Service Level Description (SLD) for Physics IT Support

This document (Service Level Description (SLD) for Physics IT Support in PDF format)is an attempt to define the services provided to the department by 'central' IT support. It has been circulated to the department for comment and approved by the departmental Computing Committee. The main contents of this document are duplicated below.

The document's purpose is to clarify the responsibilities of IT support staff for both the
service providers and end users. It is also a definition of what the department provides in terms of `core` IT services that are funded from the central IT support budget. Decisions made about the services provided will impact on the level of funding required for IT support staff costs and the central IT budget (DT0004). The Computing Committee will review which IT services are designated as 'core; on a regular basis. Areas of support not included in the SLD can and should be bid for on research grants.

As far as possible, policy is not mentioned in the SLD. For example, policy whereby specific users may be required to use certain services would be described elsewhere. The existence of an approved SLD for IT support will hopefully provide a better basis for discussion concerning policy. User support appears within multiple services to better reflect the circumstances under which a user can expect to receive certain levels of support.

1. IT Shop

Procurement of frequently used items of IT equipment and software.

This service promotes standardisation which minimises support costs. It also ensures value for money and reduction in administration overheads via bulk purchasing when appropriate. Items stocked will include standard desktops, monitors and laptops and smaller items such as memory, disks, OS upgrades etc. Some printers may also be stocked along with appropriate consumables. Shop orders must be accompanied by a request for a transfer of funds by a person with appropriate signing powers and, where possible, items will then be released for immediate use.

2. Client hardware support

Installation, maintenance and repair of desktops and laptops.

Note that this service is hardware only and mainly independent of operating system although that may well affect the choice of hardware. This service will cover:

  • All standard, 'recommended' systems used for physics related work. These will typically have been bought by IT support staff or purchased via the IT shop. The source of funding may be sub-department, grants or college. Privately owned systems will generally not receive hardware support.
  • Repair of other systems used for departmental business but only on a best effort basis. This may be restricted to a basic evaluation of the problem.

The owner will typically be asked to find the funding for any hardware or other external costs required to complete a repair. Owners will be advised if their system is out of warranty, too old to support or uneconomic to repair (in terms of either cost or effort).

3. Client software support

Provision of standardised installations for all operating systems allowing for the use of all commonly used applications.

This should cover all 3 common operating systems MS Windows, OSX and Linux. Supported options for the OS and the list of installed applications will be published on the web site and will only include versions still supported by the manufacturer or development community. The installations provided will be configured to work on as wide a range as possible of the 'recommended' systems. The work involved in making these installations work on non-standard hardware is usually significant so will usually not be offered as a service. A system initially loaded with standard software is likely to be managed centrally but this is not required. However, where users make significant changes to the supplied system, it may not possible to provide on-going support although the owner will always have the option to have the system reloaded in a standard way.

The Computing Committee will regularly review the options offered to ensure they meet the requirements of as large a good of users as possible. Suggestions for changes to the standard options can be made to IT support or to Computing Committee representatives as appropriate.

4. Client Application support

Support of the use of common applications.

This covers e.g. commonly used word processors, spreadsheets, web browser etc. For the most common applications support can be given whether or not the system has been loaded with a standard installation, but with self-managed systems, support will typically be limited to use of the software rather than system related issues such as installation and configuration. IT support will provide web based installation kits and general instructions for users undertaking their own installs.

5. Network Provision

Providing the means by which all systems involved in physics department work can be attached to the network and achieve the desired connectivity, and performance whilst maintaining the level of security required by both user and network management.

This includes both wired and wireless networks. It includes a large number of network services which support the basic operation of the network, DNS, DHCP, RADIUS etc. It also includes the support of cabling, firewalls, switches, routers etc.

Security is involved at various layers, including the provision of Virtual LANs to provide secure isolated segments of the network when required. These are often needed where laboratory experiments are using ageing relatively insecure machines or non-standard systems controlling hardware. They are also in use where very expensive equipment needs to be on the network but protected from all risks (e.g. electron microscopes).

6. Anti-virus

AV software is provided and distributed making it easy for users to install. Disinfection will always be attempted on standard systems and those owned by the department. Where users report their home systems as being infected, support may be limited to providing advice and/or redirection to the OUCS disinfection service. In severe cases of infection, the recommendation may be a complete reload of the system.

7. Home folder storage

Provision, maintenance and backup of central user file storage for Windows, Linux and OSX.

This is storage typically accessed by desktop and laptop clients which holds files created by users in their normal day to day work. It is not intended for large scale data storage and quotas may be required to avoid this. This is something of a change on current practice as some sub-departments have made good use of centrally provided storage whilst others have not. Additional central funds may be required to provide a uniform service across the department.

Users requiring large scale storage for experimental data should discuss their needs with IT support staff.

8. Development and maintenance of other shared services

Provision and maintenance of services/applications that are shared across the department. The following have been identified as examples of core services required by the majority of users.

  • Email
  • Printing (print servers, printers and the cost recovery)
  • SharePoint
  • Code versioning/management systems
  • Gateways for secure access to internal services (ssh, rdp, scp, sftp, VPN etc)
  • Windows terminal services for access to windows applications from any platform.
  • Collaboration tools such as Wikis, Ticket tracking (RT), Bulletin Boards, blogs etc

9. Cost-recovered Services

The following services will be provided:

  • Virtual machine hosting (vSphere cluster)
  • Web servers and content management
  • Storage
  • Compute servers (including systems for multiprocessing)

These are services which are provided in part to support the core services but can also be made available on a cost recovery basis for project-based use. This is because there are significant resource implications in the use of these services in terms of cpu, storage etc.. The idea is that IT support develops platforms for virtual machines, storage and compute servers to encourage standardisation and to minimise support. However, groups will typically have to fund their use of the resources as requirements are too varied to use central funds. Services for storage and compute servers are only recommendations at this stage and further work will be required if these are to be made generally available.

10. User support

Responding to user queries, provision of support information, guidelines and technical policy for use of departmental resources.

This can be defined in terms of the services already defined. Explicitly, all physics users will be helped with regard to:

  • Standard client hardware
  • Standard client software installs
  • Standard Applications
  • Connecting to the network in an acceptable way and use of departmental AV software.
  • Use of centrally provided shared services

The normal user support service will only be available during normal office hours although outside of this time urgent matters may be dealt with by IT staff at their discretion. Serious failures of services that are affecting large numbers of users will always be investigated as soon as the necessary staff are available.

11. Web applications and Databases

Development and support of web applications and databases.

The majority of these have been implemented to support various administrative processes with the department e.g.

  • Physics Web Site and associated micro-sites
  • Staff database
  • Space database
  • Departmental assets
  • Support for finals marking and the admissions process.
  • RTO
  • Physics financials
  • Effort reporting
  • Helpdesk
  • Power usage

Web applications are also developed for conferences and meetings and whilst this is usually more closely related to research, a standard solution can be modified for most cases. Research funding should be sought for database and web effort related to specific projects (e.g. Tiara).

12. Hardware support for project-specific computing:

Central support for project based computing will be limited to the following:

  • Advice on choice of equipment. This will encourage uniformity and minimise the costs of support perhaps by offering the option of the use of shared systems.
  • Provision, where practical, of machine room space for project specific machines.
  • Support to assist in connecting to the network and use of other network services as defined above.

Projects will be required to provide all the funding including:

  • Hardware costs
  • Software costs
  • Electricity Costs (if the funding body includes such costs)
  • Staff costs to provide installation, maintenance and support of the systems
  • Costs of hardware required to provide internal networking for the system
  • Any costs involved in providing a network connection that is higher speed than is typical within the machine rooms.
  • Racks, UPS, rack-based power distribution

All networking and racking items must conform to departmental standards.

13. Software support for project based computing

IT support staff will not typically be involved in code development. However, help may be provided in the following areas where existing staff have the relevant skills:

  • Support for recommended compilers
  • Support for recommended development tools and environments
  • Support for recommended debuggers, libraries etc

14. Software Licensing

This service endeavours to licence commonly used applications in the most cost effective way. This can also encourage standardisation to minimise support costs.

15. Interaction with OUCS and other external IT service providers.

Generally users will be expected to contact the appropriate help desk themselves. However, IT support staff will advise users on the most effective way to make contact with the appropriate service provider. They may also become involved if the user requires local assistance with technical issues.

Categories: Computing | Policy | Strategy