COMPUTING TEACHING AND SERVICES MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
Annual Report of the Computing Service
1 October 1989 to 30 September 1990.
Software and Service Changes
Other Services and Activities
Appendix A. Staff in post - September 1990
Appendix B. Current User Guides
The year has been the first in which the Computing Service and the Computing Teaching Centre have been under the supervision of a single management committee, a change recommended in the report of the Working Party on Academic Computing Services.
This has been an interesting and stimulating innovation. The management committee was able, as intended, to consider in the same forum the detailed business of the two departments before bringing major issues to the Computing Council. Considerable work was carried out on the problem of presenting a more unified picture of the departments' activities to the University. The results of this can be seen in a combined booklet of course summaries in a common format, and a combined Lecture List giving details of all computing courses open to members of the University. While a few difficulties remain, notably in the timing and distribution of the termly Lecture List, the joint publicity and common format must be seen as a step forward.
The committee has also, refreshingly, spent much of its time concentrating on fundamental issues rather than routine management matters. There have thus been opportunities to discuss in some detail the current problems affecting the services, and the major issues which the services will need to confront in the short-term and medium-term future.
The academic year closed with the appearance of the Report of the Information Technology Strategy Group. This report has been widely welcomed, and its recommendations were accepted in principle by Hebdomadal Council and the General Board.
Rather than setting a detailed policy agenda, the report concentrated on proposals for a structural framework for decision-making in all major areas of IT. The framework involves an IT Committee which is a joint committee of Council and the General Board, replacing the Computing Council, overseeing lower-level committees for the management of academic computing services, administrative computing, library automation, telecommunications and audio-visual technologies.
If adopted in full, the proposed new structure should provide a much more coherent basis for the development and management of IT-related issues at a critical time in the evolution of these technologies.
The report also recommends some realignment of the Computing Service and Computing Teaching Centre activities, as between computing services and the proposed new Audio-Visual Technology Centre. The detailed consequences of these recommendations have yet to be worked out.
During the year the Computing Service premises at 13 Banbury Road have undergone considerable internal alteration and rearrangement. The object was to make better use of space and in the process bring in a number of new user-accessible facilities which had been identified as major needs. Accompanying these changes in the public areas, and sometimes necessitated by them, were a number of changes in the occupancy of staff offices - a complex set of manoeuvres behind the scenes which were borne with good humour by the staff concerned!
This programme had been initiated in the previous year with the redesign and redecoration of part of the main user area, and the relocation there of the Advisory and Budgets services under the title of the Help Area. The remainder of the terminal areas and the two library rooms have now been reorganised in a similar way. The main innovation here has been the designation of two rooms, one containing terminals and the other printers and a plotter, as a 24-hour access area with a separate after-hours access controlled by a magnetic card lock.
At the other end of the building a large ground floor room has been freed for a Humanities Computing resource centre, a development recommended by an earlier University working party on Computing in the Arts.
Late in the year it became possible to undertake the conversion to other purposes of the older machine room, together with the Micro Advisory room and some adjoining workshop space. This remodelling produced a new (and much needed) lecture room, a very much more spacious room for Micro Advisory, a workshop for the micro maintenance service, and a workshop and adjoining office for the network team. Despite a few alarms the work was completed in time for the new facilities to be available for the start of the new academic year.
Finally, the former advisory room has been refurbished and is now the Users Common Room. The opening of this facility marked the return of a coffee machine after a gap of several years; the previous one had been banished after giving rise to a flood over the New Year closedown, and no satisfactory alternative site had In the meantime been found.
The year has seen two major enhancements to the communications services. The GEC 4160 X.25 switch was replaced after a competitive procurement had led to the selection of Netcomm as the supplier of the new equipment.
The new switching system is in fact a set of six Netcomm Switch2000 units, interconnected to give the image of a single large switch. The individual ports can in principle all be run at 1 Mbit/s, and a number at multi-megabit speeds. To date the switches have been tested successfully at 256 kbit/s, the highest speed available from the current host systems. The installation has in general proved reliable and trouble free, and particularly easy to run and manage.
A new X.25 link to JANET was also commissioned. This is at present running at 256 kbit/s, a very welcome improvement on the 48 kbit/s to which the University had been restricted previously. The new link should be capable of a further upgrade to 2 Mbit/s, and this has been promised for the near future.
The procurement and installation of the University Ethernet infrastructure was also completed during the year. There is now in place a backbone, with three Computing Service subnetworks attached to it (shortly to be increased to four), and bridged fibre optic segments leading to the communications rooms in Engineering Science, Plant Sciences, Zoology, the Museum Lodge, the Bodleian, and the University Offices.
From these distribution points it is possible for departments and colleges in the main central concentrations to connect their own subnetworks into the system, often utilising existing fibre optic capacity. A number of departments have already done so, and the Ethernet is expected to grow rapidly. The design of the network allows for the replacement of the central backbone by a higher speed technology, most probably FDDI, when the standards have stabilised and proven equipment is available.
The Gandalf terminal network has again continued to grow, and is close to its full capacity in some parts of the University. Options are being considered to address this problem. Since, with the growth of Ethernet-based local networking in many departments, Gandalf ports are now in places being phased out it is hoped to avoid further major investment in the terminal network. Nevertheless it seems probable that there will be a demand for this low-cost style of networking for some time to come.
The Service is responsible for developing a file transfer gateway, under a contract from the Joint Network Team (JNT). Initially this was to provide protocol conversion from the Blue Book FTP standard, which is currently used on JANET, to FTAM (File Transfer and Access Method) which is the ISO standard which will replace Blue Book. Considerable progress has been made.
However, the JNT has subsequently added a new dimension to the project, i.e. to provide a file transfer gateway from Blue Book to the Internet FTP standard. Work has been switched to the latter priority and the Internet gateway is now approaching operational status. It is intended that the production gateway will be operated in Oxford, under a contract with the Network Executive. The development project has now been extended for a further year to allow the original FTAM gateway to be completed.
The VAX cluster has undergone significant physical change. The older generation systems - two VAX 11/785s and one VAX 11/780 - were finally switched off and removed from service. This step was an essential stage in the redevelopment of the old machine room, described elsewhere in this report.
Delivered originally as three VAX 11 /780s, these systems had been installed in 1980 and for a considerable period provided a sizeable fraction of the central computing resources. They were enhanced at several points, in memory processing power, disc storage and communications capability, so much so that eventually little remained of the initial hardware. With the advent of the much larger cluster configuration in 1987, use of the older systems has been restricted to systems development on the one hand, and fairly routine tasks such as spooling to remote printers and graphical output devices on the other.
To replace these functions two MicroVAX 3400 systems have been purchased and connected to the cluster via Ethernet. One is used for spooling and the other for systems development work.
In addition to this upgrade to more modern equipment, a further processor has been added to the main cluster. This is a VAX 8650, a system of somewhat older technology than the two 8700s and two 8800s which carried the bulk of the user service. The 8650, already equipped with a cluster interface, became available on the second-hand market at an attractively low price. It has been enhanced in memory, to 44 MB, and integrated into the cluster. In return for a very modest outlay, the cluster has thus gained roughly one-sixth in overall cpu power.
Demand for the VAX service remains at a high level, although there are perhaps signs that the heaviest computational demands may have peaked; pressure on the long and weekend queues is not always as great as it has been in previous years. If true, this Is not altogether surprising since the computational power accessible to users in their own departments continues to rise sharply in the shape of ever-increasing numbers of powerful Unix workstations and servers. The virtue of the VAX cluster remains as a general-purpose software-rich environment for users from a wide range of disciplines.
The operating system was upgraded to VMS version 5.2 in October 1989, and again to version 5.3 in April 1990. New versions of several of the Digital compilers have been introduced. The editor EVE, which is of more recent vintage than Digital's EDT editor, has been made the system default in contexts such as MAIL; it is also now the editor taught on introductory courses.
Third-party software mounted on the VAX cluster during the year included new version of BMDP, MACSYMA, MAPLE, MINITAB, REDUCE, SAS, SIR, SPSSX and UNIRAS. SPSS Data Entry was mounted for the first time. WordPerfect, previously only available on a VAX 11/785, was transferred to the cluster and upgraded to version 5.0. ARC/INFO and BASIS PLUS have been ordered, the former under a recently-concluded CHEST deal.
The final mention under this heading goes to the new INFO service. INFO is an information service, using locally-produced software, which runs on the VAX cluster and is accessible as a VAX command to any logged-in user: but it is also accessible directly from the data network or from JANET, without the need for a username or password. In that sense, it has some affinities with the library catalogue service.
INFO currently contains much information on Computing Service and other computing facilities, but it is by no means confined to these. It holds, for example, administrative information in the form of the University telephone directory, and the "Yellow Pages" of University job vacancies, each of which is updated on a regular basis. This is viewed by the Service as an extremely important development, and it is hoped that over the course of time it will become a key part of the University's internal communications particularly for administrative purposes.
Usage and reliability figures are given in Tables 1 and 3.
This has been an uneventful year for the Convex service. The operating system has been upgraded twice, to Unix version 7.1 in April and then to version 8.0 in July. The latter upgrade brought with it a new version of the Fortran compiler.
A new batch system known as CXBatch has been put into service. This has at times suffered from minor problems, but it is hoped that these have been overcome. The Convex COVUENet and COVUEBatch products, which are intended to provide a batch submission from the VAX cluster, have not been introduced because of various operational limitations.
A new 950 MB disc drive has been ordered. When installed, this will relieve the severe pressure on filestore space for system and application software as well as users' files.
Usage and reliability figures are given in Tables 2 and 3.
The Micro Advisory service, now in its new premises, is as heavily used as ever, but with a complement of four full-time staff in microcomputer support - and in fact six people sharing the micro advisory rota - there has been a welcome easing of the pressure on individual members of staff. It is noteworthy also that almost 30% of the queries at the main Advisory desks refer to microcomputer problems: often the straightforward problems can be dealt with here and do not need the more specialist facilities. The range of Macintosh equipment in Micro Advisory has been increased in response to the growth of Macintosh use in departments and colleges.
The Macintosh and IBM-compatible PC facilities in the main user area, for user-controlled printing, scanning, disc format conversion and file transfer, have been upgraded in various ways during the year.
The range of consumables and supplies sold in the Shop has continued to expand, and this is now a very substantial part of the Service's activity. For the first time the Shop moved into sales of hardware, in the shape of the Toshiba 1200HB portable which could be sold through computer centres under a CHEST deal. This was a successful innovation, and plans are in hand to expand (with due caution!) the sales of hardware and perhaps of software too.
The number of site licences taken out, mainly for the IBM PC but frequently also for other machine ranges, has increased sharply mainly as a consequence of the large number of new CHEST deals. The administrative load of managing the licence purchases and subsequent distribution is now a cause for concern.
New licences of this kind include the Prospero Pascal and Fortran compilers and the Salford 386 Fortran compiler (all PC); the graphics terminal emulators EMU-TEK and TEEMTALK (both PC); all modules of SAS (PC and Sun). ARC/INFO (VAX, Sun and PC) and Bartholomew's digital maps (all machine ranges); the full NAG Fortran and Graphics libraries and the On-Line Supplement (all machine ranges), and the PC Graphics Workstation Library (PC); the Unix-DOS communications package PC-NFS (PC): and MINITAB for the Macintosh. There is undoubtedly a demand for more site licences for the Macintosh, but so far few such deals have become available.
In the simplification of the committee structure the former Allocations Subcommittee has been abolished, with the Management committee itself now being responsible for allocation of resources. This year the committee agreed that the Service itself should draw up provisional allocations which the committee would in the first instance simply endorse: the committee would then handle any appeals that might ensue. This procedure has worked smoothly in practice, and will again be used in the coming year. Bids for VAX resources were fairly well matched to the available resources: bids for Convex time exceeded the available resource by almost a factor of two.
Two new allocation groups were set up - Biology Teaching and Dyson Perrins - while the Mathematical Biology group was amalgamated with that for the Mathematical Institute. There are now 42 groups.
Facilities for local management of allocations were improved by the provision of information to group managers from the OASIS database, which holds full details of each username (e.g. its owner, authorisation details, additional users etc.).
For much of the year the lecture room facilities have been restricted because of the building reorganisation. In January the small lecture room was taken out of commission, leaving only the large lecture room (since renamed Lecture Room A) available for courses for the remainder of the year. Some additional IBM-compatible PCs were temporarily installed in this room, allowing larger classes to be held over this period.
The new lecture room (Lecture Room B) was completed in September. It has been equipped with Macintosh SE/30 systems, and a Macintosh IIfx for demonstration purposes; it will allow Macintosh courses to be offered for the first time, but the Macintoshes are also capable of terminal emulation thus permitting the room to be used for courses on mainframe systems and software as well.
The attendances at the courses given during the year are listed below, with the number of course modules in parentheses in each case:
|Introductory Courses||Special Topics|
|Mainframe||730 (46)||690 (83)|
|Microcomputer||1019 (88)||902 (102)|
Despite the restrictions on the number of courses given the total attendance shows an increase of some 10% over the corresponding numbers in last year's report (which covered 14 months, rather than the usual 12). The numbers attending microcomputer courses increased by over 25%. With the new lecture room now available and new courses on Macintosh topics planned, it will be surprising if numbers do not rise further in the coming year.
Course topics appearing for the first time included "SPSS Data Entry", "Choosing a Database for the PC", "Paradox", and "Digitising using TurboCAD". With the greatly increased use of electronic mail on the VAX cluster, the course on file and mail transfer has been extensively revised and is now titled "Introduction to Electronic Mail and Networks".
The range of user guides continues to expand. Much of the growth comes from the need to document Computing Service microcomputing facilities, and to supplement courses on microcomputer topics with documentation. Examples include "Buying a Microcomputer System", "Word-Processing Facilities", "IBM-compatible Floppy Disk Formats", "Introduction to the Apple Macintosh", and "Scanning Facilities on the Apple Macintosh".
New user guides for the large systems include "An Introduction to Electronic Mail", "UNIGKS: The UNIRAS Implementation of the Graphical Kernel System", and "TOOLPACK: FORTRAN Development Tools".
A list of current user guides is given in Appendix B.
Oxford usage of the Cray X-MP systems at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) and at the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC) remains high. All of the RAL use is for peer-reviewed projects and pump-priming applications (Class 1 and Class 2 respectively); at ULCC there is both Class 1 and Class 3 usage, the latter being for small projects which do not require peer review at research council level. During 1989-90 the University was awarded 238,000 Cray shares and 35,000 Amdahl shares for Class 3 work. Besides the use of the ULCC Cray for numerically-intensive computing, a small amount of use is made of the Amdahl for work requiring particular software packages.
In contrast, relatively little use is made of the corresponding facilities at Manchester Computing Centre (MCC) on either the VP1200 vector-processing system or the Amdahl-based VM/CMS service. There is one class of project on the VP1200, and some use of the census and boundary data held on the Amdahl.
Following the withdrawal of local microfiche production facilities, a small number of users registered at ULCC for use of the national microform services. The number of fiche produced using these services has however been minimal.
The major change in services during the year has been the transition from the operating system to the Unix-based UNICOS at both Cray centres. This was effected at RAL in March/April 1990, and by ULCC during July to September.
It should be noted that an important political decision was announced during the year. As part of a wider reorganisation of responsibilities within the Department of Education and Science, in which the Computer Board will become a committee of the Universities Funding Council, what is described as the "lead responsibility for supercomputing" will pass to the Advisory Board for Research Councils.
Although the interpretation of this was for some time unclear, it now appears that from 1 April 1991 control of all three existing supercomputing centres will rest with the ABRC, with funding being transferred from the Computer Board representing the costs of running the relevant ULCC and MCC Class 1 and Class 2 services. The Board intends to purchase Class 3 services from ABRC as a separate transaction. The effects on users remain to be seen: one can but express the hope that these services, so vital to many areas of computational science, will not suffer in the change of management.
The Lasercomp service continues to operate smoothly. Given the stability of this service, much of the work of the section is now devoted to support of other electronic publishing systems, especially TEX.
An important milestone was the submission of a policy paper to the Computer Board in June, proposing a transition phased over two years from the existing Lasercomp-based service to a new typesetting service based on PostScript. This was accepted by the Board, and it has been agreed that the Lasercomp service will cease at the end of December 1992. Plans are being discussed for the development of the PostScript-based service.
There continues to be a steady flow of work for the KDEM service. The only change to be noted in the service is the decommissioning of the magnetic tape deck on the KDEM itself: the scanned texts are now captured directly on IBM-compatible PCs, from which they can be transferred to the VAX if this should be required. The majority of users, however, now prefer their output on floppy disc since further processing of the text will normally be carried out on a PC.
The number of new issues of the mainframe program is now very small. The PC version of the program continues to sell well. Oxford University Press brought out a new edition of the user manual, as a paperback, during the year. There have been discussions with OUP on the possibility of a further version: some interest has been expressed in a version for the Macintosh.
The project funded under the Computer Board's Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI) came to an end in September 1989, but a new version of the software (the Oxford Text Searching System) was produced during the year by a programmer funded from within the University.
The Service is the location of one of the CTI "follow-up centres", in Literature and Linguistic Studies. The aim of these subject based centres is to build on the work done under the CTI by acting as a focus for the collection and dissemination of computer-based teaching materials in their subjects. This is done through newsletters, electronic bulletin boards, conferences and workshops, and visits to interested departments in universities throughout the country. The Oxford centre has been in full operation since October 1989; at present the programme is funded until July 1992.
The close involvement of the Service with the international Text Encoding Initiative has continued. This project is now also funded until 1992. The first edition of the Initiative's guidelines was published in July, and distribution of this volume in Europe will be from Oxford.
A project of particular interest is to develop software for the analysis of large manuscript traditions. This has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and has also attracted support from Apple UK. Progress is promising, and prototype versions of the collation program have been tested with multiple versions of the Old Norse text "The Song of the Sun" and of Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale". This work has attracted considerable attention at a number of conferences.
|Director||A G Robiette|
|Director's Secretary||J M Thompson|
|Systems and Operations Group|
|Group Manager||A R Gay|
|VAX/VMS Systems Manager||J T Thomason|
|Unix and Graphics Manager||J R Douglas|
|Communications Hardware Manager||G W Litchfield|
|Group Secretary||K S W Tomlinson|
|Programming Staff||M D Austen
D C Hastings
K A Lewis
J M R Martin
R F Treweek
S E Treweek
J S Walker
|Network Controller||G B Lescott|
|Asst Network Controller||A D Kew|
A J Tregear
|Deputy Operations Manager||R I Saxton|
A E Holl
A B Sabin
|Operations Controller||B H Martin|
N M Grant
R L Harris
M D Hylton
A F Martin
L J R McCrum
|Operations Support||N Osborn
B M Thompson
|User Services Group|
|Group Manager||L Hayes|
|User Liaison Manager||C Bateman|
|Microsystems and Publishing Manager||D W Rischmiller|
|Computing in the Arts||S M Hockey|
|Group Secretary||L A Mills|
|Programming Staff (Applications)||L D Burnard
E M Crutch
D A Miles
A S Morrison
D J Rossiter
|Programming Staff (Micros and Publishing)||L P D Barnetson
S E Evans
C M Griffin
P G Higginbotham
R L Hutchings
A E Lawrence
J H Mason
L C Munro
E W Taylor
|User Liaison||R L D Rees|
|Computing in the Arts||G E Cooper
M E Deegan
P M W Robinson
|Technical Typist||E C Hussey|
|Reception||C M Dale
M J Smith
|Library||M E Franks|
|Administrator||K A Moulden|
|Administrative Officer||A M Goudge|
|Accounts||J B McAuliffe|
|Print Room||A C Hunter
|General and Cleaning Staff||J Bunce
D W F Cantell
J M Towner
W J Towner
a1.1/3 Introduction to the Computing Service
a1.2/3 Documentation Available from OUCS
a2.1/1 Glossary of VAX Terms
a3.1/3 Budgeting, Accounting and Scheduling on VAX /VMS
b1.1/3 Introduction to MS-DOS on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b1.2/2 Further Use of MS-DOS on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b1.3/1 Introduction to the Apple Macintosh
b2.1/2 Kermit on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b2.2/0 Kermit on BBC Microcomputers
b2.3/1 Kermit on Apple Macintosh Microcomputers
b3.1/2 Flexible-Disk Conversion Service
b3.3/1 Public-Domain Software for Microcomputers
b4.1/1 Getting Started with WordPerfect 4.2
b4.2/1 Further Use of WordPerfect 4.2
b4.3/2 Getting Started with WordPerfect 5.0
b4.4/1 Further Use of WordPerfect 5.0
b4.5/1 Word-processing facilities
b5.1/1 Graphics Cards on IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b5.2/1 IBM-compatible Floppy-Disk Formats
b5.3/1 Buying a Microcomputer System
b6.1/2 Laser-printing Facilities for IBM-compatible Microcomputers
b6.2/1 Laserprinting Facilities for Apple Macintosh Microcomputers
b6.3/1 Scanning Facilities on the Apple Macintosh Microcomputer
b6.4/1 IBM /Macintosh File Transfer Microcomputer
c1.1/1 Getting Started on the Convex
d1.1/3 Getting Started on VAX /VMS
d1.2/2 Further Use of VAX / VMS
d1.3/1 Writing DCL
d2.1/1 Program Development
e1.1/1 Getting Started with the Editor EDT
e1.2/1 Further Use of EDT
e2.1/0 Getting Started with the Editor ECCE
e2.2/0 Creating & Editing Files, using ECCE
e3.1/1 Getting Started with the Editor EVE
f1.1/1 Ingres Database Management System
f2.1/1 BMDP Statistical Software
f2.2/2 Minitab Interactive Statistics Package
f2.3/0 PSTAT: Princeton Statistical Program
f2.4/1 SAS: Statistical Analysis System
f2.5/1 SPSS-X: A General Statistics Package
f3.1/1 CLUSTAN: Cluster Analysis Package
f3.2/2 GENSTAT: General Statistical Program
f3.3/2 GLIM: Generalised Linear Interactive Modelling
f3.4/1 MDS(X): Multidimensional Scaling Programs
f3.5/1 TSP: Time Series Processor
g1.1/1 Graphical Facilities on the VAX Cluster
g1.4/1 Hewlett-Packard 7475 Plotters
g1.6/1 Pericom 7100 colour graphics terminals
g1.7/1 Digitising with TurboCAD
g4.1/1 ASPEX: Automated Surface Perspectives
g4.2/1 GIMMS: General-Purpose Geographic Processing System
g4.3/1 SYMAP: Lineprinter Mapping
h1.3/1 TOOLPACK: FORTRAN Development Tools
h2.1/1 FACSIMILE: for Differential Equations
h2.2/1 MACSYMA: An Algebraic Manipulation Package
h2.3/1 Maple: An Algebraic Manipulation Package
h2.5/2 REDUCE: An Algebraic Manipulation
h2.6/1 SIMAN: A Simulation Modelling Program
h3.2/1 OCP: Oxford Concordance Program
h4.1/2 LASERCHECK at OUCS
h4.3/1 VAX WordPerfect
i1.1/1 VAX Cluster File Archive
i1.2/1 Restoring Files from the Old File Archive
i2.1/1 Digital VT220 Terminals
i2.3/1 Digital VT320 Terminals
i3.3/1 HP LaserJet 2000 Printer
i4.1/1 Magnetic Tape on the VAX
i4.2/1 Standards for Magnetic Tape Transfer
i5.1/1 Listing Files on Microfiche
r1.1/1 VAX Network Commands
r2.1/1 The PAD: Interactive Use of Remote Computers
r3.1/1 An Introduction to Electronic Mail
|Interactive||Charged batch||Free Batch||Total|
|4-Weeks Ending||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||CPU Hours||%
During July 1990 the number of 8700-equivalent processors was increased from 6 to 7 and the VAX 11/785 was replaced by a VAX 3400.
|4-Weeks Ending||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||No. of Jobs||CPU Hours||CPU Hours|