-- PerditaStevens - 13 Oct 2015


of meeting held on Tuesday 3rd November 10am-12 noon.

Present: Tim Colles, Bjoern Franke, Michael Fourman (part), Johanna Moore (part), Alastair Scobie, Perdita Stevens, Martin Wright

Minutes and matters arising

The minutes were accepted. Undone actions:

AS getting Kerry Miller to come and talk about Research Data Store: WAS: no progress (because of web work) NOW: still stalled because the technology options for RDS are still being evaluated, but there are other aspects of the research data ecosystem e.g. DataSync that we should perhaps hear about. Action: PS and AS to discuss. DONE: decided to add to agenda to coordinate with MF.

CPS to talk to AS about new System Design Project once an academic lead has been identified: no academic lead identified yet. It is important to get progress on this because there will be significant computing work needing done as well as significant academic work, before the new project must start in 2016-17. WAS: CPS will keep on about this. but hasn't had input into duties allocation this year; MW aware. NOW: still no progress. Action: BF and MW to talk, and prioritise this in the duties allocation round about to start.

Concerning report that students have trouble managing their mail WAS: CPS to ask student reps for more information about what problems they're experiencing with mail loads, so that we can decide how best to help (e.g. should we provide education on how to handle mail loads, if these are actually reasonable, or should we take steps to reduce how much mail students get?) NOW: no progress. Action: BF to take over.

Concerning making sure that students have the opportunity to influence computing provision e.g. software installed WAS: an effective means of communication during the year is the regular class rep meetings which Colin as Director of Teaching holds. He will ensure that a Computing Support Officer is invited to one of these meetings from time to time, perhaps once or twice a semester, to prompt discussion with the reps about any improvements that may be possible. Action: CPS to arrange, liaising with AS re whom to invite. NOW: no progress. Action: BF to take over.

Concerning making sure that nothing like the data errors at last year's BoE can happen again WAS: Action: TC to report to next CSG that a suitable process is in place to prevent such problems in future. NOW: TC does not yet have a proposal as it seems difficult to filter false positives from his nightly report well enough to make it feasible for the ITO to check, and infeasible to record all manual changes made to the data. Nevertheless it's crucial that we do have assurance that our processes ensure marks are always correct. Action: TC to talk to ITO and report to next CSG.

Matters arising:

PS had looked at the instructions we give on the use of encrypted USB sticks for transferring sensitive data such as exam papers, and asked around about current practices. She did not find anyone using an encrypted USB stick for exam transfer, nor clear instructions to do so: there are pages about encrypting USB sticks but neither of the covered mechanisms is made to sound suitable for this application (neither clearly gives a stick that can be read both on the user's home machine, whatever OS it uses, and on the ITO DICE machine), and the latest instructions on how to prepare exams do not mention the issue. Action: AS/TC to get documentation improved.

Date and time of next meeting

Provisionally Thursday 4th February 2-3pm.

Courses that need computing resource and/or lab space: Extreme Computing, and general issue

Extreme Computing has been problematic this year because of an unprecedented number of students on it (243), partly because of changes and cancellations to other courses. It is being run on sealing wax and string. It's good that it's popular but the student experience may suffer by the inadequacy of the computing facilities particularly near coursework deadlines: we need to make sure in future that we do not have more students than we are able to plan for. We had planned to retire the cluster being used, but it seems unlikely, in fact, that ECDF (principally a batch system) can meet this very spiky need so we may need to keep running it, or even expand it, which has cost implications. TC and Kenneth (the lecturer, this year and presumably next) need to discuss options and come to a technical decision by the end of March. We can then ask for a cap from College: we plan if possible to ask for a cap that is above the number of students who will actually want to take the course, so that it will not bite, but which will give us certainty that we can provision the course. We believe College will be amenable to this on grounds of student experience, provided our reasoning is clear. Action: TC to talk to Kenneth early in Sem 2.

More generally, as we review the curriculum we should watch out for other courses where there is a risk that numbers might suddenly become infeasible, and apply for caps in advance: the general strategy should always be to try to plan for as many students as we reasonably think will want the course, but use caps to prevent unexpected surges in demand that we can't handle. The new course SDM is a case in point as it requires a computing laboratory for a lecture/lab session and there is not much headway between numbers on the course this year and the capacity of our largest such space. We already ask lecturers for information about software required but these requests do not always go to the right people and non-responses have not always been followed up. In future, non-responses should be referred to MW/BF.

Encryption/management of sensitive information

The IS security week has been low key this year. We welcome the news (from CCITC) that they play School-based roadshows also. AS reported on progress in Informatics, including: encrypting swap and /tmp on new DICE machines; evaluating whole-disk encryption; enabling encryption on MDP admin desktops. We will be encrypting new Macs/ipads/Android tablets before handover but not new Windows machines because there are issues such as not all users planning to keep Windows on the machines. Existing machines are mostly not capable of being encrypted reasonably. Looking in to realcrypt. We do not curate keys, so could not decrypt on demand: this is a deliberate policy decision but we might be forced to reconsider it in future. We should contribute to educating our students (not just the ones who take security courses). We agreed that it would be good for AS to give a presentation open to all students, e.g., in G07 following the next General Meeting. Action: AS to arrange. (In future, this should be incorporated into the plans for better first year induction sessions, Action: BF, AS.)

Equipment spend

AS presented the current plans out to 2025, drawing attention to the coming need to replace equipment that was new when the Forum was built and is now coming to the end of its life, and to the requirement from MW to cut the 2017 budget to 170k. That level of spending is not sustainable. MW recognises that the general requirement is 200k pa+. We discussed some measures that might contribute to cutting costs, such as extending the writedown period of lab desktop machines from the current 4 years to 5. However, this risks being a saving on paper only, or even counterproductive, because in practice our written down lab machines continue to be used e.g. by RAs for as long as possible; they could be retained in the labs for an extra year, but the RAs would still need machines and we might end up having to buy new ones. We agreed we should see these figures annually.

Discussing systems security

In the light of responses to HoS 's mail about security we want to hold a meeting in the new year, open to staff and PGs, for information and discussion about our approach to security. There is a question about how open we should be about our security decisions that staff and PGs are not privy to. We do not wish to be needlessly secretive, but neither to we want to help potential foes target their effort efficiently. Still, discussion of the issues that arise will be helpful. This should be a different event from the student presentation mentioned above. Perhaps a panel format would work well. Action: AS to organise.

Review of DICE desktop

At JM's request AS will lead such a review, to determine strategically whether there is still a need for DICE desktop and if so what its direction should be. He will need a small group able to represent a wide range of viewpoints. BF would be useful to wear both teaching and ICSA hats. Action: PS and AS to discuss membership of this group. DONE: setting up group in progress.


BF asked whether there was a reason we weren't using the tutorial group allocation facility in Learn. This allows students to allocate themselves to tutorial groups which would free the ITO of switching groups for students. We don't know of a reason and are happy to switch unless investigation brings a showstopper to light. One thing to watch for is whether we can still have the ability for a tutor to mail all the students in their group: but it's not clear that that's an essential rather than a nice-to-have anyway. Action: BF to follow up.

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Topic revision: r5 - 01 Feb 2016 - 15:46:10 - PerditaStevens
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