Oxford Materials IT Committee Meeting

A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held at 11am on Tuesday 26th Oct 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 1st Feb 2011 at 11am in HR Meeting Room.


See minutes below.


Wireless coverage policy

Department fileserver upgrade.


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 - Most users were migrated from Office2003 to Office2007 in July/August. A training session for staff was run by Duncan Young (Trainer, Finance Division). A custom-written research database system from Zoology is still being ported for use in Materials.

Teaching Laboratory - Office2003 was changed to Office2007 in the main computer lab and on the optical microscopes (but not the laptops). Due to the increase in numbers of students a 17th computer was added to the computer room. The mono printer was replaced.

Lecture theatres / meeting rooms - All rooms checked several times and various minor repairs undertaken. Problems with the graphics card and with Skype in the HRMR were eventually resolved.

Digital Print-room - The big colour printer in HR broken and was swapped with the printer in the print-room. An external repairman eventually located a sheared component which was replaced and the printer was successfully used to produce the annual handbooks. Although initially provided as an interim measure, a P2055dn monochrome printer has been left available for users of the print-room since costs are lower than using the colour printer.

PJW met with a Jon Barrett from RightDocumentSolutions who was keen to undertake a full review of departmental printing and photocopying in order to offer a cost-saving combined solution. After having provided Jon with lots of information about our current setup it became apparent that the method by which he would probably achieve cost savings would be to get rid of the majority of printers and implement networked printing on the photocopiers (which PJW is not in favour of, having tried it before!). Since the cost of the full survey would be >£5k, PJW chose not to commission the full survey, however it is still desirable to quantify the department’s annual printing/photocopying expenditure and to look for savings ourselves.

Library - Both PC’s in the library are were replaced by trickledown of admin desktops.

MML - Due to building works in the Rex Richards building there were full-building outages on four separate occasions causing considerable disruption. The UPS system which was rolled out of the HR server room was tested and proven to work for ~4hrs for the main fileserver, but the compute clusters and desktops all needed manually powering-down, disconnection and powering up again. The cluster slater was decommissioned and the compute nodes were migrated to the new headnode called Zener. The fileserver storage was doubled (2Tb->3.6Tb) and was migrated from rothery2 to zener. The desktops in Rex Richards were all reinstalled with 64bit opensuse 11.2 and upgraded RAM 2Gb->4Gb. The MML in 21BR was reorganised as SGR group users started to occupy the space in September, however the new space in Rex Richards has only just been released for refurbishment so the MML will continue to occupy space in 21BR until after the Options course in January/February. The Rex Richards building is now almost fully occupied with a group of 20 people. Katherine Hartwell started working as Prof Marzari’s PA.

EM - Tracey Finn has received further guidance upon checking systems. Older instrument control PC’s are continuing to be replaced by Clive Downing. The Cothi system encountered problems with new installations (unresolved) and with the server moving location.

QIPIRC - The QIPIRC grant finished and GADB’s PA departed. The website www.qipirc.org remains but is not actively updated.

MFFP - James Marrow and Karen Disney arrived. Students partially moved into the MML.

Website - All 10 CMSmadesimple websites upgraded to version 1.6.4->1.8, then 1.8.1 then 1.8.2. Development of the intranet system is continuing. EPW project website now has phpBB forum functionality.

Publications - The annual handbooks were printed and bound in-house by Chris. This continues to be a large task despite requests to reduce the requirements for printed copies of what is available on the website as PDF. We estimate 35000 sides were printed (double-sided). The security mugshots were updated and the printed boards updated and electronic copy circulated. The summer conference season saw a steady stream of business card requests (15 people). Researches in Progress 2010 document has been started. Data is still being gathered before collating the printed document.

Network - The old UPS from the HR server room was transferred to the Rex Richards server room. OWL Phase2 migration was completed. Further access points were installed in Rex Richards (x2) and on the top floor of HR (x2). Telecoms initiated a project at their expense to migrate all the Siemens VOIP phones at Begbroke onto the new Cisco VOIP system. The September schedule slipped and is now scheduled for before the end of November.

Security - Sophos version 9 has now been rolled-out to almost all machines. Various virus infections were dealt with (5 of which required system reinstallations).

Internet explorer version 8 and XP service pack 3 were applied automatically to most departmental pc’s. Further Adobe and Java security updates were released.

Oxcert continue to release regular alerts http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/bulletins/ (65 since May). The department received it’s first cease-and-desist copyright notice which was dealt with as per http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/incidents.xml.ID=copyright.

Disposal - No disposals since the last meeting. The next disposal should be done before Christmas. Shaun Boyce now has a mechanism in place for disposing of equipment located at Begbroke without the need for bringing to central site as long as the PAT labels are removed and notified to Ashley Brown.

Software - Office2010(pc) and Office2011(mac) are both now available. Office2007 has been rolled out to admin staff for compatibility with university offices. Abaqus upgraded from 6.7 to 6.9.3. Origin license server migrating from OSC to Chemistry and origin 8.1 is now supported but newest version 8.5 is still not supported.

Disaster Recovery and Backup - Rex Richards server room now has UPS backup. A temperature monitoring and alert system for the server rooms is being developed.

New Device registrations - May: 20; June: 11; July: 13; August: 24; September: 30.


A meeting of the Department of Materials IT Committee was held at 11am on Tuesday 26th Oct 2010 in the HR Meeting Room. The following people attended: APD, PJW, AMC, KS, JDM, RT, SCB, PK, GM.

1. Apologies for Absence and Membership of the Committee

Chris Akinola was away all week.

The membership of the committee was reviewed. Both JDM and SCB agreed to serve another two years (until end MT2012).

Newly co-opted committee members Paul Kamenski (JCCG) and Grigore Moldovan (JCCP) were welcomed and the terms of reference of the committee were updated from “upto 2 other co-opted members” to say “at least 2 other co-opted members”.

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.

After discussion of the reason for this action it was agreed that as a starting point IT staff would prepare documentation outlining the local IT servers and services so that in the event of all IT staff being unavailable an external IT professional would be able to understand the Department’s IT infrastructure.

Action: PJW

b) Firewall exceptions (Minute 2b)
After discussion about the lack of progress in meeting NG, the previous agreement to “not allow blanket exceptions” was amended as “to not allow blanket exceptions in future” and this item is now closed.

c) Podcasting (Minute 2c)
PJW and Katie Moore met with Peter Robinson and discussed doing a green-screen filming (like a weather forecast) of Katie’s prize-winning talk however the recording never actually happened. After the discussion with Peter the direction of the project changed slightly because he advised that podcasts are most successfully series of 15min audio talks. Therefore PJW recorded (audio only) two presentations by Jan Czenuszka and Hazel Assender at a Schools Openday.

There was discussion about how to progress this task. It was agreed that SCB would help PJW finalise one or two example video and/or audio podcasts which would then be presented to DMAC as proof of concept in order to get a decision on whether 1) academics would be willing commit to generating an on-going regular series of podcasts publicising the activities of the department or whether 2) the example podcasts should just be uploaded and not pursued further or whether 3) the podcasts should not be made public at all.

Action: PJW

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 noted that videotape C12 broke recently and therefore KAQOR used the digital copy instead. PJW is to review and edit the recordings and link files to the Video Catalogue, however since usage of the VHS library is low the priority for this time-consuming task is low.

For information PJW recently became aware of the British Universities Film and Video Council (http://bufvc.ac.uk/) which gives access to television and radio programmes for teaching purposes, however it does not include the Open University programmes which make up a significant proportion of our VHS library.

Action: PJW/CA

d) PC maintenance – OUCS computer hardware breakdown service (Minute 2h)
CA and PJW have started a review of 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. This task is continuing.

Action: PJW/CA

e) Revision of IT support policy concerning personal equipment (Minute 3a)
PJW updated the IT support policy http://www.materials.ox.ac.uk/it/itsupportpolicy.html

f) IT strategic plan (Minute 3b)
Because the intended consultation upon a Department IT Strategic Plan did not happen last summer, it was agreed to reschedule the consultation for around Easter 2011. Input will be sought from a wide range of Department users (e.g. postgraduates, fellows and senior staff) and groups (EM, MML etc.). PJW will circulate draft IT Strategic Plan document prior to next meeting in preparation for detailed discussion at the meeting.

Action: PJW

3 Matters for Discussion

a) Wireless coverage policy
JDM asked what our policy is concerning wireless coverage. For example much of 21BR does not have wireless coverage.

KS reported that wireless access points funded by the central university project (OWL Phase 2) have been provided for the communal areas of the department - as listed in previous minutes. Wireless coverage will be expanded if research groups request coverage in particular locations however it is expected that the access points should be paid for by Research Grant funds rather than departmental or university funds (~£600 per access point). The Head of IT report below mentioned two extra access points having been provided over the summer (HR top floor and RR top floor).

b) Server infrastructure upgrade
Over the summer AMC and KS had been working upon a proposal for fundamentally changing the department’s server infrastructure from a series of stand-alone servers to an integrated virtualised server infrastructure which would give enhanced manageability, enhanced flexibility and a clear upgrade path for all the existing servers plus an expected lifetime of more than 5 years. Our newer existing server hardware can be re-utilised as the virtual host servers however the core hardware component, a Storage Area Network (SAN) to give fast read-write access between the virtual host servers and the shared central storage array is a significant purchase (~£16k?) and will have to fall outside the existing IT budget (£30k). AMC and KS have already implemented a proof-of-concept virtualisation system using ~6yr old hardware as the SAN and are confident that the proposed changes to the departmental server infrastructure are both achievable and desirable.

GM queried whether it is cost effective and time effective for IT staff to be offering centralised file storage for Research activities (as opposed to individual researchers buying simple desktop external hard disk storage and groups owning+administering their own servers if they need group servers).

JDM commented that his group is happy to be using the file server, especially for sharing files between group members. SCB also supported the provision of department file server noting that groups can choose not to use it.

AMC noted that the primary purpose of the departmental fileserver (Materials0) is to support the administrative and teaching functions of the department (admin staff, meeting rooms, teaching laboratory, library, printroom etc.). However several research groups also desire managed desktops and centralised group file storage and they currently contribute to the costs. They are on the core departmental fileserver as a means of reducing duplication of effort and hardware (only one server to maintain and one set of problems to fix).

AMC also noted that the proposal covers more department servers than just the fileserver.

APD requested that a more detailed proposal should be presented to DC on Monday in order to allocate budget and move forward.

Action: PJW/AMC/KS

4. Head of IT Report

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

a) Software
PK reported that JCCG have working with AOT to get the libraries’ reference manager software advice updated to promote open-source solutions rather than just Endnote since Endnote costs £80 for personal machines. PJW noted that last summer the software webpage was restructured with input from PK/JCCG. After further discussion of software it was requested that PJW email users to notify them that new versions of Microsoft office are available from IT staff and alert them to the presence of the software advice webpage.

Action: PJW

b) Computer provision
PK noted that provision of standard desktop from IT stock seems to be an efficient system, but because laptop requirements vary there is no stock and thus there can be delays in specifying and purchasing laptops for new graduate students (if needed). PK requested PJW discuss with AOT ways of notifying new graduate students before their arrival how to discuss with their group leader what IT provision they will receive upon arrival.

Action: PJW

c) Publications
APD noted thanks to CA for his hard work in production of the course handbooks.

5. IT/AV Expenditure

PJW circulated a breakdown of finances for 2009-10 showing a consumables expenditure of about £63.3k of which £28.8k was charged to grants and at year end £4.5k was in stock and making a core IT expenditure of around £30.2k. (budget £30k).

PJW noted that the expenditure included £12.5k on toners for the large general use colour printers and £7k on the replacement server room UPS and wiring, thus leaving only £10.5k for core IT expenditure such as replacement hardware for staff (£6k), software licenses (£2) and consumables (£1.5k).

PJW also noted that the budget cut of £7k last year was achieved mainly by not upgrading teaching laboratory computers or network switches or departmental servers but that just shifts the costs to future years.

6. AOB - none

a) Printing
The Head of IT report circulated with the agenda mentioned meetings to discuss how to reduce the cost of printing. Although PJW chose not commission an external review of our costs there is still a desire to quantify the department’s annual printing/photocopying expenditure and to look for savings.

Simon Aldworth (SHA) has recently notified IT that the department photocopy charge card system has failed on one photocopier and is not fixable so he is actively investigating a new charging system which is likely to require networking of departmental photocopiers. AMC and PJW noted that network printing to photocopiers had been tried before and caused inconvenience for users. However, since photopcopier printing is much cheaper than laserjet printing, there is a desire to work with SHA with the hope that the new system needed for photocopy charging also could lead to overall reduced printing costs for the department.

Action: AMC

7. Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting is on Tuesday 1st Feb 2011 at 11am in HR Meeting Room.

The meeting closed at 12.30pm