IT Strategy


Information technology (IT) is being used widely throughout the Department, and is critical to effective operation of the Department’s teaching, research and administration. In the past, computing resources have been acquired on an ad hoc basis, but the increasing variety and complexity of systems now demand increasingly coordinated purchasing, installation, and management/support of computing resources and facilities both a departmental level and research group level.

Some IT facilities and support are provided by the Department. However, with the Department’s limited resources, it is not reasonable to manage all aspects of IT support in-house. At all times, the most should be made of the support facilities and services provided by the Oxford University Computing Service (OUCS), as long as this is the most cost-effective solution.

A. Infrastructure

1) Networking

The Department will strive to supply a fast, secure network infrastructure to allow transfer of information within the Department and to the outside world. Individuals within the Department will be supported in their use of the network as much as possible, but it must be expected that they may have to make contributions to the cost of maintaining the infrastructure. In particular those individuals or groups whose work imposes especially heavy burdens on the Department network will be asked to contribute reasonably to expenditure so as to reduce the impact on the activities of the rest of the Department.

The Department will strive, as permitted by the available funds, to bring its network up to the security standards recommended by OUCS. Users will be required to take certain security precautions with any computers connected to the network for which they are responsible.

The Department will provide support for the network installation, wherever possible, by a combination of in-house staff and OUCS services. No attempt should be made by any user to modify the network without the express permission of Department IT staff. Users will be responsible for the correct connection of computer equipment to the network, but must not make any such connection without the Department’s permission. Any user making a connection to the Departmental network must either be registered with OUCS or agree to abide by the rules of the OUCS. These conditions state that use of the network is for bona fide academic use only.

2) General computer hardware

Individual or group computing resources for personal or research use must, in general, be purchased by individuals or groups using funding sources for that purpose. The University purchasing policy and strategy must be followed. Department IT staff can provide advice to individuals purchasing computing resources, such that the best use is made of existing Departmental and University computing resources and infrastructure. The department carries stock of standard desktop PC’s , networked printers and some consumables.

In general, expenditure on computer equipment should be deferred for as long as possible, but when required, the best appropriately specified computer equipment should be purchased given the available funds. Even in view of the standard personal computer life expectancy of 3-5 years, there should be a ‘cascading’ of computers from high-end applications to more routine uses, either within groups or in the Department as a whole. Excessive expenditure on the maintenance of computers is discouraged.

An individual or group anticipating IT expenditure should make the most of any opportunities for acquiring the funds from for that purpose (grants etc).

3) Support

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.

4) Facilities

The Department will provide a range of IT facilities where it seems appropriate for these to be supplied at a Departmental rather than at a group or individual level. These facilities include high-end computing for research use, and fileserver, scanning and colour printing facilities for general use. Other facilities, such as CD duplication, may be available on an occasional basis.

The Department supports the provision of a range of high-end IT facilities by OUCS, as outlined in the University’s IT Strategy document. These facilities include massive fileserver and archive services, as well as high quality colour printing. Individuals are encouraged to make use of the OUCS facilities as appropriate.

5) Training

The Department recognises the importance of IT training in making the best use of the IT resources at our disposal. All staff members, researcher workers and research students are encouraged to make the most of the IT training available at OUCS. Where specific Departmental needs arise, the Department will also arrange IT training for the individuals concerned, using Department or OUCS staff wherever possible.

B. Functions

1) Computer modelling

The Department recognises the importance of computer modelling in Materials Science research, and will continue to support this work through the Materials Modelling Laboratory. This facility is available for all members of the Department who need significant computing resources for materials modelling. The Laboratory, and its research seminars, will continue to bring together researchers within the Department and outside who are actively engaged in materials modelling. The Department will strive to improve the level of computing resources available in the Materials Modelling Laboratory on a continuous basis.

2) Teaching

The Department is committed to the use of computers in support of teaching, and to giving students in Materials experience in the use of computers both for scientific and general applications. Specific IT training will continue to be included in the undergraduate course and computer access provided for the specific use of undergraduates during the course of their degree. Facilities will continue to be provided for the use of computer-aided teaching in lectures, tutorials and classes. Teaching staff are encouraged to make the most of available software.

3) Information services

Through its Library, the Department will continue to provide access to a range of electronic information services, to complement the collection of books and journals.

The Department recognizes the importance of networked information services as an element of an institutions public image, as outlined in the University’s IT Strategy document.

The Department will continue to extend the use of its WWW server to provide a range of information on the Department’s activities. Members of the Department will be encouraged to use the server to present the best of their work to the outside world.

4) Administration

The Department will continue to support its administration with suitable computing resources. Wherever appropriate, e-mail rather than paper is being used to distribute information amongst staff and students. A database will be developed to bring together existing disparate sources of information, decreasing duplication and increasing the accuracy of information stored. Mechanisms will be developed to allow grant holders more efficient access to summary accounts, to help them plan subsequent expenditure.

Last revised on 26th January 2005
P.J. Warren (Senior IT officer)