COMPUTING SERVICES COMMITTEE

Annual Report for the year 1975-6

1. Changes in Terms of Reference

During the last year at the request of the Committee the General Board has made changes to its statutes and the effect on this Committee is two-fold. The General Board has received a number of departmental requests for computers and for upgrades to existing equipment and it has felt in some difficulty about assessing the merits of each case. This matter will now be referred to the Computing Services Committee who will therefore take on an extended role to keep under review and assess all computing facilities available within departments. To assist them in this task the Committee has asked the Computing Service to conduct a survey of all departments to establish what computing equipment is available in each.

With the installation of the ICL 2980 (see below) the University is now undertaking to supply seven other universities in the South East region with computing power and it has been thought that those universities should be able to voice their opinions on the service provided to the Committee, as well as to the User Group and to the Service directly. Both these changes made it necessary to alter the representation on the Committee, which will now include two Directors from the South East Regional Computing Committee.

2. Replacement Computer

A contract between the University, the Computer Board and ICL has now been signed by the Central Computing Agency on behalf of the University. An ICL 2980 computer will be installed in a building now being constructed adjoining the Computing Service Centre during the first half of 1977. Delivery is currently scheduled for May 1977 and following acceptance tests the Service is currently anticipating running a limited user service from 1st August 1977. A remote job entry service to such other universities within the South East Region who are in a position to accept such a service is anticipated from 1st October. Both the new computer and the existing ICL 1906A will be linked by communications equipment and equipment currently sited in buildings outside the Computing Centre will in due course be able to communicate with both.

The Computer Board have also purchased an ICL 2980 for installation during early 1977 at the University of Bath. It has agreed that Oxford may use up to 30% of the computing power, and the Computing Service is considering how best to take advantage of the offer. Slippage in building dates and delivery may imply that the period when the Bath installation is working but the Oxford equipment is not yet ready will be as short as two months and if this were to be so the University could not make much use of the facility.

3. New Building

During the year a grant has been received from the UGC for approximately two thirds of the cost of the building to be erected on the car park behind 7 to 13 Banbury Road. Sale of computer time to ICL during 1974 has enabled the Committee to agree to recommend the funding of the short fall and building work has commenced. A building contract has been placed with Johnson & Bailey Ltd. as main contractors and this is now well advanced and still "on program". Work is also progressing on the Victorian houses between 7 and 13 Banbury Road and some initial moves of staff may occur late in 1976.

4. Existing Equipment

The serviceability of the ICL 1906A which was commented on adversely in the last annual report has now improved. It has reached a level which the Computing Service regards as satisfactory and since both the equipment and the operating system are relatively stable there is no reason to anticipate degradation within the next few years. The agreement that ICL will do routine maintenance at weekends free of charge has been terminated, and the Computing Service is not available to users on Tuesday mornings.

To enhance the facilities available remotely the Computing Service has constructed a batch of 75 Visual Display Units which are now being allocated to departments. The few which have been made available are proving very popular, although they do not replace in all respects existing equipment. The Service is currently considering whether it should manufacture another batch to the same specification and make them available to departments and to other Universities.

5. CDC 7600 Service

The service provided remotely by the University of London Computing Centre to users in Oxford has been more satisfactory now that local facilities are available with which to prepare the information for that computer. The ease of using this system was considerably enhanced by local efforts, so much so, that during the latter half of 1975 the allocation of time on that computer to the University proved inadequate. The problem has now been resolved, the allocation to the South East Region and to Oxford in particular has been increased, and users have used computers at Manchester and Cambridge as alternatives. The Computer Board has now purchased a second CDC 7600 computer for the University of Manchester Regional Computer Centre and 40% of the computer power is being allocated to the South East Region. The Computing Service anticipates asking users to transfer as much as possible of their computing load to the new Manchester machine and it is anticipated that this process might start during the summer of 1977.

6. Numerical Algorithms Group

This group, NAG, has been set up as a company limited by guarantee. Memorandum and Articles of Association have been agreed and the company created. All the staff are now employed by the new company and this will communicate in future directly (rather than with the University) with the Computer Board. Both Professor Fox and the Computer Manager are members of the Council for the new company.

7. Computing Teaching Centre

Courses run by the Undergraduate Teaching Officer and his staff are still proving very popular and simultaneous presentations using video tapes are now routine throughout the winter terms. An increasing liaison is being built up with a number of departments who are increasingly relying on this facility as a prelude to experimental work.

8. Microfilm Equipment

Towards the end of 1976 the Computing Service will take delivery of equipment which enables microfilm and microfiche to be used rather than paper for text and graphical output from the computer. Storage of large quantities of information is an increasing problem for many users and this new equipment should achieve economies both in cost and space. It will also enable graphical information to be displayed much more conveniently.

9. Computing in the Arts

A number of computing courses for members of arts faculties and the students were presented for the first time during the year and the initial response has been very encouraging. The courses included weekly lectures on various computer applications in the humanities and practical experience of computing using the concordance program COCOA and the information retrieval programs FIND2 and FAMULUS. The programming language SNOBOL has been taught using the SPITBOL compiler which was obtained through the University of Leeds. A number of visiting seminars have been held where the guest speakers were already active computer users from arts faculties in Oxford and other Universities. As a result of these courses and lectures there has been a considerable increase in the use of the Computing Service by the arts faculties in Oxford.