Oxford Materials IT Committee Meeting

A meeting of the A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on 6th May 2008


  • 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 28th October 2008 at 2pm in BR Committee Room


See minutes below.


Policy on departmental user accounts for all new members of department

  • Systems accessed using department accounts (central fileserver, iprint printing, teaching laboratory, digital darkroom, library, lecture/meeting rooms etc.)
  • Methods of accessing data (ssh, http, samba, novell client)
  • Storage limitations and costing.
  • Implications of ICT Groupware project
  • Implications of ICT Core User Directory project


Admin Network
Most users of the admin network were migrated from Materials2 to Materials0 in December and all the applications were reconfigured and a new printing system was enabled.

Teaching Laboratory
The 16 pc’s in the main computer room and the 6 laptops all connect to Materials0 but the 6 microscope pc’s, the S530 and Paula Topping’s desktop still need to be migrated off Materials2. Four new computers were rolled into the TL computer room. Sixteen new 19” TFT (DVI) monitors were installed in the MML and the older 19” TFT (VGA) monitors rolled into the TL computer room replacing 17” CRT monitors. The CETL laptop should be reconfigured as a spare TL laptop.

Lecture theatres / meeting rooms
The programme of upgrading equipment in all rooms has been completed. Instruction sheets have been produced for each room. Several training sessions have been run.and more will be run as the need arises.

Digital Darkroom
The desktop pc’s are about to be upgraded (with slightly newer trickle-down pc’s) when they are moved from Materials2 to Materials0. It is intended that these PC’s no-longer have generic user accounts thus each user will need to login.

The desktop pc’s have been upgraded (with slightly newer trickle-down pc’s) and moved from Materials2 to Materials0. Currently they do still have generic user accounts but it is intended that these PC’s will no-longer have generic user accounts thus each user will need to login.

Six new workstations were purchased and configured with dual monitors. The old raid array was decommissioned and the disks moved to the new server (rothery2). The MML was rearranged to accommodate the option modelling course and again for a modecular dynamics course. The operating system on all MML desktops was upgraded from Suse10.0 to opensuse10.3. A full recovery from TSM (~1.5Tb) was done after corruption of the raid array partition table, causing 1 week downtime of the MML. The clusters remain running stably. The new modelling chair and lecturer positions have been appointed.

The STEM room was refurbished and additional networking installed by Monards. Major new equipment was purchased for AIK and is awaiting configuration in the department server room. AIK and Chao Lin are also planning additional networking associated with the big Jeol2200MCO microscope at Begbroke. The core switch at Begbroke is about to be upgraded to gigabit and to allow propagation of VLAN’s around Begbroke both for OWL-VPN and for a proposed firewalled electron-microscopy subnet for vulnerable microscope control pc’s.

Planned developments of the database information intended for presenting research projects, new projects available, publications, research highlights, department news, a department diary, private content for internal view only etc. are still under development. New webserver hardware was purchased and all websites migrated to the new faster hardware. The initial meeting about web re-design is scheduled for next month.

Andrew McKnight retired at Christmas. It is intended that Chris Akinola the new IT officer will take responsibility for all print media support. RIP2007 has still not been produced due to time constraints. A review of departmental publications took place in April in order to incorporate the new university brand and replace the existing crest logo on all printed material and on departmental websites.

Several problems with networking at Begbroke were resolved. Problems with the feed in 12/13 Parks Road were resolved by routing traffic via the Frodo unit.

Alex Cock has been working hard to move users off the unstable Materials2 onto the new Materials0. Materials2 still has 18 active users, 9 generic accounts and 11 other accounts.
Materials0 itself has had several software and hardware problems affecting service availability. Two additional fileservers have been purchased and are being developed to take over from Materials0 later this year.
The departmental webserver (www-ext) has been migrated to new hardware (webs) and the old hardware has been decommissioned. The server www-int has been partially migrated to newer hardware int-webs.
The management servers oums-nomad and oums-wsus have been stable, but are next to be migrated to new hardware.
The Emgroup1 raid array only has 10 users under AIK and still needs to be decommissioned .

Several hardware repair requests are outstanding and several more phones are needed

SSeveral instances of p2p software have been detected and warnings issued.

Equipment was disposed in December. (30 monitors, 15 computers, 15 printers, 15equipment etc.)

The student version of Matlab is now available for download from https://register.ox.ac.uk. Software called Sigmaplot (similar to Origin) has now been made available under a university site-license for distribution by IT staff.

IT Support Area
Due to the retirement of Andrew McKnight in December the Photographic Unit closed permanently. Wet chemical activities have ceased and IT staff have taken over most non-wet-chemical activities including publications.
PJW put forward proposals to DC for co-locating all IT staff. DC has given provisional approval subject to reasonable re-wiring costs. Currently two rooms are being refurbished prior to re-wiring. Chris Akinola has already moved in and PJW and AMC will relocate over the next few months.


A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held on 6th May 2008.
The following people attended: APD, PJW, AMC, CA, JAMS, SCB, RT.

1. Apologies for Absence and Membership of the Committee

Apologies were received from Khalid Schofield who was busy trying to resuscitate the department network.
PJW welcomed Simon Benjamin, Richard Turner and Chris Akinola to the committee. PJW noted that this meeting will be the last meeting for Jason Smith (who has already done a double-stint) and suggestions for a new member were discussed. PJW will take a recommendation to the Head of Department ready for next term.

Action: PJW

2. Matters arising from the minutes

a) IT disaster recovery plans (Minute 2a)
An LTO4 tape drive (800Gb native / 1600Gb compressed) with a dedicated server has been commissioned by KS. This tape system is designed to take snapshots of complete systems to aid disaster recovery. This service is being rolled out to include all core department servers.
There is still a need for disaster recovery documentation to ensure that there is adequate provision and there is a clear structure for achieving efficient disaster recovery.

Action: PJW

b) Website (Minute 2b)
The outstanding proposed review of research group websites (since summer 2006) still has not happened however the developments in the department website now enable this to move forward during the next academic year. (item carried)

Action: PJW

c ) Website (Minute 2d)
The outstanding request that the graduate admissions section of the website be updated has still not progressed since being discussed by PJW and JAMS however the developments in the department website now enable this to move forward during the next academic year. (item carried)

Action: PJW/JAMS

d) Usage of spare CPU capacity for Modeling (Minute 2g)
One year ago RD on behalf of the MML proposed that technical solutions be investigated for utilising spare CPU capacity around the department for running Modeling jobs. RD, KS and PJW investigated using VMplayer to link into the MML queuing system but did not actually achieve a working system. Given the departure of RD this item has been dropped, but may reappear with the arrival of the new Modeling Chair later this year.

e) Archive procedures. (Minute 2j)
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”.
  • Archive 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.

No action over the summer. Item carried to next meeting.
KS offered to look into the specific requirements of OMCS for ISO9001.

Action: AMC/KS/PJW

f) Lecture theatre and meeting room equipment. (Minute 2k)
The BR and ETB committee rooms were upgraded over the Christmas vacation. Informal training sessions were arranged in 4th week HT after all the works had been completed and instruction sheets produced.

g) Oxford Research Archive (ORA) (Minute 6a)
PJW discussed the Oxford Research Archive with GDWS. Although there are still some copyright restrictions, the ORA project is likely to continue and develop rapidly since it is a national requirement and there is an international trend towards creading institutional archives. The most immediate impact will be the requirement for all theses to be submitted to the ORA (2008 intake). One of the powerful capabilities of the ORA is to act as a globally accessible repository of datasets, supporting reports in academic journals. The website http://arxiv.org/ is maybe an example of the direction in which this new methodology for publication is emerging, especially for as an alternative to conference proceedings. This committee should be aware of these developments but it should be the Academic Committee which arranges training and promotes uptake within the department.

3 Matters for Discussion

Policy on departmental user accounts for all new members of department was discussed. It was proposed that the general access accounts currently in use in the library and the digital darkroom should be removed and in future users of these machines should user their own personal user logins.

Implicitly this means that all new members of department should automatically be given a departmental login and associated small (~1Gb) storage on the departmental fileserver. This departmental login would also be required if accessing printers via the iPrint sytem (which provides a simple webpage for installation of printer drivers and allows authenticated printing and hence print monitoring).

AMC mentioned that the iPrint system is currently set to support XP systems. SCB questioned whether the proposed iPrint solution has been assessed in terms of it’s ability to support the full range of operating systems (e.g. Mac and Linux supported as well as Windows). AMC noted that iPrint did work for MacOS 10.4 but currently does not work for 10.5.

PJW noted that the fileserver currently provides several different methods of accessing data and usages shows that different methods tend to be favoured by different groups of users ( microscope users typically use ssh/sftp file transfer, some microscope staff use windows filesharing/samba, admin and the undergraduates use novell client).

AMC noted that files can be accessed securely via the web from anywhere in the world, although this capability has not been publicised to-date. APD agreed in principle that the web access should be made available.

It was proposed to automatically give new users 1Gb and increase this upto 10-30Gb on request, but users or groups requiring larger storage should be requested to contribute towards the hardware costs.

PJW brought to the attention of the committee two large university IT projects currently on-going. The ICT Groupware project is a large project for provision of email, calendaring, shared data repository, etc and is aiming to be available for early adopters at the end of the year and could have a significant positive benefit to members of department. http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/groupware/ The ICT Core User Directory project is a more long term project to investigate potential for providing a coherent identity management solution across the university (so that anyone with whom the university has dealings has a unique identifier and there would be a central directory of information).

4. Head of IT Report

A written report was circulated with the agenda. (see above)

5. IT/AV Expenditure

PJW circulated a one-page summary of the current status of IT expenditure. We are currently within budget (£27 committed out of £36k).

6. AOB

a) Webcasting: SCB mentioned he is aware of MPLS division proposals to investigate web publishing of lectures and seminars similar to that done by MIT at http://ocw.mit.edu/. PJW noted that our pilot project looking into webcasting of seminars last year was terminated due to being too time-consuming given no financial commitment.

b) Network speed: RT mentioned that the Begbroke Annex and Begbroke APL are still using 10Mbit network speeds. PJW confirmed that these should be upgraded to 100Mbit over the summer.

Action: PJW

7. Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 28th October 2008 at 2pm. in 21BR Committee Room (room booked already)
The meeting closed at 3.00pm (due to room booking for video conference)