Oxford Materials IT Committee Meeting

A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on Tuesday 8th May 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)
  • 6 AOB
  • 7 Date and time of next meeting: Tuesday 23rd October 2007 at 2pm


See minutes below.


• Archive procedures


Admin Network
oums-temp was upgraded to a new computer for Irwin Kingsley helping in the finance office. Opendoor and JInitiator software updates were completed smoothly (despite Financials sending worrying messages to users!). Several staff were relocated and physically reorganised (Sarah, Diane, Laura, Martin, Ian). Peter Harris started in general office for 2 weeks. Andrew Henderson received ergonomic keyboard and whale mouse.

Teaching Laboratory
No change. Minor repairs carried out.

Lecture theatres / meeting rooms
The Department Colloquia were broadcast and recorded. There was little development in webcasting. An open meeting demonstration of video conference solutions remains to be organised.

Digital Darkroom
The old macintosh computer was retired and not replaced.

Nothing to report.

A new 9 unit dual quadcore 72node cluster was specified through a detailed competition between 8 suppliers. Dell were selected and the cluster was installed before Easter. Further plans to expand the cluster are already being considered. The machineroom/plantroom was cleared to house the new equipment but building works (wiring, aircon, shelving) have been delayed.

Little progress on the EM firewall. Little progress on reorganising the EM IT lab. PJW has been involved with interviewing for an post-doc to take over IT support for Angus Kirkland’s group. Initial interviews were unsuccessful and next round of interviews are next week. There may be scope for partial integration of this person with the department’s IT support team.

The EM booking system was updated slightly.

The BegbrokeNano website remains un-updated since commissioning in October.

Problems hosting the Outreach website (created by TALL part of Continuing Education) on the department webserver were resolved. The site is evolving gradually but has not been fully launched yet.

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.

The new database driven website solution has progressed but is still not ready for the main department website to be transferred into the new system. Redesign of the look and feel of the website has not yet reached the stage of having draft templates available for critical review.

Some reprints of handbooks done when requested.

New Fastiron core switch was installed at centre of department network. 21BR and ETB have been upgraded to gigabit links. HB to be upgraded next followed by BB over the summer. Network speed problems in PR eventually fixed by swapping switch.

Plans for reorganisation of the department servers into the plantroom/serverroom were agreed by DC but are currently waiting on building modifications. Most users of emgroup1 fileserver have been archived or ported to materials0 server. Less that 10 users remain, mainly due to technical requirements. It is hoped to be able to turn off emgroup1 this summer. Oums-sus is ready for decommissioning now that old versions of sophos are no-longer supported. Act!2007 contact database system is being investigated for OMCS.

There have been no reports of problems with the phones.

Several instances of possible p2p activity were investigated but no action taken formally.
In February support for version 4 Sophos expired. Version 6 has considerably greater requirements so some older PC’s struggle. AVG Free is recommended for home use but cannot be used on Department PC’s.

The annual disposal of IT equipment took place. This year we disposed of 1700kg of equipment, including 19 baseunits (stripped), 45 monitors, 9 printers, two 19” racks. Linda Curson request that disposal is done every 6 months in order to reduce problems of storage of equipment in the corridor of 21BR. The new WEEE rules come into force in July.

Origin is now licensed freely to the whole of Materials. IT staff to roll out via automatic installers.


A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on Tuesday 8th May 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 2a)
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.] No progress since January

Action: PJW

b) Website (Minute 2b)
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 should email notices to raise interest in web authoring and best practice. Item carried to next meeting. [Item carried to next meeting however there has been considerable groundwork as outlined in the Head of IT report again] No progress since January

Action: PJW

c) Copyright (Minute 2c)
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 2d)
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] No progress since January.

Action: PJW/JAMS

e) Server provision and proposal for server room (Minute 3a)
The proposal for refurbishing the HR plantroom into a server room was agreed by DC. The room has already be reorganised in order to take delivery of the new MML cluster, however building works on wiring and aircon have yet to start. Temporary power and temporary aircon systems are in place. PJW to progress plans.

Action: PJW

f) Email repository (Minute 3b)
The proposed departmental email repository has been installed and is already starting to be used. KS noted that the imap server does not support sub-folders. The same server has also taken over running the public FTP service so that previous temporary server can be retired. Both services are stable and ready for users. Both services need to be advertised to users by email and via the website.

Action: PJW

g) Usage of spare CPU capacity for Modelling (Minute 3c)
RD 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 to investigate 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. RD, KS and PJW did some initial tests with VMplayer but no actual progress.

Action: PJW

h) Video-conferencing (Minute 4a)
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. No progress since January

Action: PJW

i) Begbroke Maillists (Minute 7a)
The Begbroke-info maillist remains the primary means of contacting department staff and students working at Begbroke Science Park and user be encouraged to subscribe. CJS created a separate maillist omcs-users@maillist.ox.ac.uk for contacting users of the BegbrokeNano equipment.

j) Department Website Re-design. (Minute 7b)
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. Some progress but templates not ready yet.

3 Matters for Discussion

a) Archive procedures
PJW opened a discussion of archiving procedures. Currently IT staff have several different archive issues under consideration: 1) archiving data off servers when people have left 2) implementing an archive procedure for OMCS that satisfies ISO9001. 3) Archiving FIM group data from the new atom probes 4) archiving procedure for collaborative storage areas.

Archive to HFS seems to be a good service but requests data “is of value to the University”.

Archvie procedure and service should vary according to disk space requirements.

Archive service should be chargeable to discourage “just in case” excessive archiving.

Group leaders are presumed to be responsible for archiving within their groups.

Questionnaire for group leaders would help clarify the current status and promote best practice.

Action: AMC/PJW

4. Head of IT Report

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

a) Lecture theatre and meeting room equipment
The extent of utilization of new IT/AV equipment in lecture theatres and meeting rooms was questioned. PJW and AHM should create a questionnaire for Senior Staff (in liaison with AOT) and to arrange training for usage of equipment, especially the smartboard systems.

Action: PJW

b) Network report
KS gave a verbal report. Further significant upgrades to the network infrastructure are planned over the summer: completing roll-out of gigabit; vlan’ing of the entire network in order to implement OWL; and improving of network monitoring.

5. IT/AV Expenditure

PJW reported verbally that expenditure is consistent with budget. Current expenditure is £26k with £4k committed and a further £2k planned on networking. Likely outcome is between £35k and £40k.

APD noted that the department budget for next financial year is currently being finalized. Central funding has again been cut (£900k to £500k over two years) so we should expect the IT budget to be constrained.

6. AOB

APD queried the lack of progress towards the several website actions (under matters arising) and asked what could be done to help progress matters. PJW said that progress is slow but there is progress. PJW suggested allocating fixed timeslots each week in order to push forward the projects. (Actions remain as per the matters arising).

7. Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 23rd October 2007 at 2pm in 21BR Committee Room (room booked already)
The meeting closed at 3.20pm