Technical strategy meeting - 25th June 2009

Ubituitous Internet

We don't believe in ubiquitous internet - bandwidth will never keep up with application demand. This has an implication for web as delivery mechanism for apps ("web is the platform"), seemingly IS's solution to multi-platform support. Also availability is not 100%. There is a bandwidth/availability spectrum for users (city/country) - impact on remote users (esp. remote students). => we still strongly believe in locally run applications (as opposed to eg google apps) => believe that much data and compute will remain local, increasing demand for cacheing filesystems/intelligent file sync. (Research increasing in this area, but ~3yrs off)


Safe keeping of data

  • amount of data growing exponentially (?) - various drivers (eg video)
  • with personal devices, and external services, "where is data?" losing control of data from an organisational point of view.
  • more devices to backup - whose responsibility?
  • more use of central IS storage ?
  • compliance - research council requirements on long-term storing of research data (research council requirements) (ESF 10yrs good practice, MRC 20yrs on personal, Wellcome Trust - 10 yrs on all, EPSRC "appropriate")
  • compliance - university auditors

Security of personal data

  • compliance - effect of information commissioner - has sharp teeth
  • can't be exported beyond EU borders - ? staff going to a non EU conference with unencrypted cache of email ?
  • encourage encrypt mobile data (required for DPA data)
  • is "email" personal data? - very often can be
  • compliance university auditors

We should be advising users on their responsibilities and how to manage data in their care

Cloud computing and external service providers

  • worried about IP issues - content ownership. eg google wanting rights to your data
  • can we "legally" outsource custody of our data. Are the SLAs suitable and enforceable
  • data subject to DPA can't be exported beyond EU (?) - how do we know that external providers are hosting within EU
  • how much of our data is subject to DPA anyway?
  • what if provider suddenly ceases operation - access to data? would we need to keep backups in-house, just in case?
  • people using external services without being aware of responsibilities and risks - or simply ignoring these
  • don't have a good handle on how much this is already happening, already widespread use of doodle and google calendar.
  • (Chris Adie authored a report on risks - review and circulate to users)


  • disappearing perimeters due to mobility (and possible outsourcing). Location based access control now largely meaningless.
  • auditors (and IC) now more technically clued up and will ask sensible questions


  • Staff / Postgrads
    • wide spectrum of needs - admin staff -> mathematicians using LaTeX/email/www browsing -> software developers.
    • Some happy with DICE as is, others not.
    • DICE desktops often idle with people using their laptops (particularly PhDs). Do they use their DICE desktops at all - and what for?
    • DICE too old - trend for users to need more leading edge s/w -> requests for upgrades to platform -> often leads to advice to self manage m/c (many move to Ubuntu?)
    • Perhaps we should consider moving SL -> Ubuntu?
    • perhaps have an EXIT questionnaire for users moving from DICE to self-managed so can understand better why people move off DICE
    • will people jump back at SL6?
    • still think there's a role for DICE desktop, though accept diminishing.
    • teaching staff (and teaching assistants) will need access to platform used for teaching to develop courseware.

  • Taught students
    • will always need a stable, standard environment for teaching (eg coursework often depends on specific versions of s/w, some s/w not easy to install, licensed software)
    • for most purposes, environment could be a virtualised image, but possibly not for compute/graphics intensive work.
    • how would we manage/update a virtualised environment?
    • if had no desktops, where would we do online exams
    • will always need lab space with at least some managed desktops, for people without laptops - but these could be MDP with our virtualised environment.
    • one view is that UGs will use smartphones/netbooks for much of their email/facebook/bebo, leaving their laptops at their flat/halls, so demand for managed desktops at Uni will remain high.

Self-managed (not just laptops)

  • commodity platforms are easier to self-maintain these days (auto-updates etc)
  • more platforms/environments to support. how?
  • most users have little expectation of support of personally owned h/w perhaps we're too good at telling them "no support". Support for this is difficult and expensive.
  • need to wide our support to a variety of base platforms (particularly from services) (See "platform support policy" from 2006?)
  • need to better support home working


  • virtual learning environment
  • growth in commercialisation - different requirements - need to be really agile.
  • virtual world - meeting technologies
  • global single signon for all services? - everybody keen to be provider but fewer willing to accept external bodies saying user is who they say they are - eg shibboleth across unis.
  • more remote students (eg virtual environment) ?
  • environmental issues - energy/efficiency -> thin clients?

Internal issues

  • need to streamline processes - need to be able to make decisions more quickly because of high pace of change
  • how capture trends of users' usage?
  • internal resourcing constraints mean we have to use more central services (and possibly external services). Will have to stomach the "we don't trust anybody else to provide a good service" issue...
  • cannot rely on "Centre" to provide newest and broadest range of technologies - they're even slower than we are.

General issues

  • consumers are driving demand for most technologies, but their requirements might not always mesh with ours.
  • home computing - today's children are tomorrow's students and staff. What are they doing with computing? They will have different expectations...

Flip-charts from meeting

-- AlastairScobie - 02 Oct 2009

Topic revision: r1 - 02 Oct 2009 - 10:21:08 - AlastairScobie
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