Welcome to the annual report for Oxford University Computing Services, outlining our activities during the year 2005-2006. In keeping with the format adopted last year we have attempted to present this in a digestible manner, beginning with a brief overview of the trends in IT we have witnessed across the University, and finishing with a set of short reports on some of the research projects we have been undertaking. In between these two, we report on the demand for our existing services.
What can we draw from all of these? First, the service reports clearly demonstrate the ever increasing demand for IT. Across the board we can see an almost universal growth in the number of users, the amount of use, and the amount of data being stored, accessed, and exchanged. Moreover, OUCS is continually being asked for new services, reflecting, in our view, the ubiquitous nature of IT now in all aspects of modern life, and the extraordinary rate of change in users' sophistication and expectations. At the beginning of the period covered by this report YouTube was merely a nice experiment. By the end it had ballooned into a multi-million dollar service. OUCS is faced with the challenge of keeping its own services up to date, but at the same time against the background of a static budget.
However, in keeping with our track record, OUCS has risen to this challenge. This year we have rolled out new services such as OXITEMS, a free newsfeed service for the University (now in use by many departments including ours and powering the main University web pages new service). We have refurbished two of our lecture theatres to become state-of-the-art e-Learning facilities available for academic staff to use. We have launched a new back-up and reinstall service in our Help Centre, co-ordinated the roll-out of the FroDO project, produced guidelines to assist departments in implementing wireless, and produced the visitor wireless service. All of this, it must be remembered, went hand-in-hand with the running and (where possible) expansion of our existing services. Notably, OUCS has drawn on its reserves to fund long-needed hardware upgrades for the Herald email service and the Hierarchical File Server.
In addition OUCS has continued to build Oxford's profile in leading research into areas such as e-Research, e-Learning, and underlying emerging technologies. The projects at the end of the report demonstrate this clearly, but what is not shown is that OUCS managed to attract around £1m in external grants to take forward these projects, and has assisted many departments and faculties in successful bids. These research projects have been extremely useful in taking forward key areas of development needed by the University.
2005-2006 has also seen two major strategic initiatives: the ICT Strategy Programme and the Enhanced Computing Environment Project (ECE). For the former, OUCS's current Director, Professor Paul Jeffreys, was seconded to lead this cross-University activity, and I was asked to be Acting Director. OUCS also contributed considerably to all of the working groups of the ICT Strategy Programme, and in effect contributed over 1 FTE to supporting the initiative in terms of running working groups, maintaining the web site for the strategy, organising workshops, and drafting versions of the final report. All of this placed a considerable load on the department. However, so important is the exercise that OUCS felt it was essential to provide any assistance it could.
In addition to this, January saw the formation of the ICT Support Team which is charged with leading the development of the ECE. This is a separate unit from OUCS and is made up of the desktop support staff from Central Administration, Oxford University Library Services, and OUCS. In effect five members of staff were transferred out of the department to this team, plus the associated budget. Again OUCS recognises the importance of this initiative and has assisted wherever it can in meetings, technical advice and support, administrative support (e.g. recruitment), and housing the team.
Despite these pressures on the department, and the increase in the demand for our services, OUCS has ensured that all the services it offers remain first-rate, we hope that the following will demonstrate how effectively OUCS operates, and how efficiently it manages itself.