Oxford Materials IT Committee Meeting

A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held at 11am on Tuesday 2nd February 2010 in the HR Meeting Room.


  • 1 Apologies for absence and Membership of the Committee
  • 2 Matters oustanding from the previous meeting
  • 3 Matters for discussion (attached)
  • 4 Head of IT report (attached)
  • 5 Finances (PJW)
  • 6 AOB
  • 7 Date and time of next meeting: Tuesday 11th May 2010 at 11am in HR Meeting Room


See minutes below.


Personal homepages - update on status requested by JDM


The report below summarises activities since the last meeting of ITC, as categorised by topic. The report is intended for record rather than for discussion at ITC meeting although queries may arise.

Admin Network

Software upgrades associated with Financials upgrade.

Teaching Laboratory

Microscope desktops have had RAM upgrades and have been reinstalled and are now running more quickly. Half of the desktops in the computer room have also received RAM upgrades to extend their live without paying to replace them.

Lecture theatres / meeting rooms

All rooms checked before term. A fixed data projector and screen was installed in the Rex Richards meeting room and Feliciano Giustino purchased a netbook computer for use with the projector and for attending meetings and conferences.

Digital Print-room

Both PC’s were replaced. The toner supplier was changed and a stock of spares purchased before Christmas but the cheapest prices in January are now 30% higher than September due to HP.


Both PC’s in the library are slow and need rolling replacements.


All the MML desktops were reinstalled and the re-organised for the two week Modelling Course. Three extra machines were borrowed from IT stock in order to have 21 machines for the course. The Rex Richards group continues to expand (now 12 machines). The MML website documentation has been ported to Weblearn. A subversion service was implemented for the MML and advertised to the whole department.


The migration of equipment machines was completed and the EM firewall decommissioned.


Installation of labview and reinstallation of several older laptops.


The new weblearn site has continued to evolve. https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/mpls/materials

The new SGR project website http://mffp.materials.ox.ac.uk is hosted on dept server.


Researches in Progress 2009 document has been started.


A power-spike on one phase knocked out about 1/3 of machines, but core services were unaffected due to being protected by UPS. Problems with network stability in Begbroke were traced to one specific piece of equipment. Network monitoring system Nagios was updated and migrated.


One system was blocked at the router. Several users received help removing viruses. Sophos version 9 is starting to be rolled-out.


Old equipment was collected, checked and disposed of just before Christmas. (52+13monitors, 31 base units, 14servers, 3+10printers, etc). Four users took old systems home.


Materials joined the Labview site-license and renewed Mathematica annual license. PSG group COMSOL licensing was reviewed and rationalized. EM group Aviso licenses were reviewed.

Disaster Recovery and Backup

No disaster recovery needed. TSM Backup software was upgraded to patch security holes.

New device registrations

November 32devices, December 13devices, January 22devices.


A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held at 11am on Tuesday 2nd February 2010 in the HR Meeting Room. The following people attended: APD, PJW, CA, AMC, KS, JDM, RT, SCB.

1. Apologies for Absence and Membership of the Committee


2. Matters arising from the minutes

a) IT disaster recovery plans (Minute 2a)
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 and ensuring business continuity.

Action: PJW

b) Firewall exceptions (Minute 2b)
It was agreed that the department firewall policy should not allow blanket exceptions. It was agreed that APD should organise a meeting to discuss this with Nicole Grobert. APD has made initial contact with NG but discussion was postponed due to NG skiing injury.

Action: APD

It was agreed that a webpage should be created in order to advertise the department firewall policy and rule sets.

Action: PJW

c) Podcasting (Minute 2d)
PJW and SCB have met and discussed creating a Materials area on the Oxford iTunes site. The plan is to record 2-4 podcasts of recent prize-winning student presentations. Project was not taken forward as a summer project due to time constraints.

Action: SCB

PJW has done the initial conversion from VHS to AVI of all the video tapes located in the Teaching Laboratory. SGR has edited clips necessary for his lectures. PJW is to review and edit the recordings and link files to the Video Catalogue.

Action: PJW

d) WiFi (Minute 2e)
Wireless site-surveys have been undertaken across the department and so far three new OWL/EDUROAM access points have been installed (BR committee room, BR lecture theatre, HR library). The schedule for completing the migration from OWL-VPN/OWL-VISITOR to OWL/EDUROAM is dependant upon getting the remaining access points from OUCS.

Action: KS

APD and JDM both requested EDUROAM wireless connectivity for the common room (currently OWL-VPN) since it requires significantly less manual intervention to connect from mobile devices like iPhones. KS noted that the common room access point is operated by Engineering Science and agreed to contact them.

Action: KS

e) Slow speed of computers in the Digital Printroom (Minute 2g)
Both computers have been upgraded.

f) Windows 7 support (Minute 3a)
XP remains the operating system of choice. The policy on Windows (from the minutes MT2008) was updated to be: "department computers should run Windows XP unless a clear justification for using an alternative operating system is put forward by the user and accepted by IT staff".

Some departmental machines are running Windows7 due to needing 64bit Windows to utilize larger RAM or due to the hardware not being supported under XP. Core software such as TSM and VPN are now available for Windows 7. Department IT staff are increasing their knowledge of Windows7.

g) Labview site-license (Minute 3b)
PJW and JDM contacted Physics concerning joining the annual Labview site-license and negotiated a reduced contribution based on student numbers of £750pa. The software has been distributed to three users so far. The license is due for renewal in June.

h) Mathematica site-license (Minute 3c)
The Mathematic license has been renewed. The cost of our license contribution has increased from £550 to £820pa. After discussion with Physics it was clarified that there was no option to avoid the increased license costs if we wish to continue using Mathematica at all. However the new license now also covers undergraduate student usage on home computers. The undergraduate students have been emailed instructions for accessing Mathematica and the software should be mentioned during the 2nd year Maths.

i) Committee membership (Minute 6a)
Richard Turner has been co-opted onto the committee as Begbroke representative (again).

3 Matters for Discussion

a) Personal homepages
PJW reported there had been no progress since the last meeting, however noted that he is due to meet APD and CRMG on Friday to discuss Researches in Progress.

Action: PJW

b) Support for personal hardware
APD initiated discussion about how much time and effort is devoted to the support of personally owned hardware at the detriment of support of other higher priority tasks. The IT Support Policy currently states “The Department will provide such support and advice on specific IT problems as is possible, but can not provide full-time computer support across the whole range of the Department's activities. The Department IT Support Policy outlines the prioritization of support requests, given limited time and resources. Where department IT staff are unable to provide specific support, support should be sought from OUCS or elsewhere. Individuals should ensure that any critical IT resources (including software, if applicable) are covered by appropriate maintenance and support contracts. Individuals specifying new IT systems should budget for support time and costs.” It also states that “Department-wide facilities” are higher priority than “Individual and Group IT facilities” and there is a specific exclusion of “IT equipment not purchased through the department”.

However, in practice, personally owned laptops and even some home computers do receive attention from IT staff who are keen to have a reputation for being helpful.

After some discussion it was suggested that a new procedure should be implemented for dealing with personally owned hardware to ensure that the owners receive clear information about the conditions under which IT staff will look into problems with personal hardware (e.g. low priority, zero cost, helpful, no guarantee to fix it) and ensure owners are provided with information about alternative sources of help. In addition the new procedure should enable tracking of how much effort is spent supporting personally owned hardware.

Action: PJW

c) Disposal of CRT monitors
PJW reported the disposal before Christmas involved ~75 CRT monitors. The department now has very few CRT monitors. PJW suggested a quick survey of how many CRT’s are left in order to assess whether there might be justification for a bulk replacement of the remaining CRT’s. PJW also noted that the large CRT’s in Reception are due for replacement (as long as the users are happy to move away from their current large-text 1024x768 resolution images).

Action: CA

4. Head of IT Report

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

5. IT/AV Expenditure

PJW did not provide a statement of IT expenditure but did note that IT stock items had been journalled to relevant research cost centres before Christmas and so the finances are fairly up-to-date. Expenditure remains tightly controlled due the need to save 20% this year.

6. AOB

a) HR power-down scheduled for 24th March
PJW noted that plans are in place to ensure continuity of network services for all other buildings whilst the Hume-Rothery Building is powered-down on 24th March.

b) PC maintenance – OUCS computer hardware breakdown service
Following on from the discussion about support for personal pc’s, CA suggested that the department should promote the use of the PC maintenance scheme provided by OUCS as described at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/breakdown/

PJW noted that by default he tends to buy minimum (e.g. 90day or 1year) warranty on basic desktops, but tends to buy 3year next-day-business warranty on departmental laptops and higher performance workstations. (however the recent case was for a laptop with only 1yr warranty)

AMC and KS queried whether annual payment to the scheme (which covers hardware parts and labour) would be worthwhile given that we would still need to deal with any software issues. KS noted the manpower overhead of taking the device to OUCS for repair and collecting the device after repair plus the delay during the repair (the queue can be several days as can the actual repair time). PJW noted that the apportionment of annual charges to research grants would require considerable management.

It was agreed that PJW would investigate the terms and conditions; PJW would email users to promote the scheme for personally-owned hardware.

Action: PJW

CA and PJW should review the warranty status of department-owned equipment in order assess the extent of our liability and hence be able to calculate the potential cost of wide-spread use of the scheme. (given that low level use of the scheme is organisationally inefficient) and present findings for discussion at the next ITC meeting.

Action: CA

7. Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 11th May 2010 at 11am in HR Meeting Room.

The meeting closed at 12.00pm