|Previous page||Table of Contents||Next page|
1 This Report from the Information Technology Syndicate, which develops computing policy for the University and the Colleges and supervises the University Computing Service, covers the year from August 1999 to July 2000. The printed version of the Statistical Annex gives only top level summaries of the use of services but breakdowns to the level of individual institutions are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.cam.ac.uk/CS/ITSyndicate/AnnRep/stats99.00.html. Please note that the statistical information is not intended to be fully comprehensive, but only to give a general picture of the width and volume of Service activities.
2 The Syndicate continued to function well and effectively under the chairmanship of Professor Longair, while, as Chairman of the Technical Committee, Dr Heath ensured that it continued to provide extremely useful input on a wide range of issues. Professor Handy, who had served on the Syndicate since its establishment in 1991 (and before that on the Computer Syndicate) resigned during the Long Vacation. Towards the end of the year, in order to provide improved liaison on financial issues, the College representation was changed from three persons appointed by the Senior Tutors' Committee to two appointed by that Committee and one appointed by the Bursars' Committee.
3 Issues discussed by the Syndicate, and dealt with in more detail later in this Report, included charged network traffic, outgoing JANET bandwidth, the EastNET regional network, the Managed Cluster Service, and the video-conferencing service. The Syndicate also discussed and agreed an updated version of the University Software Policy, new guidelines on the use of bulk e-mail, and changes to the existing guidelines to cover the downloading from the Web of copyright material such as digitally formatted versions of music or films. Reports were also received on the lifetime e-mail service being offered to graduates by the Development Office with the support of the Management Information Services Division of the University Offices.
4 The Syndicate returned on several occasions to the difficulties of recruiting good, young computer support staff and concluded that, although the greater freedom now permitted within the present scales on appointment and promotion had gone some way towards solving the worst of the immediate problems, it was essential that the new Director of Personnel should lose no time in proceeding with his planned major review of Computer Officer salaries as a whole. And while the Syndicate was pleased to see the central bodies accept its proposals for a single Appointments Committee for all graduate computer staff appointments, considerable concern was expressed about the delay in their implementation.
5 In the summer of 2001, the academic side of the Computer Laboratory is scheduled to move to West Cambridge, taking the name with it but leaving the Computing Service behind; before then, it will be necessary for the University both to agree the necessary changes to Ordinances and to re-allocate the accommodation which will be released on the New Museums Site. In this context, the Syndicate discussed and approved proposals for the changes to Ordinances and also agreed to support the Computing Service's bid for additional space, which includes moving the undergraduate teaching rooms from the Old Music School to a more convenient location next to existing Service accommodation, making an additional computer room and using the top floors of the Austin Building for offices for Service staff relocated from parts of the building being vacated by the Laboratory as a whole, for relieving the present extreme shortage of office accommodation generally and to replace the existing common room.
6 The facilities and services provided by the Computing Service include:
Necessarily University-wide services, including networks and electronic mail;
Centrally-managed services such as the Public Workstation Facility (PWF) and the Central Unix Service (CUS), which provide any member of the University who needs them with access to facilities of a kind which institutions often provide in-house for their own staff and students;
Support services for institutional and individually-owned facilities ranging from local area networks and personal computers to powerful multi-user computers and scientific workstations;
Advice and consultancy services including a Help Desk for the centrally-managed facilities, the Techlink support scheme for local computer staff, and a wide range of training courses.
7 During the year, the staff and facilities of the former Systems and Development division were divided between the Network and the Systems and Unix divisions, while Technical User Support and User Services became separate divisions in their own right. This produced a Computing Service made up of five divisions, two managing central facilities and providing specialized technical support, and three supporting users, either individually or by institution.
The Network division is responsible for the University Data Network (CUDN), the Granta Backbone Network (GBN), support for institutional networking, the PWF, and the Managed Cluster Service;
The Systems and Unix division is responsible for the CUS, the Thor teaching facility, electronic mail and news services, Unix support to individual institutions, and the Pelican archive service;
The Technical User Support division is responsible for the Help Desk and the Techlink scheme for local computer support staff, training courses, general technical user support, and the hardware maintenance and video-conferencing services.
The User Services division is responsible for information provision, user administration, software sales, hardware purchasing advice, and the printing, photography, and illustration services;
The Institution Liaison division maintains contact with Heads of Department, other senior managers, and local computer support staff concerning institutional IT strategies and related matters.
8 The table below summarizes the estimated cost of various types of service provided by the Computing Service, distinguishing central funding (UEF and equipment grant) from costs met by charging users (with combined 1999 figures in italics). The cost recovery services account for £1.58m (30% of the total), compared with £1.32m in 1999 and £1.47m in 1998.
|Service||Centrally Funded||Cost recovery||Combined Total|
|CUS and Thor||147||88||235||6.4%||235||252|
|Other centrally-run facilities||219||10||229||6.2%||18||248||209|
|Other charged support services||290||12||302||8.2%||421||722||534|
|Advice and consultancy||615||50||666||18.2%||666||674|
|Directorate and liaison||287||111||398||10.9%||398||360|
|Administration and overheads||177||151||327||8.9%||327||281|
Some of the major developments during the year are discussed immediately below, followed by paragraphs about each of the individual services.
9 From August 1999, individual institutions were charged for their share of the cost of the incom-ing transatlantic SuperJANET traffic. Total traffic increased by over 70% on the previous year, but, because the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) charges for individual HEIs had been fixed on the basis of usage in 1998-99, the largest cost to any individual Cambridge institution (all the top four and seven of the top ten being Colleges) was only £6,300. The same charging mechanism has been retained for 2000-01, although with a rather smaller charge for Cambridge as a whole.
10 Although a number of Colleges have asked to be supplied with a breakdown of transatlantic charges to the level of individual users, the Computing Service is not able to do this. The amount paid to JANET for providing the institutional breakdown is already quite large and increasing the number of IP address ranges ('buckets') from a few hundreds to tens of thousands would make the cost prohibitive. And although the Service's snapshot monitoring software could be developed to produce reliable breakdowns of all incoming (or outgoing) JANET traffic, this would not solve the problem of assigning transatlantic traffic costs accurately to individuals because the actual routes taken by international network transfers are sufficiently unpredictable to produce significant uncertainty about exactly which parts of the total data arriving in Cambridge actually formed part of the charged traffic.
11 The general increase in network traffic also caused problems when the 8 Mbps limit on outgoing traffic from the CUDN into JANET began to be exceeded, sometimes for hours at a time. (There was typically twice as much incoming traffic, but JANET only places controls on transfers into the network.) Investigation showed that the extra traffic was largely due to new types of student recreational computing, including transfers of MP3 music files and DVD films. The use of Napster and similar products, which automatically compile indexes of files on individual workstations logged on to them and then encourage individual users to download the files they want direct from another user's machine, was a particular worry, both because of the amount of bandwidth taken up and because of the potential for widespread breach of copyright, which had already led to court actions against some US universities.
12 The Napster problem received much publicity in the student press, while Computing Service and local computer support staff put considerable effort into identifying the originators of particularly large transfers and either persuading them to change their ways or taking away their CUDN connection. In addition, a small amount of additional JANET bandwidth was purchased for a period including the Easter Term. Although these measures dealt successfully with the immediate problem, the IT Syndicate was sufficiently concerned about the longer-term impact on networking to refer the issue to the Senior Tutors' Committee and the Bursars' Committee.
13 As the result of a successful bid for funding under the second phase of the HEFCE Metropolitan Area Network Initiative, during the latter half of the year procurement was in progress for a regional network to be known as EastNet. This will together link seven universities (Cambridge, Anglia Polytechnic, Cranfield, East Anglia, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Luton), Homerton College, and Writtle College (Chelmsford), will be owned by the Association of Universities in the Eastern Region, and will have its JANET connection in Cambridge (in the Computing Service). The network is expected to be in service by the end of March 2001 and, together with SuperJANET IV, should increase the total bandwidth to and from Cambridge by a factor approaching two orders of magnitude.
14 The Managed Cluster Service (MCS) enables institutions to reduce the running costs of their general-access computer rooms by having the Computing Service install and manage both the Novell NetWare servers and software for the individual PCs and Macintoshes. This software consists of the standard PWF classroom software with optional additional applications by mutual agreement; the Service installs it, but the institution meets all licence costs and both procures and pays for any necessary hardware. A detailed service definition, which includes these and all other Service and institutional responsibilities, was drawn up in collaboration with the early user institutions and approved by the Syndicate. The Service makes an annual charge to institutions using the MCS; the amount depends on the cluster size and the income is primarily used to fund additional staff to run the service.
15 A very successful pilot scheme involving Downing College, Newnham College, Peterhouse, and the Departments of Land Economy and Clinical Veterinary Medicine started in the summer of 1999. By September 2000, the older PWF clusters in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics, the Computer Laboratory, and the Clinical School (some established as long ago as 1989) had been brought into the scheme, and further clusters added at St Catharine's, Fitzwilliam, Gonville and Caius, and Queens' Colleges, the Department of Archaeology, the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, and a large Arts and Humanities installation in four Departments on the Sidgwick Site. Since several other institutions are already interested in joining, the future rate of growth of the MCS seems to be limited only by the considerable load which taking new institutions on board places on the relevant Service staff.
16 Soon after the launch of this service in October 1998, it become apparent that the studio in the Old Examination Hall was both too small (taking at most four to six people) and badly located for the out-of-hours use often needed for international sessions. Fortunately, it was possible to construct a larger facility (taking up to twenty-five people) next to the security control room in the Cockcroft Building, and the service moved there at Christmas 1999, using the old video equipment but adding a capability for handling both ISDN2 and ISDN6 calls. The new room greatly stimulated demand and was used for 71 sessions (138 hours) between January and July, whereas in the previous 19 months the old room had only been used 49 times (82 hours).
17 Call destinations included the UK, seven other European countries, the USA, and seven more countries world-wide. The service was used by the Millennium Mathematics Project to allow Cambridge lecturers to set tasks to school pupils in London and South Africa and receive the results at later sessions, and by the Board of Continuing Education to record a set of twelve lectures in criminology for presentation in Russia. More common uses included Ph.D. viva voce examinations, student interviews, and research group meetings, while the Personnel Division booked a whole day for staff recruitment, with some interviewees appearing in person and others by video-conference.
18 This Act came into force on 1 March, although most existing computing activities have a transitional exemption until October 2001. The Computing Service supplied a member of a working party which reported to the Council in July on the general implications of the Act and also set up an internal task-force to discuss both what actions were required and how to advise users. The new Act covers all personal data on computers and also that in many manual files, but most Service uses of personal data were already covered by the 1984 Act. The main need for change arises because putting personal data on the World Wide Web now effectively requires the explicit consent of the data subject. Arrangements have therefore been put in hand to ensure that, from October 2001, the Service's Web-based look-up system will only supply e-mail addresses for those users who have already given the relevant permission.
19 Previous Reports have emphasized the problems caused when unidentified intruders from anywhere in the world succeed in gaining unauthorized access to the CUDN and the computers attached to it. During the year, Computing Service staff continued the regular, friendly probing of all computers connected to the network, to identify instances of known security weaknesses, and to feed back the results and recommendations for remedial action to local computer support staff. When this system was demonstrated to other universities at a security conference, much interest was shown in it and the Unix Support team subsequently received JTAP (JISC Technology Applications Programme) funding to develop the software and make it easier to transfer to other sites.
20 While there were many 'unfriendly' probes, none succeeded in causing a major security breach on a main Computing Service system. Incoming traffic was blocked on several ports which had been heavily used for probing, with exceptions being made for particular host destinations with a valid need. Thanks to the vigilance of the local Computer Emergency Response Team, advance warnings from JANET-CERT and other sources, and fast footwork by the e-mail team and other Service staff, few University users were troubled either by the probing or by the 'LoveBug' virus and its successors which received so much publicity in May and June. To keep up this satisfactory state of affairs, it is essential that not only the CERT, but everyone involved in systems management for machines connected to the CUDN should not drop their guard and should keep their software up to date.
21 At the beginning of the year, the design of the connection to JANET was changed so that when the main JANET link to London goes down, it does not also cut access between the University and local institutions with their own JANET connections, such as Homerton College and the Sanger Centre. Two lengthy periods of downtime in December and January were due to human error by Cable and Wireless staff and produced a letter of apology from UKERNA, while the effects of a number of similar but shorter outages in June were ameliorated because the use of an independent 64 Kbps ISDN link was successful in maintaining an e-mail service.
22 The Annex contains details of numbers of CUDN connections at the end of the year. The withdrawal of the last asynchronous and X.25 connections in October left a network made up mostly of ethernet connections at 100 Mbps or more (fast) or 10 Mbps or less (slow). During the year, the number of fast lines increased from 22 to 48 while that of the slow ones fell from 119 to 94. By themselves, these numbers give little idea of the overall size and complexity of the CUDN, because the end user equipment is connected via extensive local area networks (LANs) covering a whole building or even a whole Department. A better indicator of size is the total of Internet addresses issued for the University and Colleges, which was 36,500 at the end of 1999-2000 (compared with 29,500 in 1998-99 and 18,900 in 1997-98). Although not all the addresses are used for networked personal computers, the total clearly reflects the near ubiquity of these machines at all levels and in all parts of the University and the Colleges.
23 The institutional ethernet links are connected to a backbone network of area routers interlinked by GBN fibres. During the year much effort was put into increasing CUDN resilience and making it easier to track down faults by simplifying the structure of the backbone, replacing some older equipment, and providing at least two paths to each area router. Unfortunately, the need to respond to the continuing demand for higher bandwidth, as evinced by the installation of a pilot Gigabit ethernet (1000 Mbps) link between the New Museums and Downing Sites, tends to run counter to these good intentions. Meanwhile, the ability to use Virtual LAN techniques with the new routers enabled the Managed Cluster Service to connect remote clusters to the central site by means of a 'logical backbone' rather than IP tunnelling.
24 During the year, Network Support staff provided advice to individual institutions on over 170 occasions (covering topics such as how to wire up buildings, establish LANs, and connect them to the CUDN), while the Network Installation team carried out or supervised over 30 new or upgraded fast ethernet connections, several relocations and temporary connections, optical fibre installation work at 25 sites, and copper wiring at over 40. While total Magpie registrations were slightly down at 2,100, the V.90 56 Kbps service settled down and an ISDN service was introduced. In a continuing programme of avoiding congestion, 30 more fast lines were added in November and a further 30 (making 120 in all) are due by October 2000.
25 Network staff again handled all operational matters for the GBN Management Committee. In a year dominated by building projects, the new Mathematics building at Clarkson Road was provided with three GBN connections (for the CUDN, security, and a private link to Mill Lane), new ducts and cables were installed outside the footprint of a new building at St Edmund's College, and negotiations continued about a new route for the installation of cables into Chemistry once the Unilever building work has been completed. At West Cambridge, long-term plans were agreed for the provision of separate GBN nodes for each of its individual sub-sites, while in the short term the widening of the access road required the diversion and re-routing of all the existing GBN cables in that area. Finally, after many years of waiting, a GBN connection is to be installed at Homerton College as part of the EastNet project.
26 During the year, the Hermes mailstore delivered over twice the volume of mail as in 1998-99 (320 GB compared with 150 GB), although there were only 50% more individual messages. In June, two Sun E220R systems were installed to provide extra processing power for the two years or so left before the ever-increasing load will necessitate major changes to the underlying structure of Hermes. Although the rash of e-mail viruses in May required considerable expenditure of staff and machine resources on detecting and filtering them, thanks to the recruitment of a second member of staff at the start of the year, it was still possible to introduce some locally written software for automatic transparent indexing within Hermes mail folders, and this substantially improved overall performance, especially for larger folders.
27 Following the release of the Web-based help system for the PWF in October, the Information Group reviewed the printed documentation and decided to publish fewer leaflets on paper and more only on the Web. New subjects included advice on e-mail attachments, on the construction of e-mail lists, and on how and when (and when not) to use bulk e-mail in an acceptable manner. Advantage was taken of the opportunity to use reserve Computing Service funds to recruit an additional person to work on documentation. In addition to dealing with over 1,000 enquiries to Webmaster each quarter, the Technical Librarians reorganized the staff library and set up user libraries for the new Managed Cluster Service installations.
28 The Computing Service Web server continued to hold updated versions of much general University material, including the undergraduate prospectus, items from the Board of Continuing Education, and information (now including pictures) about our museums and collections, although the postgraduate prospectus was transferred to the server at the University Offices. Service staff continued to provide input to the University Web Site Steering Committee and to organize useful and well-attended courses and meetings for local Webmasters. The Web search engine, which produces a single index of the contents of all relevant local servers so that material can be found without reference to the internal structure of the University, was again heavily used, especially as the information providers learnt how to present their data in ways which make user searches easier. The table below compares use in July in 2000 and 1999.
29 During the year, requests to the main Computing Service Web site (http://www.cam.ac.uk/) came from over 180 country-level domains and totalled 49.1m (compared to 29.8m in 1998-99), with a daily peak of 216K. The server hosted pages for over 150 University societies, while 25 bodies took advantage of the separate, managed Web service server for those institutions which are capable of authoring pages but do not need to run their own server. The table below compares main server activity during July in 2000 and 1999.
|July 2000||July 1999|
|Servers, documents indexed||269, 267K||226, 180K|
|Total searches, data sent||90K, 1.8 GB||64K, 1.3 GB|
|% requests from Cambridge, rest of UK, rest of world||22%, 15%, 63%||22%, 16%, 62%|
|Originating computers: University, rest of world||4.4K, 21.1K||3.1K, 14.3K|
|July 2000||July 1999|
|Total requests received, total data sent||3.7m, 17.0 GB||2.3m, 9.7 GB|
|% requests from Cambridge, rest of UK, rest of world||42%, 10%, 48%||44%, 10%, 46%|
|Originating computers: University, rest of world||10.7K, 118.0K||8.5K, 85.7K|
|July 2000||July 1999|
|Total requests received, total data volume||61.8m, 465 GB||27.2m, 206 GB|
|% hits (requests), % hits (data volume)||48.3%, 19.3%||44.7%, 21.7%|
|Client systems, client domains||6,652, 150||4,529, 138|
|July 2000||July 1999|
|News server connections: monthly total, peak rate||232K,164||160K,112|
|Total, local newsgroups||13.7K, 229||12.9K, 218|
|Monthly volume, number of individual postings||19.1 GB, 9.2m||20.0 GB, 8.8m|
30 Local and national cache server facilities aim to reduce external network use by automatically maintaining copies of recently referenced Web docu-ments. The local cache continued to work well, and in February support was added for the Web Proxy Auto-discovery Protocol (WPAD). This provides an automated way for web browsers to locate and use the cache and, despite some problems with current browser implementations, increased the number of client systems by over 1,000. The table above compares cache activity for July in 2000 and 1999.
31 In October, the build-up of load caused problems with the national cache. To provide local users with an acceptable service, Computing Service staff continuously monitored the situation and disabled Cambridge use of the national cache at times of particularly bad performance (although fetching more material directly increased the charged transatlantic traffic). Making large-scale caches work well is still a rather black art, and the enhancement efforts of the national cache team were not wholly successful until well into the Lent Term.
32 The USENET news service continued to function well and reliably and, by giving Cambridge users access to thousands of local and world-wide news groups, was able to disseminate information on, and provide a forum for the discussion of, a very wide range of topics. The table above compares the levels of activity during July in 2000 and 1999.
33 Although the Managed Cluster Service (see above) stole the limelight, the Small Systems Group (including those new staff financed from MCS income) and Operations Group were also kept busy maintaining and updating the underlying PWF system. The policy of rolling out a new basic NT image each quarter generally went very well, although a tiresome (and fairly common world-wide) problem with broken user NT roaming profiles required them to be automatically scanned for and mended nightly. New PCs were installed in the Phoenix Teaching Room and User Area, and the old (but still very useful) systems were re-used for application servers and seats at the Oriental Studies Basement cluster. New equipment was also purchased for the user filestore, tape backup, and systems/applications software maintenance.
34 It became very evident during 1999 that the part of the Long Vacation which is available for major PWF enhancements is shrinking as more institutions use their clusters for taught courses during September, so that, in future, more of the work must be done at a different time. In another attempt to ease the same problem, course-givers planning to use new or updated PWF application software were required to submit formal requests well in advance. During the year separate pilot projects for possible Windows Terminal Servers and Novell Netware 5 implementations were started, but when each ran into unexpected problems it was decided to defer any further work and transfer the resources temporarily to the Managed Cluster Service. The following table summarizes PWF users and sessions for 1999-2000, with figures for 1998-99 in italics. (Note: The College registered users include all undergraduates.)
Public Workstation Facility
35 The Central Unix Service is widely used by researchers throughout the University while the related Thor facility supports (primarily science and technology) Unix-based taught courses. By replacing its two rather obsolete SPARCserver 1000s with three Sun E220R systems, the CUS processing power was increased by several times, to more what one might expect of a system with over 4,000 users, while the installation of a new fileserver backup device made it possible to significantly increase disc space quotas on the fileservers installed in the previous year. Although the main Thor system was not changed, a pilot project was started to provide Linux on the Computer Science PWF cluster (with the possibility of extension to other clusters in due course). The table overleaf presents summary statistical information for the use of the CUS and Thor in 1999-2000, with that for 1998-99 in italics.
Central Unix Service
36 In August and September 1999, the pre-registrations of new postgraduates (3,500) and undergraduates (also 3,500) were each completed successfully within days. Later in the year, electronic data feeds were also used to reduce the administrative load of students staying on for a further degree, of postgraduate cancellations, and of International Summer School registrations. Staff greatly appreciated the lack of any need for bulk password changes. The user administration manager served on the Student Data Model Working Party.
37 Although there were no major security breaches on central systems (see above), over 500 security and other incidents were reported (well up on 1998-99). All were investigated as potential security problems (about 10% turned out to be false alarms) and reports were passed on to JANET-CERT when appropriate. The external probing was mixed with many incidents originating nearer to home, including 'spam' (unwanted bulk e-mails, including ill-targeted recruitment attempts by external companies), offensive and harassing e-mail, and 'warez' (sites selling pirated software). Several guilty students had their e-mail accounts suspended (and were usually very indignant at the need to come in to the Computing Service to have them restored).
38 In December, transferring the Pelican data archive service from robot-driven tapes to a farm of discs went extremely smoothly, with essentially no interruption to normal service; the tape robot is still in use for handling backup. A welcome side effect of the change is that retrievals are quicker because there is no need to wait for tape loading and repositioning. The service continued to be widely used, especially by the University Library for projects including the storage of scanned photographic data. By July 2000, the archive was storing 166 GB of data (compared to 136 GB a year earlier) for 949 different users (923).
39 The Hitachi multiple parallel processor project comes under a separate committee of management, but the Computing Service has continued to provide it with the services of a senior programmer with a particular interest in advanced computing systems.
40 Software Sales supplies members of the University with competitively priced software through CHEST (Combined HE Software Team) or other deals, and administers University-wide support agreements for Sun and Silicon Graphics workstations. Users can consult a Web version of the software product catalogue and send order enquiries directly from its pages. The table below summarizes sales for 1999-2000, with the figures for 1998-99 in italics.
|Graphics and drawing, statistics||2,626||1,041|
|Office packages, operating systems/utilities||7,702||6,091|
|Programming languages, mathematics/libraries||698||611|
|Word processing, spreadsheets, databases||2,307||2,291|
41 In November, the Syndicate considered the relative costs and risks of obtaining site licences under Microsoft's Campus Agreement or continuing with their Select scheme (which is due to end in November 2001), and decided (like most Russell Group universities) to delay taking any firm decision. The Computing Service felt it must take part in the new five-year CHEST deal for NAG products, not only to save money on new purchases but also to legitimize the many copies already in use, mostly in scientific Departments; after some discussion, the relevant Schools all agreed to contribute a share of the annual cost. The total number of items supplied increased significantly, while from October onwards, major staff changes and the consequent training needs adversely affected the rate of dealing with user orders. However, by Easter 2000 normal service had been resumed with 70 to 90% of ordered items being supplied either immediately or within a week, and 95 to 99% within four weeks.
42 The Engineering Group provides institutions and individuals with either a full cover contract service or repairs charged on a time and materials basis. Successful warranty repairs were carried out on Viglen and Avantek PC systems and the group achieved Apple's 'Self-Service Organization' status, thereby gaining recognition as official repairers for Macintosh equipment throughout the University (including warranty repairs) and obtaining improved access to technical information and spare parts. The follow-ing tables summarize the work carried out during 1999-2000, with figures for 1998-99 in italics; although there was little change as regards contract repairs, the number of non-contract repairs went up by over 60% (and within that total the number of laptop repairs increased by over 260%).
Equipment repaired by type
|IBM PC, etc.||125||123||152||95|
Equipment repaired by institution
43 The Xerox Docutech, the Xerox and Agfa colour machines, and the booklet-making machine all worked reliably, but total use continued to decline (which will impact planning for after the Computer Laboratory moves out). During the year, the Docutech service produced a total of 0.75m impressions for the Computing Service (down from 0.9m in 1998-99), 0.72m for the Computer Laboratory (0.78m), and 0.52m for external customers (0.73m). Colour copy totals were: Service 12K (13K); Laboratory 1K (3K); external customers 13.5K (38K).
44 The overall volume of work this year was very similar to 1998-99. The service dealt with 8,800 rolls of E6 film, produced 166,000 colour prints and 10,800 computer-generated, 5,000 duplicate, and 400 diazo slides, and made up 3,700 more slides from artwork supplied by customers, while over 1,000 posters were produced (up from 900 in 1998-99) and display boards were loaned out on a number of occasions. Staff continued to take photographs at Congregations, both inside the Senate-House and on the Lawn, and were very happy to have the intensity of the General Admission work reduced by being spread over three days rather than two. Some specialist photographic work was also undertaken. A high speed 35mm film scanner and a replacement mounting and encapsulating machine were purchased.
45 Technical User Services (TUS) staff operate the Consultancy, Help Desk, and Techlink services (see below) and also maintain a wide range of application software on the PWF and other Computing Service facilities. At the start of the year, the pilot WINS server for Microsoft name lookup was converted into a production service. The Windows NT support service for PCs was formally announced in October and made good progress until its leader resigned in April; recruiting a direct replacement proved very difficult and the eventual solution involved much closer integration between this service and the Help Desk. With the help of the Small Systems group, a two-day workshop on Windows NT and ZENworks was organized for the benefit of those local computer staff planning to roll out NT workstation at their institution.
46 Dealing with viruses, distributing anti-virus software via the Web and otherwise, and increasing user awareness of the need to install it and keep it up to date continued to be major activities, especially given the replacement of Dr Solomon's AntiVirus Toolkit by VirusScan and Virex from April, and the appearance of the 'LoveBug' virus and its variants in May and June. The joint Computing Service/Library Electronic Reference Library system was moved to a larger Sun E250 system and an experimental Z39.50 interface was provided. Three new databases (EconLit, ATLA Religion, and The Philosopher's Index) were added to the existing six (Medline, Mathsci, GeoBase, Georef, PsycLit, and Criminal Justice Abstracts). Once again, Medline was by far the most widely and heavily used, although the largest monthly connect time for the latest version was only 2,200 hours compared with 2,500 in 1998-99.
47 Staff from TUS give general user consultations on a wide range of topics while the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre (LLCC) provides a specialist service for the humanities; TUS also provides a member of the support team which co-ordinates computing developments and technical liaison with the Computing Service for the whole of the Sidgwick Site. The following table summarizes the time spent on all kinds of advice and consultancy work (including the Help Desk) for 1999-2000, with 1998-99 figures in italics. The 'External' heading includes both charged specialist work carried out by LLCC for University institutions and the time spent by other staff responding to enquiries from outside institutions world-wide.
There seem to be three reasons for the significantly reduced activity compared to the previous year: the success of the policy of encouraging users to direct their initial enquiries to local computer support staff rather than to the Help Desk; the lack this year of the need for advisory activity associated with serious security breaches; and, towards the end of the year, the need for many local staff to concentrate on the introduction of the CAPSA accounting system, which has its own Help Desk, manned by the Management Information Services Division.
49 Only 32% of calls were made in person, with 39% by telephone and 29% by e-mail - a significantly different pattern from 1996-97, when the corresponding figures were 45%, 33%, and 22%. Over 80% of calls were closed within one hour and over 90% within two days, while, as in 1998-99, some 3% of the calls were referred to local computer staff when Help Desk staff could not provide a ready answer to a question about a non-Computing Service facility. At quieter times, and as a welcome change, the technicians who man the Help Desk began to assist with user training courses, documentation, and fault report investigation for PC Support.
50 As a quid pro quo for the Computing Service policy of directing users towards their local computer support staff, the Techlink scheme provides those staff with 'fast track' backup and general support. The scheme remains very popular, and had over 260 members in July (240 in July 1999), who were responsible for 13.4% of all Help Desk calls (12.3% in 1998-99) and, because their questions tend to be more difficult, for 21.8% (19.3%) of the total time spent answering calls. By popular demand, the previous year's weekly programme of fairly elementary 'troubleshooting' seminars was repeated during the Michaelmas and Lent Terms.
51 Providing training courses on central services and popular applications software reduces the advice and consultancy load and enables computer equipment throughout the University to be used more effectively. In October, so many courses became full, even allowing for standby places, that the Web booking system had to be changed to reject attempts to register for oversubscribed sessions. Some courses were moved to a larger venue and some repeat sessions were delivered; HTML was particularly popular and its introductory course was given five times in the term. Demand remained high all year, almost all bookings were made remotely (mostly via the Web but with some by e-mail), turnout rates approached 80%, and exit surveys showed over 90% of customers to be satisfied with the courses as given. For Michaelmas Term 2000, all relevant courses are being rewritten to use Microsoft Office 2000. The following table summarizes course information for 1999-2000, with 1998-99 figures in italics.
|Word and Doc. Processing||41||38||826||910|
|Spreadsheets and Databases||34||32||1,064||1,014|
52 In September and March, Dr Hazel, of the Computing Service, author of the widely used Exim e-mail software, gave two very successful one-day workshops which attracted a total of over 200 participants from academic and commercial institutions, both in the UK and abroad. In the Long Vacation 2000, three fully-subscribed, charged courses on Windows NT (one on server administration and two on security) were given by an outside trainer. The modular training courses provided for assistant staff, with financial support from the Personnel Division, remained popular, although numbers fell slightly to 176 people at 23 sessions (compared with 243 people at 27 sessions in 1998-99). The corresponding figures for the similar courses given on a charged basis to staff from Colleges were 167 people at 18 sessions (220 people at 25 sessions). Loans and sales from the self-teaching courseware library continued to increase, with the most popular products being those on keyboard skills, creating Web pages, Microsoft Access, and C.
53 With a full complement of staff throughout this year and rather less need to spend time on closing security loopholes or rescuing users with hacked systems, the group was able to support new developments such as the managed Web server service and the Computer Science Linux service (for both see above). The group also developed, and gave on three separate occasions, a week-long, hands-on course in Linux System Administration. There was very great demand for this course and it was greatly appreciated by the local computer support staff who attended it. The course also enabled the Unix Support staff to get over a great deal of useful information at one go, rather than in many individual one-on-one sessions.
54 This service advises both individual users and institutions about personal computer systems for particular needs and where to buy them most cheaply, using vendor information and the feedback obtained from regular meetings with the major suppliers. In November, at the fourth Demonstration Day, hundreds of University users again crowded into the Small Examination Hall to see a wide range of hardware and software vendors exhibit their wares.
55 The two staff of this division liaise on computing matters at institution level with senior management and computer support staff, calling on assistance from the Directorate, Network Support, and Technical User Services as required. During the year, QAA assessors began to place increasing emphasis on IT resources for student learning and, at the request of the General Board officer arranging their visits, Institution Liaison staff began to assist, both by attending the Learning Resources meeting with each team and by arranging for Small Systems staff to show one or more of the assessors around the central PWF classrooms. These steps seem to have been very worthwhile as, since they started, few QAA visits have resulted in the award of anything other than maximum marks. In both this and other contexts, the division's annual survey of College student computing facilities, which is repeated each Easter Term and again achieved a 100% response rate, is proving to be extremely valuable.
56 Institution Liaison organize both the very popular meetings of Departmental and College computer staff and regular meetings to discuss matters of mutual interest between the Computing Service and the Library, and, starting this year, between the Service and the Management Information Services Division. Other meetings which were attended by staff dealt with subjects as diverse as the final stages of the Year 2000 Working Party, the refurbishment of the Raised Faculty Building, the selection of the Library's replacement automation system, IT facilities at the new Betty and Gordon Moore Library, and what EMBS should recommend about energy-saving to personal computer users. During the year, they also fitted in over 140 visits by request to individual University institutions and 100 to Colleges, assisted institutions with staff selection on 25 occasions, and helped with the induction of more than a dozen new staff into the idiosyncrasies of Cambridge and the local computing scene.
|M. S. LONGAIR (Chairman)||R. HANKA||A. D. B. POOLE|
|S. J. BARTON||M. F. HEATH||KATE PRETTY|
|D. E. DETMER||S. KEARSEY||J. RASHBASS|
|I. M. LEM. DUQUESNAY||M. M. LAVY||N. ROBINSON|
|P. K. FOX||I. LESLIE||M. D. SAYERS|
|R. GLEN||B. K. OMOTANI||P. B. WILSON|
[Note: the figures and tables of the Statistical Annex are not reproduced online - please consult the paper edition of the Reporter.]
|Previous page||Table of Contents||Next page|
Cambridge University Reporter Special, 19 January 2001
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.