Project Proposals for project period September to end December 2012 (T3)

Development of new computing services by the computing staff is scheduled in project periods (three per year). The next project period starts in September 2012 and the process of prioritising which projects will be resourced starts now (July).

Please add your proposed project to the following table, completing the Title, Description and Proposer fields. You may wish to create a new wiki topic for your description. If you wish to lend support for an existing project, add your name to the Supporter(s) field. Computing staff may respond to the proposals in the Computing staff comments field.

Title Description Proposer Supporter(s) Computing staff comments
Absence Reporting Management

A combination of factors; external compliance via UKBA and HR legislation or compliance with US accounting rules necessitate the need to update absence management procedures within Informatics. On the flipside the tension is to introduce the lightest touch possible reporting and management requirements.

One option is to introduce a webform to simplify absence reporting. An example from another School would be in School of Biological Sciences (but note secure access permissions to site). This tool allows an SBS staff member to securely notify HR of absence.

A) Overall requirements
- a need to scope remit of webform, noting that the simpler the form the better

- consideration of linked email notifications (to whom ?, saying what ?)

- identify website location and login permissions as a submitter

- a need to verify all against technical contraints and Data Protection Act.

- data access to InfHR and then Oracle.

- webform construction and data repository.

B) Timing
As soon as possible as current position is non-compliant with University policy or external requirements.

David Robertson

Elizabeth Elliot


Mostly this just looks like a Webmark form. There is some vagueness
in the requirements, as in data the form may need to e.g. "manage the
recipients of the form", "define who is a submitter", etc.

- Tim

Members of informatics get webspace on under their University User Name (UUN). While longer-serving members of staff have nice UUNs that they chose, some newer members have unfriendly looking ones (like imurray2), and students have really nasty UUNs. My proposal is to allow members of informatics to choose a friendly alias for their webspace on a first-come-first-served basis.

For comparison, I got a nice central university alias for my email, but I'm left with a homepage URL that looks frankly crappy and unprofessional on posters, papers, and slides. It's a little thing, but an easy way to make our department homepages more friendly. I know my student didn't even consider using his Informatics webspace, given the URL that was on offer.

How I'd like it to work (but this is detail): if I chose and got the alias 'murray' then would display the same content as does now. If I couldn't get 'murray', I could try 'iain', 'imurray', 'im', or 'iainm', or several other names I would prefer to 'imurray2'. Ideally, I'd like to be able to make redirect to the corresponding page on the people.inf alias, only displaying the content at the nice URL. The people.inf server name could obviously be up for discussion if the idea in general is approved.

Iain Murray    
Adapt and install (I'm asking a couple of the admin staff who currently enter talks what they of this proposal. I may update it, or pull it in response to their feedback.)

I find Plone pretty clunky to use when entering events. The School's various seminar listings are scattered all over the place. We could adopt a single, existing system that would be better and be less work. I propose that we try to adapt and install, a talk-management system developed at the University of Cambridge, that has been in use for around 7 years. (Its source code is available.)

Its documentation starts with reasons why it's good for talk-goers, organizers, and departments:

I won't rehash all of the advantages (please look at the docs). But advantages for us would include: 1) the webforms are nicer than plone and announcements and requesting abstracts from speakers are dealt with by the system. 2) people can subscribe to any mix of talk streams in their calendars, email, and RSS readers. 3) Any combination of lists can be listed on the system, or embedded in any webpage. The School could list all talks going on in informatics on the front display screen, the main website, etc.

The system was developed by the academics that first used it, and after going through a couple of versions it's very usable and has proved popular. Maybe ultimately this is a system that should be talks.ed for the whole University. But trialling it with a couple of institutes and then a whole School first seems sensible, and is how developed in Cambridge.
Iain Murray  

Sounds like we could just quickly throw this up as a local "not-a-service" thing for users to play with in the first instance at very little cost.

- Tim appears to be based on a very old version of Ruby on Rails and might prove tricky to install under SL6 - ascobie

Improved web-based submission system An improved, web-based submission system which
  • allows people to submit zip files easily from non-dice systems
  • supports EASE authenticated users
  • validates that the zip file contains a specified set of files (names)
  • provides a simple interface to the configuration (other than CVS'd config files!)
  • keeps multiple copies of submissions without overwriting

I guess it would be nice (essential?) to have this in place shortly after the start of next session if it was to be usable.

Paul Anderson    
Production GIT service A production GIT service Paul Anderson    
VM/Cloud survey Some kind of survey of options for providing a local virtual machine / cloud type services. Paul Anderson    
Software Download Portal / Repository

The UK Research Council’s focus on impact is changing the way we think about our research output. Impact features heavily in the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) and we need to ensure we are capturing as much supporting evidence as possible.

The storage and accessibility of research publications is currently being addressed via the Library’s digital repository of research - Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA) and PURE - .

Ensuring open-source software applications, tools and libraries are made available in a centralised and easy to use manner is currently an unmet need. The Informatics Software Download Database (ISDD) ( has been in existence for many years and is currently home to a number of legacy projects such as SimJava2 and HASE III.

This project request is for the implementation of a new Software Download Management Platform that enables the distribution of research software and applications more effectively. It would ensure that licensing open source material is much easier and would ensure that the appropriate impact metrics are captured.

Informatics Researchers (looking to license their software):

  • Capability to publish their software in an easy to use manner (ideally straight from the Informatics repository e.g. Git – as proposed by Paul Anderson).
  • Provides them with usage statistics and feedback from users
  • Helps them develop better Impact Statements by having more insight
  • Faster way to ensure their open source software is licensed appropriately

For Users (licensees):

  • Ability to view all available Informatics Software
  • Can quickly register to license and download open source software
  • Able to license software straight from the repository ensuring the most up to date version is obtained

For the School:

  • Ability to evidence what software is available across the School
  • Easier to demonstrate Impact across all Institutes
  • Ability to generate custom reports for multiple stakeholders e.g. SFC, Scottish Enterprise, EPSRC

Complimentary to the above, there is a confirmed expectation from the Scottish Government that the University takes active steps to simplify the process for companies to take advantage of freely available intellectual property, in parallel with commercial licensing activities. The proposed portal for open source technology will allow the School to lead the way in this initiative, working with Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI) and the collaborative University Technology project ( The proposal has therefore been discussed with ERI who are fully supportive.

David Richardson

Dave Robertson

Bob Fisher

Edinburgh Research & Innovation

It is not made clear what on the requirements list is not already begin achieved by ISDD (albeit primitively perhaps) and why ISDD could not continue to be used (perhaps with refinement).

I believe a main failing of such an idea (including ISDD) in the past has been that people can and often do want to make their software available from outside of the system in place of or certainly as well as (and there are numerous external providers that provide services to do just that) and how useful any local repository and generated statistics are without this. If it was a mandated service (as for research papers) then that may help, use of ISDD has never been mandated.

- Tim

LCFG client code cleanup Simple code clean-up of the exsting LCFG client component, fixing those pressing deficiencies which are easy to fix ( MPU    
Virtualised DICE image - trial Produce a virtualised image with all teaching software for students to install on their personal laptops and home PCs. ( MPU
Increasing Energy Savings from DICE Desktops

For some years the DICE desktops in the student labs have used energy-saving sleep software, the LCFG sleep component, which was developed in project 94. More recently the sleep component was also installed on staff and postgrad DICE desktops. We should now follow up on this work by finding out how successful it has been and what might be done to increase the energy savings. The project would start by collecting statistics from machines to see how much of the time they are asleep - in other words trying to understand how much of a contribution that sleep might be making to energy saving. Depending on what the statistics say, some changes to the LCFG sleep component could be made or users could be informed about how to get their machines to sleep.

David Sterratt  

This seems both worthwhile and straightforward to me. It's time we quantified how successful the sleep component has been and took steps to increase its effectiveness where necessary. - Chris Cooke

Media Server

Extend if necessary the media server at to provide (potentially) large (and growing) file storage area for internal hosting of media, videos, lecture components, etc. at a stable long term URL. Allow for serving as hintyed for streaming and download via http:// protocol and also ensure it can stream content in real time with rstp:// protocol concurrently at a medium scale. Larger events and synchronous classes would continue to be handled by extenal streaming means. Allow for real time event streaming at modest (workshop and on-line class) scale (say 50 streams) using sdp announcements from live feeds from authorised users.

Austin Tate Bob Fisher, Dave Robertson

This would be a major rescoping of the current media.inf service, which was really a simple solution to avoid storing large binary files inside CVS, that would otherwise belong on

Did we not once have an Apple based media streaming service in Informatics?


Publish teaching material using SVN rather than CVS

Most teaching material is published using CVS. Can we please port this to SVN? I find using CVS rather than SVN takes considerable time (for instance, SVN is much quicker when changing directory structure).

Phil Wadler  

Should be doable, and would remove our use of cvs pserver authentication. Would need to check that the various hooks we have into cvs to do triggers and access control could be reimplemented, and that publishing through the web would still work.


CVS repositories for transferable skills courses For all UG and MSc courses there is a CVS repository that allows course lecturers and ITO staff to create and maintain web pages and deposit course materials. This is useful in allowing staff to share responsiblity for the course and, especially, to hand such material on to staff taking over a course. There is no such provision for transferable skills courses aimed at PG students. This would be useful. Can such CVS respositories be routinely created for all transferable skills courses? Alan Bundy Alex Lascarides

I think all that's required here is an agreement to create a URL like research/courses/


User accessible login logs Recent evidence shows us that compromised accounts are a serious, and not infrequent, threat to the integrity of our computing systems.

When an account has been compromised, an attacker will often log on to systems accessible by that account to check for any local root exploits. If there are no current root exploits on those systems, the attacker will quietly logoff and keep the account details for a future attempt.

Providing a mechanism by which users could see from which external machine their account was accessed would allow users to spot suspicious activity on their account, hopefully before any malicious damage is done.

Investigate DNSsec At long last DNSsec is becoming more and more pervasive, and it's really time we took a proper look at it.. The main aim here is to review and report, though if there are small-scale changes which would help then they should be done along the way. Implementing signed zones is likely to be a bigger job, and would probably be best done in a project of its own later. inf-unit    
Intrusion Detection System We don't have any automated mechanism at the moment for spotting compromised machines. We could do with one somewhere (or perhaps one or more at each site) watching the network for the usual traffic signatures. inf-unit    
Scanning for compromised machines The central University scanning system didn't really ever go anywhere. Do one ourselves. inf-unit    
Full-service jabber Our current jabber not-a-service has a few rough edges. Bring it up to scratch. inf-unit    
Review of Forum wireless installation We have a large deployment of Cisco wireless access points (WAPs) in the Forum, but we have had at least one complaint of unsatisfactory wireless service. For an 'optimal' - or at least an improved - service, it might be that we should move some of our existing WAPs, or else add to (or subtract from!) their number. Do a survey and produce a report. inf-unit    
Monitoring System: Passive reporting scripts The existing Nagios monitoring system provides an interface for passive monitoring, but the implementation of any such monitoring is a distinct matter from the Nagios monitoring system software itself. Some passive monitoring has been implemented already, but it might benefit from being standardised (for example, with respect to the Kerberos principals used.) In addition, there is a need for passive monitoring of disk space usage. inf-unit    
Password strength checks Unstall after the KDC upgrade to 1.9 completes inf-unit    
Multicast routing Although our core routers are (apparently) capable of multicast support, our edge routers currently don't implement any multicast routing. As a result, Informatics users have no access to external multicast streams. Investigate and possibly implement multicast routing on our edge routers. inf-unit    
AFS Automation Develop tools to automate various AFS tasks ( Services Unit    
!TiBS component Improvements to the existing TiBS component ( Services Unit    
AFS Benchmarking Develop tool for AFS performance benchmarking ( Services Unit    
Bug Tracking Tool Improved Bug Tracking Tool ( Services Unit    
apacheconf port Port websites using apache component to apacheconf ( Services Unit    
Data Archiving How best to meet the School's requirements for archiving data ( Services Unit    
Web space to AFS Move user and group web space from NFS to AFS ( Services Unit    
ERA/PR Enhancements Investigate how best to make use of the contents of ERA within the School ( Services Unit    

If a project is considered to be feasible, a member of computing staff will contact the proposer in order to flesh out the proposal (eg outline a plan of work, cost the project etc) in order that the project proposal can be prioritised against other projects. The deadline for submitting a project for this period is 30th July 2012. Projects submitted after that date may not be considered for T3, but will be considered for T1 (January-April)

-- AlastairScobie - 16 Jul 2012

Topic revision: r13 - 12 Aug 2012 - 20:47:50 - AlastairScobie
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