Oxford Materials IT Committee Meeting

A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on Tuesday 30th January 2007.


  • 1 Apologies for absence and Membership of the Committee
  • 2 Matters arising from the Minutes of the Meeting of the last meeting
  • 3 IT/AV – Matters for Discussion (attached)
  • 4 IT/AV – Head of IT Report (attached)
  • 5 IT/AV expenditure - matters for report (PJW)
  • 7 AOB
  • 8 Date and time of next meeting: Tuesday 8th May 2007 at 2pm


See minutes below.


• Server provision and proposal for server room.

• Email repository

• Usage of spare CPU capacity for Modelling.


Admin Network
David Kidd joined the department providing maternity cover for Laura Vockins. Laura Jones has returned from maternity leave and Kirsten Dickers is moving to Division. Dai Williams has left the department and been replaced by Andrew Henderson. Two webcams were purchased for Skype interviews.

Teaching Laboratory
The laptops were upgraded to 768Mb RAM.

Lecture theatres / meeting rooms
Last term the Characterization seminars and the Department Colloquia were broadcast live using the divisional Viewcast equipment. This term only the Department Colloquia will be broadcast and efforts will focus on the server for on-demand streaming of the recorded resource. Also still chasing a permenant video link to Begbroke.

Digital Darkroom
The HP8550 colour printer was replaced with a HP5550 printer.

Nothing to report.

Additional 7 monitors were added to head-less desktops to make full complement of machines needed for the Materials Modelling course running this term. The hardware failures on the cluster Pople were resolved and the system appears stable since before Christmas. Plans for solving the overheating issue are being presented to ITC at this meeting. Quotations for futher cluster computation hardware are being sought.

Crispin Hetherington has taken over support for the central EM’s and as part of this is currently reorganising the EM computer room. KS and Clive Downing are also working on a system for protecting the EM instrument PC’s from the world and from users. PJW rewrote the web booking system with considerable user feedback from EM.

The Department staff personal homepages were updated manually. The new system still needs developing when time permits.

The EM booking system was ported to http://external.materials.ox.ac.uk/research/booking.php and the old Mac server (http://photos.materials.ox.ac.uk) running Filemaker Pro 2.1 has been retired.

The BegbrokeNano website which uses Joomla CMS is operation but has not been changed significantly since acceptance. Kay Davies has been learning Joomla to provide addional support.

The Outreach website (created by TALL part of Continuing Education) has been transferred to the department webserver and a training session held. Dave Hutton and Martin Carr are to populate it. Some technical incompatibilities are being resolved.

The intended review of research group websites last summer still has not happened because of time-limitations and taking a broad departmental view rather than fixing specific research group websites individually.

Research in Progress was printed. ( PDF publications summary available).

Technical problems with upgrading the core network switch have been resolved by changing from 3com 3824 to Foundry however the hardware still need to actually occur. This changeover will enable gigabit connectivity between some buildings and reliable VLAN’ing of separated network traffic.

Nothing to report except photos.materials has been decommissioned.

There have been no reports of problems with the phones.

Several instances of possible p2p activity were investigated but not action taken.
The door entry system in PR has an intermittent hardware fault. We have a temporary workaround but it still needs fixing in the longer term.


A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on Tuesday 30th January 2007.
The following people attended: APD, PJW, AMC, KS, AHM, JAMS, CJS and Ralf Drautz.

1. Apologies for Absence and Membership of the Committee


2. Matters arising from the minutes

a) IT disaster recovery plans (Minute 2b)
PJW circulated, with the agenda [May 2005], a draft review of UPS provision within the department as the first step towards creating disaster recovery documentation.
The department has spent several thousands of pounds over the past year improving UPS cover for servers and network switches but further work is needed in this area so the item is still carried to the next meeting. [Carried to next meeting again.] [See item about Serverroom below]

Action: PJW

b) Website (Minute 2c)
The proposed review of research group websites did not happen during the summer 2006 but has been carried forward to the next meeting. Advice and guidance is to be offered by PJW upon compliance with University Website Policies and upon mechanisms for easy updating of content. PJW to email notices to raise interest in web authoring and best practice. Carried to next meeting. [Item carried to next meeting however there has been considerable groundwork as outlined in the Head of IT report again]

Action: PJW

c) Copyright (Minute 2d)
PJW attended lecture “WISER Teaching: Copyright Law” in June 2006 to gain overview of the new digital copyright license regulations. On 15th August 2006 the department registered a 6-monthly “null” return. In October PJW notified seniorstaff, fellows and admin by email about the implications of the HE digital copyright license to cover the creation of digital copies for use a course material available electronically.
This department does not have a centrally coordinated provision of course material electronically. Most lecturers give paper handouts. Some lecturers make their course materials available electronically themselves.
PJW emailed staff to promote use of weblearn to coordinate distribution of course materials. An audit visit to Oxford will take place 24th January. Next returns are due in February 2007.

APD/PJW to chase staff for returns, to request copyright signs be placed beside all scanners and to remind staff about emailing URL’s rather than actual copyrighted PDF’s.

Action: PJW/APD

d ) Website (Minute 2e)
JAMS raised several points concerning the department website. The new projects page needs to be clearer for prospective students to find projects of interest. The current status of representation of research groups on the Department website is patchy at best, and a centralized system for summarizing Research Group information is desirable. PJW held a first meeting with JAMS and is currently drafting a template for a research group website to be rolled out over the summer. [Item again carried to next meeting however there has been considerable groundwork as outlined in the Head of IT report]

Action: PJW/JAMS

e) Microwave (Minute 2g)
APD asked for an update on the status of the microwave equipment. The equipment has been turned off and the license discontinued but there has been no progress in finding a buyer. KS reported that a buyer for the microwave had not been found so the equipment has been removed and disposed (~60% complete).

f) VOIP Phones (Minute 3a)
CJS reported that some VOIP phones intermittently reboot automatically. PJW has started automatic monitoring of VOIP phones using Nagios and has also asked Telecoms to check their logs to identify problems. No feedback from Telecoms to date.

g) 21 BR Lecturetheatre (Minutes 4a)
PJW emailed notices with details about the new equipment available in 21BR lecture theatre.

h) Webcasting (Minute 4b)
PJW presented summary document to DC in week 8 overviewing equipment/personel costs for webcasting. DC agreed to continue with webcasting pilot scheme for Department Colloquia but to drop the Characterization Seminars in order to allow PJW and AHMcK to focus on methodology for creating an on-line resource.

i) Digital Darkroom Printer (Minute 4c)
The HP8550a3 printer failed fully and was immediately replaced with a HP5550dn printer.

j) University ICT Strategy (Minute 5b)
PJW circulated to ITC a summary of issues from the new University ICT Strategy.

k) OUCS 5-year plan (Minute 5c)
PJW circulated to ITC a summary of issues from the new OUCS 5-year plan.

l) Committee Structures (Minute 8b)
PJW updated committee webpage http://www.materials.ox.ac.uk/it/itcommitee.html to take account of revised committee structures within the department.

3 Matters for Discussion

a) Server provision and proposal for server room
An outline for reorganisation of the Hume-Rothery Plant Room to become a central server room was presented verbally and discussed. The proposals would address:
• Avoiding overheating of core network hardware in plant room due to existing cluster
• Locating addition cluster computation resources due to be purchased in March.
• Locating ESTEEM project hardware due to be purchased in February.
• Relocation of 3 servers from 21BR IT room to improve disaster cover
• Relocation of 6 servers from current server room (cupboard?) to improve access
• Relocation of 10 workstations from EM IT room to improve working environment
PJW to firm-up details of proposal in consultation with SHA, UED and air-conditioning and security consultants and then take proposal forward to DC for funding approval. APD indicated general agreement with the idea.

Action: PJW

b) Email repository
A proposal for a departmental email repository was discussed. It is proposed to provide a department server to store emails when the normal herald quota is reached rather than storing the emails on the user’s local hard disk. Security considerations were discussed. KS has purchased suitably resilient hardware and the system will be configured and advertised later this term. It is expected that initial uptake will be by around 10-20 people.

Action: KS

c) Usage of spare CPU capacity for Modelling
Ralf Drautz on behalf of the MML proposed that technical solutions be investigated for utilising spare CPU capacity around the department for running Modelling jobs. An initial aim could be to run jobs on the Teaching Laboratory computers at Weekends and if successful there may be scope for extending this to other departmental computers and other time frames. RD, KS and PJW report on investigations using VMplayer to link into the MML queuing system. Also should talk to Chemistry about their experiences with screen-saver software, although this appears not to be suitable for running arbitrary models. OeRC are also proactively developing solutions in this area.

Action: RD/KS/PJW

4. Head of IT Report

A written report was circulated with the agenda (above). Key points were highlighted.

a) Video-conferencing
[related to item 2h above] As an alternative to webcasting lectures, PJW has started investigating video-conference technology. PJW to organise a demonstration event within the department and gather all interested parties. PJW to keep DC informed on progress.

Action: PJW

b) Publications
AHM presented a summary of department expenditure upon publications. It was noted that the Undergraduate Brochure is due for minor updates and then reprinting in March. ( PDF publications summary available)

5. IT/AV Expenditure

No financial data was presented.


a) Begbroke Maillists
The Begbroke-info maillist will remain as the primary means of contacting department staff and students working at Begbroke Science Park and user be encouraged to subscribe. CJS will setup a separate maillist for contacting users of the BegbrokeNano equipment.

Action: PJW

b) Department Website Re-design.
PJW reported that DC and DMAC have both recently discussed the need for a redesign of the department website. PJW to liase with Ian Stone over Academic content. PJW noted that he has been working towards updating the technology behind the website to a Content Management System. Meanwhile PJW will take this forward as a project, aiming to prepare some example new-look templates for wider consultation by next term.

Action: PJW

8 Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 8th May 2007 at 2pm in 21BR Committee Room (room booked already)
The meeting closed at 3.20pm