal dates, etc. The numbers of accounts held on OUCS services continues to grow, though there has now been some moderation to this growth (not surprisingly, since now such a high percentage of the University population makes use of our services) [figure 59].
During the year the Registration section provided staff to run the Help Desk `front desk' (see 6.1), and were able to combine this with addressing some of the simpler Registration queries (often resolved by pointing to the relevant Web information pages).
It also undertook the bulk pre-registration of all new undergraduates, issuing them with email addresses to use upon their arrival, and this went very smoothly. The cooperation of the colleges in issuing these in a secure fashion to students as they arrived is appreciated. It is a shame that one college still insists on issuing its own email addresses.
The Registration section has also been working on providing `fast track' facilities to IT staff; this year a system was introduced, which seems to have been very effective, for giving preferential treatment to IT staff Registration requests (eg `please change the password for this user, who has forgotten it').
A completely new Registration system was introduced, which will scale better, be more maintainable, and allow introduction of various other facilities for IT staff to manage their users themselves more effectively. It included a complete upgrade of all housekeeping tasks, the Sable/Ermine printing daemon, a Web interface, and a new security regime.
Work has also been undertaken on the framework for a secure and maintainable mailing list for IT staff, with a suitable Web management interface. The replacement (or rather, augmentation) of the informal IT Support SIG mailing list by something that is more formal (moderated, secure, up-to-date, complete) has been long awaited, but the above work should enable that to happen fairly soon.
As indicated under Training below, OUCS is committed to providing a range of special services in support of distributed IT staff, to more fully implement a seamless hierarchy of IT support services throughout the University. Special training offerings is but one element of this. OUCS is also striving to offer them an enhanced or streamlined range of services. Some of these are discussed below.
We have implemented arrangements for `fast-track' access to the Registration services for registered ITSS. This appears to be working satisfactorily, though some improvements in feedback are being developed.
Much effort has also been devoted to developing the IT Support Staff Register; this has proved to be rather more complex than had been anticipated, because it is vital to put satisfactory mechanisms in place to ensure updates (additions, deletions, movements, etc) are as up to date as possible, and to implement automated processes for keeping the mailing lists up to date. It was close to completion by the end of this reporting year.
OUCS has always been very supportive of the ITSS Annual Conference (the 5th), which this year was held in the University Museum and Keble College. Once again this proved to be well-attended and a great success, and overall received high rankings in evaluations. OUCS is involved on a peer-peer basis in helping with the organisation, and also provides certain administrative services. Of course, several OUCS staff members gave presentations or led workshops.
OUCS publishes a variety of information, in several formats. It includes publicity leaflets describing each main service offered by OUCS (these are widely distributed, especially among students, at the start of each academic year), training course notes (issued to all course attendees), the IT News printed and Web-based newsletter, and a very extensive range of Web pages describing OUCS facilities and services, and general advice on good practice in IT use. Some 14,000 Web page are currently published by OUCS.
The beginning of the year saw the complete change of staff in this area. By October the work was being undertaken by an Information Manager and a Technical Writer/Co-ordinator. These staff call on or endeavour to assist and coordinate the range of other OUCS staff involved in the provision of information to users.
OUCS works closely with the UNIS Steering Group, and the University Offices' Webmaster. Meetings of relevant Webmasters have been set up to ensure consistency and to avoid duplication, and resolve any `demarcation' issues.
OUCS information publication activities are increasingly focussed on the Web. During the year, a comprehensive overhaul of University IT Information Web pages took place, in conjunction with UNIS and the University Offices' Webmaster. In particular, the pages under www.ict.ox.ac.uk were rewritten to fit in with the new design for the University home page.
Many pages previously under `info.ox.ac.uk' were moved to www.ict.ox.ac.uk. The `info.ox.ac.uk' address is being removed. The ITSS web pages are now available under www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ITSSinfo/training The OUCS training course dates and descriptions are now available dynamically with links to other information.
One of the biggest problems when running a large Web site is the management of that information. During the year the Perforce software was installed for this purpose. This allows pages to be tracked and a history to be kept. With a Web site as large and complex as that constructed by OUCS, and with responsibility for parts of it spread over so many people, the added formality and structure that compliance with such a system brings is a small price to pay to bring significant improvements in currency and coherence.
Another complication of such a large Web site is finding the required information. New search facilities have been installed at both the University and the OUCS level to ensure that they work efficiently and give appropriate lists of findings.
Work has started to convert all OUCS Web pages to XML; this will improve again the maintainability and consistency of the OUCS Website. However, it is a major undertaking, and the process of conversion will continue for the next year or two.
An increasing amount of attention is now being given to improving access for those with disabilities to the information about OUCS that is made available on the Web. The OUCS Web pages have been scanned for unsuitable constructions, using such software as `Bobby' (see http://www.cast.org/bobby/). Improvements have been made, and more is planned.
Another Web tool aimed at improving accessibility that OUCS has employed is Betsie, which will derive a text-only version of a Website (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/betsie). This enables those with text-speech converters to make more sense of the Web material, as well as those with simpler browsers.
As indicated above, OUCS shares responsibility for some general University Web pages with central administration, and collaborates with the central Webmaster, as well as with the UNIS Steering Group (University Networked Information System).
The UNIS Steering Group organised a competition to generate ideas for changing the appearance of the University's home page, to avoid it getting stale. However, it was not thought that any of the entries were sufficiently different or captivating to effect a change just yet.
The University's Web site has grown to become a remarkable catalogue of current information about the University and its work. The importance of this `window in time' became apparent to OUCS and to the Computer Archiving Group, and with the sanction of the UNIS Steering Group OUCS undertook some experiments to see how a snapshot copy of the whole Website could be taken. These were sufficiently promising to warrant this actually being done, late in the year. This may well become an annual event, to give also a time series picture of Oxford University.
- Introductory leaflets were produced again for Michaelmas 1999; these proved useful both to inform people about details of specific services, and to generally advertise the services offered.
- User Guides are written and printed for the courses. As mentioned above the number produced during the year was significantly reduced due to staff shortages; however, many are being re-written during the summer of 2000. It is planned to place them on the Web after they have been printed.
- IT News is produced nine times a year and circulated to all departments and colleges — it is also available on the Web (see www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/it/news).
- Most advertising is done at the end of September, at the beginning of January and again about Easter time. Introductory Leaflets are circulated, as well as a Shop Price Lists and Training Course dates.
- Advertising also takes place through the various University publications such as the prospectuses, departmental information for students, staff development brochures, OUSU booklets, University diary, and so on. These are continually updated as requested. It is hoped that the new publication (Oxford Blueprint) which the University will circulate to all staff, will also prove useful. It is a vexing problem knowing how best to contact particular sectors of Oxford University.
- Posters distributed during the year advertising the ECDL proved popular, as had others when special summer courses had been run in the past. Further posters are being developed for the new academic year to help with the advertising of the training facilities in particular.
OxTALENT was established in June 1997 to promote the more effective use of IT in learning and teaching at Oxford University. It provides a forum for staff members to interact with each other and to learn about how to enhance learning and teaching through the effective use of IT. In particular it does this by bringing leading exponents of the art from around the University, and from other universities (some from overseas), to lead seminars or deliver lectures.
An email discussion list keeps those who join informed on news and events. The OxTALENT Web site is a vehicle for disseminating and accessing information across the subject areas, locally and globally, and can be found at http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/oxford/groups/oxtalent.
OxTALENT is overseen by an informal steering group, which draws its members from academic departments and the support services throughout the University. OUCS provides one full-time staff member to act as executive officer for this Group.
Due to the unfortunate sickness of this staff member for a significant portion of the year, the level of activities declined substantially. Apart from a modest amount of `networking' among users, the only significant activity was the running of the annual Website competition (again sponsored by OUCS). The awards for the 1999 competition were again presented by the Vice-Chancellor, in Michaelmas Term 1999, and the 2000 competition was launched in Trinity Term 2000 (judging was to take place in October 2000). The categories of entry and criteria were again copied from the national UCISA competition, with the local winners becoming Oxford's entries in that competition. For 2000, a third category was introduced, independent of the UCISA competition, for the best resource-based Web site.
All the computers in Lecture Room A were replaced in July/August 1999. These we try to maintain at a fairly high state of specification, since it is important always to teach the latest (stable!) versions of software, which are always the most demanding of specification. Those removed are redeployed elsewhere within OUCS (eg the other lecture rooms, the LaRC, or for OUCS staff use). On this occasion, the replaced PCs were placed in LaRC.
Ghosting software was installed for the 3 lecture rooms and for the LaRC. This allows a variety of disk `images' to be set up and it is then very easy and fast to install a new image on all computers. It also keeps the machines in the lecture rooms clean of odd files that users may have left, or parameter changes they have introduced (unwittingly or knowingly!).
These PCs continued to run Windows 95, with a planned upgrade to Windows 2000 which was expected to be available early in 2000. However, it was not available in a stable enough form by May 2000, so the decision was taken to move only to Windows 98 for Michaelmas 2000.
Some courses were renamed to emphasise that they are essential courses, which should be attended before the more advanced courses. Examples include Essential IT Skills (formerly Introduction to Computers), Essential Access (formerly Introduction to Access). This seems to have helped a little.
One of the problems with training in IT is that the software is changing constantly. This makes it difficult to keep up with the notes that OUCS prepares to accompany its courses. There is now a good selection of books available commercially which cover the various MS Office products quite adequately. During the year all the Microsoft courses were re-formatted so that the notes mainly consist of exercises, with reference to the books and also copies of the slides.
The ECDL (see below) is proving popular with a steady stream of people attending the drop-in sessions for training and testing held every week. There were three special taught training sessions. In September 1999 (aimed primarily at staff) and June (for students) there were intensive weeks; in Hilary Term the course was run a full day each week for six weeks (see below for more details).
The beginning of the year was difficult. Two members of staff from the training team left OUCS; although both were replaced, there was a periods for each when the staff contingent was reduced, and it does take time for new staff to become fully productive. These problems were compounded by the fact that one member of staff had been seconded half-time to work on developing a programme for IT Support Staff (see below). Although staff took on extra loads, it was still necessary to cancel all programming courses and a number of specialist package courses. The above course rationalisation also enabled the maximal topic coverage to be achieved.
Another consequence of the staff shortages was that it was not possible to update the courses in the summer of 1999. Updating was done with some difficulty during the course of the year. Completing this updating process became a high priority during the summer of 2000.
For some time, reinforced during the 1996/7 Review of OUCS, it has become evident that a real need existed for training and development opportunities for distributed IT support staff. During 1998/9 application had been made to the IT Committee to set up a suitable training regime. This bid gained the support of the IT Support Staff Group, the IT Training and Education Group and the IT Committee, but unfortunately was not granted. Notwithstanding this setback, OUCS decided in June 1999 that it should divert some resources to support this function and Jane Littlehales, one of the Teaching Officers, agreed to undertake this work half-time from Michaelmas 1999.
Lunchtime seminars had already been running regularly for a couple of years for IT staff. The arrangements for this were thus placed on a more formal footing, and were augmented by the development of an Induction course for all new IT staff; effort was also put into researching for specialist IT courses available within the HE sector or commercially; in addition, a suite of Web pages directed at the training needs of IT staff was constructed and maintained; finally, significant effort was committed to assisting in organising the annual IT Support staff conference.
Efforts will continue to be made to seek funding for this activity, as it is considered vital to the further development of IT facilities and services across the University. But the cut-backs in regular IT training courses are most undesirable, as they also impact the ability of ordinary users to exploit IT facilities to the full.
The total student hours for 1999/2000 were 45,835, which represents a decline on the previous year. The principal reasons for this have been explained above — staff turnover and the need to divert some training officer time to develop a training programme for IT staff.
- background courses: the numbers have decreased slightly and the number of modules timetabled was reduced;
- there was about a 50% decrease in bookings for the operating system courses: some courses had been combined and others were not run because the material had been included in the Essential Skills course.
- enrolments on electronic mail courses also reduced, mainly due to many students now coming to University already familiar with email;.
- graphics courses: a 40% reduction was mainly due to the CorelDraw course being withdrawn;
- publishing courses showed a 15% reduction, with PageMaker not continuing due to the new licence arrangements; however, PowerPoint proved very popular with the numbers increasing;
- spreadsheet courses showed a 33% reduction: this was due to not being able to run the advanced courses because of staff shortages;
- statistics course bookings were about the same as the previous year: the figures do not include an intensive course run for PPE students at the beginning of Trinity Term (300 students who each did a two-session SPSS course); the course was run five times;
- word processing saw an 18% reduction: staff shortages prevented running anything other than one advanced course; Word for Your Thesis, but it was reasoned that people have a much greater level of prior knowledge, so the impact would be less;
- there was a 60% increase in bookings for database courses.
- Internet courses saw a 51% increase: new courses were introduced to assist users in the development of their personal Web sites, and these proved very popular; in addition, a programming course for creating interactive Web pages was introduced;
- programming courses saw a 66% reduction in the number of courses and bookings, again due to staff effort being diverted;
- excluding the IT Support staff training and the specialist Humanities courses and seminars, there was a reduction of 25% in the number of modules offered over the year, with a corresponding 22% reduction in course bookings; the principal causes have been set out above, but also contributing were time taken in ECDL training and administration (see below), and the fact that there has been a decline in courses previously run by other specialist staff.
OUCS has been running training sessions, self-paced learning software, and examinations for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), which is an internationally certified qualification in IT skills. Initially a pilot scheme was launched; this proved successful and the varied methods of training (attending OUCS courses, CBT at regular timetabled sessions, and available in the LaRC and for purchase from the Shop) have proved appropriate.
This year, 87 people enrolled in the ECDL, and 603 tests were passed. This compares with 66 enrolments and 404 tests passed in 1998/9. Three intensive taught ECDL courses were run in September 1999 (one week), Hilary 2000 (6 full days at one per week), and June 2000 (one week). The weekly drop-in three-hour sessions were run throughout the year, for 40 weeks.
In response to demand (initially directed through the Department for Continuing Education), OUCS has commenced running a few courses in the evenings. These are always heavily booked, and only the limitation of staff resources prevents further course being offered after normal hours.
The LaRC has continued to prove an invaluable adjunct to the formal teaching facilities and sessions provided by OUCS. Usage has grown [figure 64], but more significantly has been more used more for learning than as a general resource. This was boosted by extensive use of the ECDL learning material installed there. Many of the computers in the LaRC were upgraded (by using machines cascaded from the teaching rooms — see above; thus we were able to make all the computers in the LaRC the same and hence easier to maintain. A new small colour inkjet printer has been installed in the LaRC — capable of printing A4 and A3. The diskless 486s from the LaRC moved to the Data Centre and the `User Area Corridor' to become terminals for a pilot thin-client system.
- to provide advice and training in the uses of information and communications technology (ICT) within the Humanities disciplines at Oxford, with particular reference to their teaching and research needs;
- to facilitate and promote access to a variety of high quality scholarly electronic resources; to advise upon and (where appropriate) assist in the creation and preservation of such resources; and to encourage their integration into the teaching and research activities of the Humanities disciplines;
- to carry out research and development in the application of ICT to the Humanities disciplines, in collaboration with academic staff at Oxford and elsewhere;
Throughout the academic year of 1999-2000 the CHC offered 54 distinct courses, covering 163 hours of teaching, with 873 attending (in total). Although figures for the 1998-1999 year are not readily available, this is undoubtedly a considerable rise in the CHC's teaching commitments and profile.
Dr Lee was seconded to the Libraries Board to work on the Mellon-funded scoping study on digitisation projects within the university. Once this was successfully completed, his report was published on the Web at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/scoping/, arousing considerable praise both within and ouside the University. HCU staff are also involved in the workgroups charged by the DLRG Committee with implementation of the report's proposal. A series of lunchtime seminars introducing local digitisation projects was organised to reap further benefit from the Report.
Established and funded by Oxford University in 1976, and now a service provider for the national Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), the OTA is a repository for several thousand electronic texts produced in more than two dozen languages, ranging from electronic editions of individual works, standard reference texts and dictionaries, to large-scale literary and linguistic corpora.
During the period covered by the OTA's latest Annual Report (1-Apr-99 to 31-Jul-00), there were 109,077 distinct visits to its homepage; from there 18,250 resources were downloaded. OTA also continued to provide an ordering service for restricted material held offline, and dealt with 162 orders representing requests for 460 texts.
Through the AHDS, the OTA has become heavily involved with advising and evaluating applications to create a range of digital resources with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. In practice this has meant extensive consultations with some 40 applicants from HE institutions around the UK, and the technical assessment of almost 100 applications for funding.
The OTA has also continued its extensive programme of outreach activities, presenting papers at several national and international conferences (everything from the `National Conference on Orientalist Library Services' to `Digital Resources in the Humanities 1999'), as well as playing a central role in the HCU's programme of Summer Seminars. The OTA's first Guide to Good Practice was published online to very favourable reviews, and is currently in press with Oxbow Books, whilst the second is due for online release in Autumn 2000.
The Humanities Computer Development Team (HCDT) was set up to develop the use of technology in humanities teaching and research at Oxford University. It is currently receiving special General Board funding to establish itself and the need for such a service. It calls for bids for projects to develop from academics in the humanities disciplines, and is guided by a group set up by the Committee for Computing in the Arts in its selection.
Projects currently under development include the Sphakia Survey for Archaeology and LitHum, the Cook Collection site for the Pitt-Rivers Museum and a project on interactive aural comprehension materials for Modern Languages. In addition, two new projects have been selected for work to begin in July, one for the Law faculty (a Web site to provide automated assessment of key research skills), and one for the Theology faculty (the `Virtual Faculty', a project which may interest other faculties when it is completed). For details of these and other projects, see the Website at /acdt/
A third development officer was recruited towards the end of the year to address demand for projects which could not be supported under the criteria by which the Steering Group must judge them, but for which funds are available. The next deadline for project proposals to the HCDT will be in October 2000. The CCA encourages colleagues and faculties to consider submitting project proposals for each bidding round.
The HCDT is particularly keen to receive applications from those faculties which have had little or limited input from the HCDT to date. The HCDT also is prepared to organise a short seminar about the its activities for any faculty that may find this useful.
Dr Fraser, formerly Manager of the CTI Centre for Textual Studies (see below) was appointed head of the new Humbul Hub which is part of the new national Resource Discovery Network launched in August 1999. The core of the Hub is its gateway to humanities Internet resources and a fairly substantial gateway was up and running by early 2000. Data-providers are drawn from a combination of departments, libraries and individuals within Oxford, the UK, and beyond. Oxford University Press has agreed to promote the Hub from its own Web site and other ways of collaboration are being discussed. Discussions have also been held with the New Dictionary of National Biography, OCLC, and the American Theological Libraries Association (ATLA) as well as a number of individuals.
The Hub was part of a series of bids submitted to the JISC by the RDN to develop Z-Portals (bringing together Z39.50 services, particularly those funded as part of the DNER but also others, e.g. OCLC FirstSearch) and to support teaching/learning activities (through the creation of guided tutorials for English and History).
The RDN as a whole was launched in November 1999. Humbul had an exhibition stand and gave a presentation. The Hub sent around 130 invitations to humanities-related individuals and organisations around the UK.
The CTI Centre for Textual Studies was one of the 20 Centres that made up the national Computers in Teaching Initiative. It closed at the end of January 2000, along with CTISS (also hosted by OUCS — see section 9), when the national programme was replaced by the Learning and Teaching Support Network, based in the Institute for Learning & Teaching at York. Work on completing the Centre's outstanding commitments was completed successfully, in particular the publication of the Centre's Resources Guide. At the request of the English Faculty, HCU Staff assisted in the preparation of a bid from the faculty to host one of the new LTSN Centres; unfortunately, the bid was not successful.
This is a nationally funded TLTP3 project to support the use of
electronic resources in small group teaching. It is managed by the
University of York, with CTI Textual Studies as a partner. The project
funds some staff resources at Oxford. Further details can be found at
http://cti-psy.york.ac.uk/aster/" (out of date).
The TEI is a major international research project, the object of which is the production and dissemination of standardised `Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange' (TEI-P3). The European editor of the guidelines is also manager of the HCU, and staff are able to offer expert help on preparing and using TEI-conformant texts.
Distribution and maintenance of this unique 100 million word annotated corpus of written and spoken modern British English is carried out by the HCU on behalf of the BNC consortium. The BNC is freely available under license throughout the EU, together with SARA, a special-purpose, text-retrieval system also developed at the HCU.
Funded by JISC/CEI through the eLib programme, and under the overall direction of CURL (the Consortium of University Research Libraries), the Cedars project aims to provide guidance for libraries in best practice for digital preservation. A project officer concentrating on Metadata specification for archived datasets is employed at Oxford. Further details of the Cedars Project can be seen at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/cedars/
This project is funded by the European Union, and aims to create online catalogue records of manuscripts from major European libraries. The HCU is one of six partners in the project, which is led by De Montfort University. The major contribution of the HCU so far has been in the definition of a TEI-conformant `dtd' for the project (see http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/TEI/Master/Reference/).
OUCS continues to operate a high-quality offset printing service. This is used for all in-house printed publications, and is also used on a cost-recovery basis by a variety of University and related bodies.
All X-terminals except one have been removed from the Data Centre, since their maintenance contract has expired. This functionality (an X-windows interface to a Unix server) has been provided via Vista-eXceed running on PCs. Other reorganisation of the Data Centre has enabled more terminals to be made available. Now a total of 30 computers are available for email and Web browsing in the Data Centre and the User Area Corridor.
OUCS has launched a thin-client service on the PCs housed in the Data Centre. This system, based on Windows Terminal Server and Citrix Metaframe software, enables a low-specification PC to appear to run up-to-date software. In fact, it runs on the server, with the PCs screen being painted to appear as if it is running locally. The only software we have made available so far are network access items, such as email clients, Web browsers, Vista eXceed, telnet, and similar. This appears to be functioning well (they certainly operate far faster than when trying to run older versions of software in free-standing mode).
This service has also been offered University-wide, in part to address the problem of departments wishing students to access certain software packages on college PCs. This would create far too great a support burden for the college IT staff. SPSS is the first package for which this wider offering is set up. The ultimate success or otherwise of this service will depend on what software can be made to run under these conditions (not all are properly conditioned), the effort to make them run, the need for expansion in the server to handle greater numbers concurrently, and software licensing issues.
A collection of computers in the corridor between the Help Desk area and the Lecture Rooms has long provided a useful supplement to facilities provided by colleges and departments. These operate logically as part of the Data Centre, but are only available during the hours that the main OUCS building is open — 08:30 to 22:00 on weekdays.
OUCS acts as an information point for the various national supercomputing and data repository services. For access to some of these, authorisation is required from the Director of OUCS; there have been a few of these during the year.
OUCS provided office accommodation and administrative support to the CTI Support Service (CTISS). This national coordinating unit for the Computers in Teaching Initiative closed down at the end of 1999, following a review of the whole national programme, which concluded that it should be expanded and refocused onto all aspects of improving teaching quality. It was renamed the Learning and Teaching Support Network, and is now coordinated through the Institute for Learning and Teaching at York.
OUCS holds the contract for providing the central administrative office for the national Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA), which represents the IT service sector within most of the HEIs in the UK. This link with other universities' IT units and national initiatives improves Oxford's ability to benefit from interaction with other universities' IT units. This activity is self-financing.
In addition to all the services directed towards end-users of IT facilities, a number of OUCS staff are committed to the support of various local and national committees and organisations, in furtherance of the broader goals of use of IT within the University.
Locally, these activities include participation in and support of the work of committees such as the IT Committee and its General Purposes Committee, and several of its Groups, including the Technical Review Group, Network Advisory Group, IT Security & Privacy Group, UNIS Steering Group, Committee for Computing in the Arts, the IT Training & Education Group, the OxTALENT Action Group, the IT-Related Legal Issues Working Party, and Computer Archiving Group, as well as the University IT Users' Group and the Colleges' IT Group.
Other Oxford bodies in which OUCS staff participate include the Libraries Committee's Sub-Committee on Library Automation, Sub-Committee for Staff Development & Training, and Datasets Working Party, the Telecommunications Committee, the Administrative Information Services Committee, the University Card Working Party; the Risk Management Group, the Heads of Science Committee, the Staff Committee, and the Research and Equipment Committee. In addition, some staff are involved in various Departmental, Faculty and College committees, and some HCU staff are members of humanities' faculty boards.
Nationally, OUCS staff are involved in various JISC Groups associated with Janet; the Research Universities' Group for IT (RUGIT); NAG Ltd; the South-East Region Computer Users' Committee (SERCUC); the Executive of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA), and the following of UCISA's sub-groups: the Staff Development Group and the Annual Management Conference Organising Committee (which has been chaired by the OUCS Director); the JNT Association (which runs Janet); and, the UKOLN Advisory Council. Staff are also involved in the steering or advisory groups for various national projects, like CEDARS (CURL Exemplars in Digital Archives), and Netskills, and also have organised and run national courses for UCISA-SDG on Communicating with Users, and Train the Trainers.
Internationally, OUCS staff have been involved in the Executive of EUNIS (European Universities Information Systems association), the UNESCO Upgrading Science & Engineering Education in the Southern Mediterranean Project (USEE-SM), and on the Steering Committee for FIRST (Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams).
- The IT Users' Group and the Colleges' IT Group each consist of up to 2 representatives of each department, faculty and unit within the University, and of each College, respectively. They are general fora for IT users to provide feedback to the principal central IT service providers, including OUCS. They also represent University and College users' views to the IT Committee.
- The Technical Review Group is a `think tank' advising OUCS on general technical issues and developments, but attempts to have it conduct its business electronically have not been particularly successful.
- The Network Advisory Group advises OUCS on all technical networking matters.
- The Committee for Computing in the Arts has responsibility for the oversight of the Oxford work of the Humanities Computing Unit.
- The Training & Education Group has general oversight of the IT training activities within OUCS.
- The Software Site-Licence Group has responsibility for the oversight of the expenditure of the central fund for software licences, administered by OUCS.
- The IT Support Staff Group is primarily concerned with IT staff University-wide, and advises OUCS on a range of IT Support Staff issues.
- The OxTALENT Action Group is primarily concerned with overseeing the affairs of OxTALENT, and advises OUCS on deployment of its support officer.
HFS: IBM RS/6000 M80 with 4 CPUs, 4Gbyte memory, 870Gbyte disks; IBM RS/6000 H70, 4 CPUs, 2GB memory, 450Gbyte RAID disks; 2@IBM RS/6000 R30, each with 4 CPUs, 512Mbyte memory, sharing 300GByte disk space; IBM model 3494 robotic tape library with 10@ 3590 tape drives, 20TByte capacity; all running AIX.
Backbone: The Gigabit Ethernet has 2 Cisco C6509 Layer2 switches and 10 Cisco C6506 layer3 switches, located at OUCS and in telecommunications rooms throughout the city; about half of the 180+ departmental and college sub-networks are supported at 100Base-FX by this network (as at 31-Jul-00); the balance are still supported by the FDDI network at 10Base-FL. The FDDI Backbone (which is being phased out) had 22 3Com NetbuilderII routers located in the telecommunications rooms; the OUCS Computer Room had 3 3Com FDDI switches.
Learning and Resource Centre (LaRC): 38 Pentium PCs, 11 PowerMacs, 2 G3 Macs, 4 colour scanners, 3 laser printers, 1 colour ink-jet printer, 3 486 PCs for control purposes, 1 Pentium PC for registration purposes.