Project Proposals for project period January to end April 2014 (T1)

Development of new computing services by the computing staff is scheduled in project periods (three per year). The next project period starts in January 2014 and the process of prioritising which projects will be resourced starts now (November).

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
Enhancments to Teaching Software DB Small enhancements to the teaching software database and reporting to support the recording of course requirements for software deployed in IS Labs and what is currently being provided. Also add a Theon desktop so that the teaching software records can be directly CSO maintained. Add IS Lab requirements onto outgoing mailshot. Approximately one week of effort. Tim RAT Unit  
An improved virtual desktop infrastructure

I would like to suggest that some time and effort is spent in developing a usable virtual desktop infrastructure. Currently we have a "prototype" service in the form of a single nxserver machine. Having used this recently, and experienced its inadequacies, I think we need to address this gap in provision. A single server cannot be considered as an "infrastructure" and, as more and more staff and students discover that virtual desktops is a convenient way to work remotely, the existing service will cease to provide a usable service (it barely does at present). We need to provide two specific services, one for students (who don't have a dedicated DICE machine) and one for staff (who do have a DICE machine). The student service would be hosted by a rack of DICE hosts, and would load-balance the service at the time of connection. The staff service could operate in the same way as the student service, but should also allow staff to connect to a virtual desktop on their own DICE workstation. This will maximize the usability of existing computing resources. It seems we are missing a trick here, and it should be relatively simple to address using existing tools and software.

Nigel Topham MP Unit We plan to do the student pool as operational work. The staff proposal would initially require an evaluation project (devproj #295) to explore the various possible solutions.
More secure remote access

Currently, the security of remote access to Informatics systems is guarded by CoSign . This works well provided there is no "man in the middle" attack or keystroke logging software on the machines people use remotely. However, when using internet access points in Hotels, airports, etc. it is quite likely that the servers one is using have been hacked, and that passwords are being sampled.

A good way to avoid this vulnerability is by using time-based keys. There are commercial systems out there, such as TokenGuard , providing hardware or software tokens. For our purposes a soft-token system would be preferable, as the cost of hardware token devices is likely to be prohibitive.

We could investigate Open Source options (e.g. Dynalogin) or commercial offerings (e.g. TokenGuard 's soft-token system).

There would be no need to make it compulsory, but for those who wish to have improved security this could be important.

Nigel Topham   Devproj#279 will be looking at this, and may provide some or all of the functionality
Provide S/MIME for email encryption I've heard of other universities providing personal S/MIME certificates for email encryption and signing. Why should we be any worse? Email encryption is becoming important for many people. I can imagine the lack of good encrypted communication quickly becoming a problem, e.g., when collaborating with other institutions. Erik Tomusk   Cf. DevProj#104 which last time it was considered was reckoned more an IS-level thing. It might well be worth looking at again though.  
PATH for Informatics There is a very useful (from students' perspective) tool available for Mathematics called PATH ( []). It is a beautiful resource that displays the useful information from DRPS about a course, complete with student reviews in a clear and consistent way. I strongly recommend cooperating however needed to put informatics courses on the service so that informatics students can benefit from this great resource. Stanislav Manilov RAT Unit, Mary Cryan This has been discussed within ISS before (beginning of this year) and the feeling back then was that it would be well worth investigating as a way of better displaying Informatics programme options.
In-house EASE-authenticated Course Survey System

Our current process for gathering student feedback on individual courses is hosted through the external BOS company. There are disadvantages to using this systems, both from functionality and security aspects. We request the development of an in-house system which would EASE-authenticate users, and hopefully populate the form with that student's actual course enrolments. Other things we would like include (i) better .pdf reports of the submitted responses, (ii) hashing/encryption to support anonymity of submissions and (iii) support for ensuring one-submission per student per course only plus potentially the award of "printing credit" or some other reward for completing the form. There are links to EASE to be taken into account.

I noticed the "Path for Informatics" item when I came on here to add this proposal. It might make sense for the two items to be considered together since the concerns overlap.

Mary Cryan    
Improved SSL certificate handling Better SSL certification. To access internal Informatics web services from a non-DICE machine, I need to either confirm a security exception or permanently add the University's certificate. If the University's certificate can't be signed by a trusted CA (and why not?), then there should at least be a more secure way of distributing it. At the moment, I need to download it from an unsecured web page, which is probably the worst way to do it. Erik Tomusk    
Local "Forum" service I would like to put in marker for a project to run a lightweight Forum to replace the Forum software which will be deprecated by IS. I am looking into the IS-provided alternatives (Learn & Confluence). My impression at the moment is that Learn (for example) might technically meet the functional requirements, but it comes surrounded by a lot of Learn baggage, and is sufficiently clunky that it would be a significant drop in usability which would discourage the student use that I am attempting to encourage.

My own requirements for this would be:
- clean and simple to use
- authenticates to EASE and available to anyone with an EASE account
- simple api for adding/removing users from groups
- ability to register for email notifications
- in production before July next year (for use with pre-arrival students)
- confirmation of whether to not this will be possible, and if so, the timetable, by early next year.
Paul Anderson    
ug4/Msc Project marking interface (with support for EEs) At exam board times, our EEs are often concerned with consistency of marks. We give them a set of examples but they have asked whether instead there would be a mechanism to support browsing of projects/marking forms, and in particular one which would support sorting-by-agreed-mark .... all the information needed is in our systems (marking forms within webmark space, .pdfs of dissertations within 'dissertation index' space, and student enrollments/marks on Theon). So it is just a matter of bringing it all together. I have spoken to Tim Colles, and he thinks this is feasible. It would also be good if we could support a 'view' for the ITO staff, which would help them select projects with missing marking forms (to help them 'chase' markers) etc. We would ideally like to have this resource by April 2014. Jane Hillston is proposing a similar resource for MSc projects, having a concrete example of this kind of system from her experience as EE in Southampton. She has been in discussions with Graham Dutton about it. For the MSc this should also be linked to a submission page which allows students to submit the dissertation and associated zip file if appropriate, as is currently done for UG4, and provide the basis for publishing those dissertations which achieve distinction marks. Mary Cryan and Jane Hillston for MSc Don Sannella  
MSc Project proposal database There are a number of problems with the existing database and the interface for submitting project proposals, allocating students to project etc. It is currently rather fragile and some changes require intervention of computing support to effect. Jane Hillston    
Mimic Uni Web Redesign The main University Web Site has recently been given a new look. In the past we have tried to mimic the University's look on our own hosted web pages. We now have 3 different styles for pages: The new look Polopoly hosted content, the previously mimicked Uni look that we use in our Plone content, and the last pre-Polopoly pages. neilb   More details at
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    
Web space to AFS Move user and group web space from NFS to AFS ( Services Unit   Resubmitted
ERA/PR Enhancements Investigate how best to make use of the contents of ERA within the School ( Services Unit    
LCFG RHEL7 inf port Port LCFG inf layer to RHEL7 ( Managed Platform unit    
LCFG systemd component Produce an LCFG systemd component (required for RHEL7 port) ( Managed Platform Unit    
Investigate sFlow This would be complementary to the (external) vulnerability-scanning service and our existing IDS investigations ( Inf-unit    
Wallet enhancements ... to support keytabs and X.509 certificates inter alia ( and Inf-unit    
CDT administration Capture requirements for CDTs (Centres for Doctoral Training) administration ascobie    

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 26th November 2013. Projects submitted after that date may not be considered for T1, but will be considered for T2 2014 (May-August).

Projects are prioritised by the Director of Computing (Perdita Stevens), Head of Computing (Alastair Scobie), the computing unit heads (George Ross, Tim Colles, Alison Downie, Craig Strachan) and the School Administrator (Liz Elliot). The Informatics School Computing Plan drives project prioritisation, with other factors such as unplanned but high priority School requirements and expertise availability being taken into account.

-- TimColles - 12 Nov 2013

Topic revision: r18 - 30 Jan 2014 - 17:22:43 - IanDurkacz
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