There will be a meeting of the Colleges' IT Group representatives on Tuesday 11th May 1999 at 14:15 in the Beit Room, Rhodes House, Parks Road.
A G E N D A
1.Apologies for absence
2.Minutes of the meeting held on Tuesday 2nd February 1999
4. Chairman's Business *RAT - Report Available
5. Computing Services Report - Report Available
6. Administrative Information Services Report - Report Subsequently Available (after meeting)
7. Libraries Report - Report Available
8. Report of IT Support Staff Group - Report Available
9. Any other business
10. Dates of next meetings
Jane Brownjane.firstname.lastname@example.org 4th May 1999
OXFORD UNIVERSITY COLLEGES IT GROUP
Colleges IT Group - 11th May 1999 - Item 4
Robert A Taylor
4th May, 1999
I thought that I would use the vehicle of the Chairmans Report this term to stimulate some debate on one or two issues that have arisen over the Easter vacation.
The first comes under the heading of security. My college, in common with several others, has come under increasing electronic attack of late. This has mostly been by spoofing and denial of service attempts. The problem has become so serious that we are now running our own Drawbridge firewall system. I wondered what the general view from the colleges IT group was regarding this issue? Should the University as a whole put more restrictions on traffic at the point where our intranet meets Janet?
A second related question then arises. Should we impose compulsory Web caching on our students? If we have a system such as Drawbridge in place we can force all Web requests to use port 8080. Is this desirable? Will the University save anything in the long run, given that we might well be charged for cached traffic on Janet as well?
Finally, I come to the question of site licensing. The eternal LINUX/Microsoft debate boiled up once more during the vacation. Im not certain that my comments will help at all in what seems to have become a religious debate, but here they are anyway! In my experience, most users of computers care little for the niceties of their operating system, whatever it may be. Users have, in general, invested a great deal of time and effort over the years in coming to grips with specific applications such as Photoshop, Word, Excel, Access, Origin, DTP packages and so forth. Each of these allows the experienced user a great deal of productivity in his or her particular application. These users are unlikely to move over to other "similar" products on rival operating systems because no matter how similar they are, they are not the same. Why should we expect users to switch wholesale to new programs simply because of a loathing of the emperor Gates?
Then there is the question of support. LINUX, for all its virtues (of which there are many, I am happy to concede), is not well suited to single user desktop installation. It is a system for IT folk, and as such will probably continue to grow as a rival to Microsoft in many areas. The costs to colleges of administering badly set up LINUX installations in students rooms is, quite frankly, frightening. In Queens we are actively considering banning students with LINUX on their PCs from enabling services such as Sendmail, Web servers, FTP servers and the like on their systems because of the security risks that these entail. Who is going to ensure that the latest security patches and kernel fixes are installed regularly?
It is therefore inevitable that we are going to have to exist in a multi-operating system environment for the foreseeable future. We will still rely heavily on Microsoft products and I believe that any software deal which can be made to make life cheaper for us all in the long run should be welcomed with open arms. A final caveat, of course, is that we will always have to examine the small print and legal liabilities in these agreements, after all, we dont want to become slaves of the evil empire do we?
Robert A. Taylor
Chairman Colleges IT Group
OXFORD UNIVERSITY COLLEGES IT GROUP
Colleges IT Group - 11th May 1999 - Item 5
Computing Services Report
T Alex Reid, Director
4th May 1999
1. Backbone Network Replacement
Papers setting out the plans to replace the Backbone Network commencing this summer can be seen at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/ Following careful consideration by the TRG, the current intention is to use Gigabit Ethernet technology to replace the 100Mbps FDDI network. Minutes of that meeting can be seen at http://users.ox.ac.uk/~trg/Minutes-Mar99.html
The work will require a formal procurement tender, and a Steering Group has been set up to oversee the process. It is expected that the first stage (for which funds have already been earmarked) will take place over summer. This will involve installing a parallel network over spare fibres, connecting it to the existing network in OUCS, and connecting to it a selection of departments which account for a disproportionate amount of the backbone traffic. Over the next 2 years, all other departments and colleges will then gradually be transferred across; funds for this have been sought from the General Board and Resources Committee. Details of the arrangements for meeting any costs associated with departments and colleges connecting have not yet been worked out, though in most cases these should be minimal.
2. Backbone Network Extensions
All the extensions of the Backbone Network along Banbury and Woodstock Roads, across Folly Bridge, and now along Iffley Road have been finalised. This completes the Project to make certain key extensions to enable major concentrations of student accommodation to be connected, for which the General Board voted funds last year. Other minor and ad hoc extensions continue on a demand basis. This includes Littlegate House, Ewart House and installation of a radio-LAN link to Templeton, and a few extensions funded by colleges or groups of colleges. A major microwave link to the Department of Materials new premises at Begbroke is also in progress.
A bid for funds to the HEFCE MAN initiative (see http://www.niss.ac.uk/education/hefce/pub99/99_10.html) is being prepared, in conjunction with Brookes, to create a second route to Headington, to provide much greater resilience for the link to Brookes and to the hospitals.
3. Janet Connection
We still await advice from UKERNA about how much an increase to the bandwidth of our connection will cost. Since our inwards traffic dominates (see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/janet.html), and we have effectively 25Mbps capacity on that side, this is not quite so pressing as might otherwise seem. Indeed, the outwards traffic actually seems to be tailing off (after allowing for the "rogue" usage in Nov/Dec97) can anyone throw any light on that?
The current US link consists of two 45Mbps connections; these will shortly be upgraded to 155Mbps and then to 310Mbps. This significant increase in bandwidth is necessary to keep pace with continuing demand, despite the imposition of charges; it will not bring with it a cost penalty, since the cost of trans-Atlantic bandwidth has fallen sharply, so that the total cost of the trans-Atlantic link remains about the same.
Some relevant facts and figures concerning our use of Janet are:
4. Charging for Trans-Atlantic Traffic
Oxfords bills for the first 9 months inwards trans-Atlantic traffic (Aug98-Apr99) have been as follows (including VAT, and after the 50% discount provided by HEFCE):
At this rate, the bill for 1998/9 will amount to about £75,000, which cost will be met by the General Board.
Please continue to track your traffic and billing data which is available for general scrutiny at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/janet-billing.html
Work is still proceeding on a means of providing detailed costings down to the individual computer (IP address). In the meantime, we are also still working out strategies for the rapid identification of "wayward" systems. In the short-term, we plan to make a temporary appointment (from salary savings) who will inter alia chase up possible instances of wayward usage.
The above falling trans-Atlantic link costs will (thankfully) be reflected in the rate of charge for traffic from 1-Aug-99. The basis for charging will also change somewhat, in order to provide a degree of predictability (for budgetary purposes) of the amount to be billed (the amount UKERNA has to recover is a known and relatively fixed amount). The bills will be based on usage in the previous year (for 1999/2000, probably only the first 3 quarters of 1998/9, since the last quarter will not be known till August, though this is not yet determined, and it could be based just on the last quarter). Present indications are that Oxfords bill for 1999/2000 will amount to about £145,000; submissions have been made to the General Board and Resources Committee for this again to be met centrally.
If this new charging regime comes into effect, there will be less urgency to implement procedures to determine individual charges. However, there will be just as much urgency to introduce measures to constrain usage, since it will be Oxfords share of the total traffic which will determine our share of the total bill. If other universities manage to reduce their usage substantially (such as Manchester has already done see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/uscompar.gif), and many are planning now to do so, then we must follow suit. As a result, OUCS will continue with its plans to introduce compulsory use of the cache (see separate item below).
As for 1998/9, traffic directed through the national cache will again be free in 1999/2000, as will traffic between 1am and 6am (and again, only inwards traffic will count).
5. Making the Web Cache Compulsory
OUCS has recently upgraded the local Oxford Web cache, and taken other steps to ensure it will be able to cope with substantially increased use. This has also happened at the national cache. Present indications are that the median time to serve pages from the local cache is about 0.5 seconds (ie effectively instantaneous), and if not available in the local cache (ie requiring direction to the national cache, where it may or may not be available) the median delay is only 3.5 seconds. This encourages us to believe that making the cache compulsory will not be too traumatic!
As indicated above, we are convinced that it will be necessary, as soon as possible, to make use of the Web cache compulsory. We plan to do this by means of the network routers, which will enable us to do it progressively. We plan to start with OUCS early this month. Depending on our experience with that, the next group might be the college networks, leaving the science departments to last. However, we hope to have all networks configured to require use of the Web cache within a few weeks. The alternative is the prospect that not only will our bills for traffic for May to July continue to increase, but they may form the basis for our charges in 1999/2000 also, thus having a double impact so the sooner we implement the better. Procedures to ensure timely implementation of bypassing for particular sites are being developed, though these are now in place for all known library electronic databases.
6. Oxford Firewall
Plans are also advancing for the installation of a Firewall at the connection point between Oxfords network and Janet. Technically, this is now nearly ready to be implemented, though a few hitches have been encountered; however, decisions have yet to be made on various policy issues such as who and how to allow people to have their servers visible outside Oxford. In any case, implementation will almost certainly proceed on the basis that it will be fully open initially, and certain classes of access controlled one by one as decisions are made and advertised. A discussion paper can be found at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/papers/firewall.html
Some users will be aware of various developments in the USA to provide better and faster networking between universities and research institutions. Of particular note is Internet2, which is the initiative of a group of US universities, now extended internationally, to build "next generation" networks. This development is being managed by an organisation called UCAID. UKERNA has recently joined UCAID as an associate member, and investigations are proceeding as to how UK universities can best avail themselves of the opportunities which this represents. In particular, UKERNA and UCAID are looking for research groups or others within UK universities with a need for very high speed or guaranteed bandwidth connections to specific institutions (particularly in the US). If you represent such a group, or know of one, please let the OUCS Director know (alex.reid@oucs). For further details of Internet2, see the notes of a recent meeting with the President of UCAID, at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/papers/Internet2.html
8. Offensive Material
The IT Committee, the Proctors and OUCS continue in their campaign to warn against using University IT facilities to receive, display, store or transmit offensive or pornographic electronic material (Web, newsgroups, ftp, email, etc). See http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/oxford/rules/offensive.xml for the official policy on this. OUCS has been authorised to undertake periodic scans of web traffic, and to bring potentially offending material to the attention of the relevant authorities. Already, a number of offences have been dealt with a summary of some cases dealt with by the Proctors can be seen at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/restricted/student-offences.html
We recently issued an email warning message to everyone in the University with an email account, and it is hoped that this form of publicity will have the necessary effect.
9. Sable/Ermine Performance
Both computers have been upgraded to the latest operating system patch level, and seem to be quite stable. Their workloads continue to be exceedingly high. It had been expected that the introduction of Herald would have relieved the pressure on Sable (in particular). This does not appear to have happened. However, it may be that the load would have been even heavier without Herald. Equally, we are aware that some earlier limitations of Herald (eg absence of an address book facility) may have limited its impact. We are faced with the difficult decision over whether to upgrade Sable further to enable it to cope better with the load, or to hope that improvements to Herald will finally bring the sought-for relief. We will defer any such decision for now, but attempt to investigate the nature of the workload to see what else might easily be shed to more economical special-purpose facilities.
10. HFS Status
The internal structure of the HFS has been reorganised to segregate the different types of service, in an attempt to improve overall performance and stability. This seems to have brought some improvement. Nevertheless, the load continues to rise, and the system does cope remarkably well overall; however, we are highly dependent on the dedicated team of support staff to keep it that way. We still have not felt able to release version 3 of the client software to users; it is hoped this will be possible soon.
11. Central Email Server - Herald
The Herald email server has been upgraded to add important features such as address books, and continues to perform very satisfactorily. We have now also opened it to general use, so anyone wishing to open a Herald email account may do so. See http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/email/herald/ for further details, and http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/registration/ to register.
12. Charging for HelpDesk Service
All Colleges have now been invited to subscribe to continued access to the HelpDesk for their undergraduates. Members of the following departments are reminded that they will not have direct access (except for IT staff) to the HelpDesk after 31-Jul-99:
Chemistry, Clinical Medicine (Faculty), Computing Laboratory, Engineering Science, Human Anatomy, Mathematical Institute, Pathology, Pharmacology, Physics and Plant Sciences
Plans to implement a simple system of identifying appropriate IT staff to whom to refer queries in the case of opted-out departments are progressing. We now also have some useful data on usage, which will inform these changes, and which we hope to make more generally available before too long.
Further information about the changes and of the offer being made to Colleges can be seen at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/papers/charged-help-service.html
13. Microsoft Software Licences
The current Select4 licence arrangement for Microsoft products runs until the end of November 1999. Microsoft has now committed to continuing Select for two more years beyond that.
Details of Microsofts new Campus Agreement have also been announced and are being examined. It seems likely that it may be in Oxfords best interests to enter this Agreement it will cost about the same as is currently (collectively) being spent on Microsoft products, but we will not need to keep detailed records of every copy installed, and unlimited copies can be made for the same price. On the down side, it is a rental agreement, and reassurances about the possibility of future price hikes have not been totally convincing. Arranging to fund this may also prove complicated, though the most obvious means would be a straight top-slice of the Universitys funds, at the Resources Committee level (a submission has been made to the General Board to prepare the way if necessary). A discussion paper can be seen at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/papers/microsoft-campus-agreement.html
In the meantime, the Central Site Licence scheme has funded Oxfords participation in the Corel site licence (covers all Corel products, including WordPerfect) and StarOffice (a Microsoft Office lookalike which runs on a variety of platforms, including Linux). It should be noted that the Corel licence is also a rental scheme.
Members may also be interested to read the Report prepared for JISC (by Alan Robiette) on alternatives to Microsoft (see http://www.jtap.ac.uk/reports/htm/jtap-029.html), which concludes that it may be possible for universities to make significant savings if they chose to standardise on (say) Linux and StarOffice instead of "proprietary" products like Microsoft. Although this would theoretically possible for Oxford, it is not thought that this University would wish to embark on such a degree of standardisation, nor to outlaw products like Microsofts Office suite.
14. Year 2000 Compliance Status
OUCS has now issued a statement of Y2K compliance for the wide range of services it provides. These can be seen at http://www.ox.ac.uk/year2000/internal/central/oucs.html which indicate that there are not likely to be any serious problems. However, we must reiterate the following:
Your attention is also drawn to the main University web site on Year 2000 issues (http://www.ox.ac.uk/year2000/internal/ - noting the "Whats New" section especially), and also to the advice for microcomputer owners on the OUCS web site at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/year2000/y2k.html
15. IT Strategy Review
The IT Committee is currently preparing a draft revision of the Universitys IT Strategy, which is due to be issued for comment shortly. Discussion papers can be seen at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/papers/it-strategy-review-99.html
OXFORD UNIVERSITY COLLEGES IT GROUP
Colleges IT Group 11th May 1999 - Item 7
Everard Robinson and David Price
29th April 1999
Problems relating to the Solaris Upgrade have now been resolved, and there has been very little downtime to the main server during the past term.
The OLIS database is now approaching 5 million copy records, and major retrospective conversion projects are completed or nearing completion. A recent survey of college and departmental libraries revealed a further 2 million copies still to be added to OLIS. Funding is being sought for the cataloguing of significant collections of early printed books; maps and music scores also need to be addressed and funding will be sought for them.
1.2 million records from the Bodleian Pre-1920 catalogue are currently undergoing pre-processing prior to loading them in a parallel database to OLIS and it is planned that they, together with OLIS, will be available to a common borrower file for the Stack Request System.
108,000 records for Oxford libraries will shortly be loaded to OLIS from the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).
Specification of an Automated Stack Request System is nearing completion, although we have yet to ascertain the cost of this software in order to implement it at Oxford. I predict that Geac will charge a considerable sum for this software.
2. New Software Releases
Geac have recently released version 4 of GeoWeb, and also a later release of the core ADVANCE software. The software has been received by their UK office, but has still to be installed in Oxford and we have yet to confirm with Geac when our system can be upgraded.
Geac have also sent to us evaluation copies of release 5.5 of GeoCat and GeoPAC. These provide greater patron functionality and, among other things, will allow sorting of search results.
At a recent Geac User-Group meeting I saw the new client for circulation GeoCirc demonstrated and also saw a presentation of GeoHold, which will provide improved information about holdings of individual titles within Oxford. Both of these clients are shortly to go into quality assurance prior to release to the regions. Geac predict that the release date will be in June this year.
3. Caching and Email
Library workstations are now being set up to restrict the use of public terminals for email in those libraries where there is pressure on reader workstations. They are also being set up to use the university cache to reduce trans-atlantic traffic. However, certain databases in the US do not lend themselves to use of the cache as each search is unique. Databases provided by the Research Libraries Group (RLG) can also access the US via a private line direct to the US and hence the cache has been programmed to allow these searches to bypass the university and national cache.
4. Bodleian Database Network
a) ERL (Electronic Reference Library)
The server has been upgraded to ERL Version 4.04. An unexpected bug was introduced with this release that prevents heavily used sites such as ours from processing the raw statistical data. The suppliers are aware of the problem and we await a fix.
We have already announced the availability of the Windows client WinSPIRS 4. However it has become evident that we must exhort all users of WinSPIRS 2 to upgrade to the latest version for two reasons. Firstly, WinSPIRS 2 is not Y2K compliant. Secondly, and more importantly, we have been trialling a system called SilverLinker which permits links from citations retrieved from searches on bibliographic databases such as Medline directly to the articles in any electronic journals to which we subscribe. It will be some time before we have sufficient, reliable subscriptions to offer this as a production service but the trial has shown that it causes WinSPIRS 2 users to lose their connections to the server. This problem will not be fixed as WinSPIRS 2 is no longer supported. Please encourage your WinSPIRS users and systems administrators to upgrade to version 4. Note that those accessing ERL through OxLIP will be running software from our servers and will not need to upgrade. Non OxLIP users can download client software from links at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/erl/
An interesting development requiring close collaboration between Bodleian Systems and the Libraries Automation Service has enabled us to present users of WebSPIRS 4.1 with a button within each citation which will enable a direct look up on OLIS of the journal or book in question. We believe this will be a valuable facility for users and we are examining the feasibility of introducing this as a production service which we hope to do shortly.
b) NT/Novell Servers
We have been making the base Microsoft Technet CDs available on campus but consider this to be an under-used service. This may be due to the fact that hitherto they have been mounted on relatively slow CD-ROM drives. We shall shortly be mounting the full set, c. 30 CDs, on hard disc which should improve markedly the performance and usefulness of the service. When we have done so we shall promote the service more widely. The access instruction will remain as they are now, viz. run:
or under Novell networking
OXFORD UNIVERSITY COLLEGES IT GROUP
Colleges IT Group 11th May 1999 - Item 8
IT Support Staff Group Report
Gerard Robinson - Chairman
Carol Bateman - OUCS
Pete Biggs - Department
Sue Brooks - OUCS
Jane Littlehales - OUCS
Jonathan Marks - College
Giuseppe Mazzarino - Department
Gail Merritt - Libraries
Stuart Sharp - College
There have been two meetings of the ITSSG since the last meeting of Colleges IT Group - 1st March and 19th April 1999.
This meeting and ensuing discussion was the main topic of the meeting.
Gerard Robinson (Chairman of ITSSG) had produced a paper in consultation with other members of the group. This provided the basis for the meeting with Nick Woodhouse.
It was clear from the discussion with Nick Woodhouse that he had a different view of the role of ITSSG, from what we had understood our role to be, and from what our Terms of Reference were indicating. In summary terms, we had hitherto seen our role as a representative and initiating and enabling body working in the interests of all IT Support Staff. Nick Woodhouse viewed our role as, in essence, purely a representative role. He did not think it reasonable that any resource should be provided to support the work of ITSSG.
After Nick Woodhouse left the meeting there was a discussion covering the comments he made on GR's Paper, the points to come out of this were as follows:
Jane Littlehales had made more progress on analysing the questions regarding staff grading. A large number of IT Support staff are on the RS1A scale. (at the time of the survey)
Pete Biggs is looking into the possibility of holding an exhibition for IT related suppliers and manufacturers in Michaelmas Term 1999.
Following the previous meeting with Nick Woodhouse, the group went through the Terms of Reference document and re-drafted it to reflect what appears to be the reality of what can be achieved. This redrafted Terms of Reference would be submitted to the IT Committee for their perusal and approval.
It was agreed that the following papers should be submitted to IT Committee over the next term
IT Support Staff Conference is on Thursday 24th June at St. Catherine's College.
There had been several meetings towards organisation of the Conference and progress had been made. Confirmed programme for the day, and registration form will soon appear on the web. Format of the day is much the same as previously. There will be 2 seminar sessions in the afternoon (rather than 3), and a reception at St. Catherine's College at the end of the day.
The following report was added to the papers after the meeting on 11th May:-
ADMINITSRATIVE SERVICES' REPORT (subsequent to meeting)
The following report was submitted by Bill Platts after the Colleges' IT Group Meeting, it has been added here as there are some useful points which are relevant to the minutes of the meeting.
Central Student Records System
The first phase of the conversion to Unix/Ingres of the remaining component of the central student records system has fallen some four months behind schedule for several reasons, not least of which is staffing difficulties. Every possible priority is being given to this area of work, which also has Y2K implications.
The second phase of redevelopment of this system will continue through the calendar year 2000. The question of an improved interface between college and central student records systems is one of the many items and issues that will be addressed during this phase. It is neither appropriate nor possible to go into much detail about this particular aspect at this stage of the proceedings, but it is perhaps worth noting that any challenges here are of a business/organisational rather than a technical nature. To take just one example from undergraduate admissions, the optimum method of transmitting provisional offer/acceptances would require college offices to support the highly structured format of response that UCAS dictates for decisions and it is by no means clear that this would be welcomed by all colleges.
It may also be of interest to know in this connection that the section of the University Offices responsible for student records and administration propose to undertake a fundamental review the whole field of student data flows with a view to improving information quality and timeliness.
ADMIT and the Proposed College Student Records Development
Charles Wroth has almost completed work on the additional facilities resulting from the `wish list' review he undertook with ADMIT users earlier this year. He has also commenced investigation of requirements for a core collegiate student records system. The intention is to complete a feasibility study report early in Michaelmas Term as a basis for deciding if/how/when to proceed.
WAP/MGJ 7/6/99 AISC\stu0706r