IT Strategy Statement

Physics Department IT Policies and Strategy

Computing Committee membership

The IT strategy for the department is developed and overseen by the Computing Committee (formerly SCPC).

Details of the current membership of the Computing Committee

1. Introduction

This document is intended as a statement of the Physics Department’s policy and strategy for dealing with matters related to computing and information technology. It has been prepared by the Computing Committee, and adopted by the Physics Management Committee (PMC). All members of the Department, when considering IT related issues, should refer to this document and comply with its recommendations. The document will be revised annually by the Computing Committee. Any comments relating to the document should be directed to the chairman of the Computing Committee.

The role of IT provision is to support the physics teaching and research programme in the department. For the purposes of this document, the term IT includes both subject specific topics (e.g. physics computation, data acquisition, data processing and teaching) and more general areas of communication, text processing, design and office automation. The term services includes machines, operating systems, software, infrastructure and support.

2. Objectives

  • The Department should ensure that the physics teaching, administration and other centrally funded services are provided with IT facilities appropriate to their needs, and the Department, together with research group leaders, should ensure their provision for research. (Provision)
  • The Department should maintain organisational & management structures to facilitate its IT policy (Organisation)
  • IT services should be provided in the most efficient and cost-effective way, both in the provision of equipment and in the use of manpower. (Efficient use of resources)
  • The Department will ensure that systems are operated within the law, and publish conditions of use that enable the security and privacy of IT users data and the network to be maintained within the Department. (Conditions of Use)
  • The Departmental IT staff training and professional development will be undertaken where appropriate. (Training)
  • The Department should make appropriate use of central university IT provision and services, including second-line support, staff development and training.
  • Members of the Department should honour this policy document and any additions to this policy document, approved by the Computing Committee and PMC, as they are appended as annexes to the main document.
  • We must remain flexible in our IT strategy and be open to suggestions for new services as they arise.

3. Provision

The Head of Department and the Physics Management Committee (PMC) have overall responsibility within the Department for central resource allocation and provision, including IT facilities. Principal Investigators on research council funded projects are responsible for ensuring that these projects have sufficient IT resources.

3.1. Central Services

Central IT provision within the Department encompasses all areas where a significant increase in financial or administrative efficiency might be obtained. At present, these areas include physical departmental networks, central email provision and central application and file and information servers. Central IT services are also provided for research-support related activity within the Department including finance, design office, libraries, central electronics and central administration.

  • The head of central computing services is the executive officer, is appointed by the PMC and reports to the Computing Committee.
  • The appointee has everyday responsibility for IT staff in the central support group, and full control of the central IT budget and services.
  • The head of central computing is the chairman of the TCPC and will seek technical advice from the TCPC on operational issues.
  • The appointee will liase on a regular basis with the chairman of the Computing Committee.
  • It is expected that line managers for other IT staff will be members of the Computing Committee and will take responsibility for implementation of the Department’s IT strategy.

3.2. Sub-departmental provision

Sub-departmental provision will be primarily targeted at supporting the research programme.

  • Sub-departments have primary responsibility for the provision of computational facilities and user support for their members and graduate students.
  • The primary source of funding for such staff and equipment is from research grants within the sub-department and the annual sub-departmental allocation from the PMC.
  • Sub-departments should not normally expect to duplicate services provided centrally.
  • Any perceived deficiencies in IT provision should be discussed first within the sub-departmental committee, and in the case of centralised services, with the head of central computing services. The Computing Committee should be notified of any failure to resolve issues at this level.
  • Each sub-department should nominate a member to the Computing Committee who also functions as a line-manager for IT support staff within the sub-department.

3.3. Undergraduate Teaching provision

Undergraduate teaching provision includes all aspects relating to teaching. This primarily relates to the practical course: student information and communication, practical course records, computers used for data acquisition and control in experiments, and teaching of computational physics and other IT skills.

  • Day to day management is carried out by the head of the Teaching Laboratories, who reports to the Practical Course Committee.
  • An informal group comprising the head of the Teaching Laboratories, the system manager and the academic Head of Lab for Computing act as a computing committee.
  • Funding is provided as part of the overall annual Practical Course funding allocation.
  • Development of IT facilities for teaching must be kept under constant review in the light of rapid changes in the technology, available software, and teaching aids. A Working Party on Teaching Computing is reviewing the current provision, and will recommend future developments.

4. Organisation and Management

The PMC has set up two committees to consider various aspects of IT provision, and has appointed a head of central computer services. The organisation and overseeing of the IT strategies and policies falls on the Computing Committee, the Technical Committee on Physics Computing (TCPC) and on named individuals appointed by the PMC.

4.1 Standing Committee on Physics Computing

The function of this committee is to develop and promote physics IT policy within the whole Department, organise and oversee IT provision at a strategic level, and consider general computing related issues in the Department.

  • The committee will advise the PMC on computing and IT issues, and will make regular reports to the PMC.
  • The committee is responsible for the networking/central support budget and makes a financial and administrative report annually to the PMC. It makes bids for centrally funded support staff and for funds to run the centrally provided systems.
  • The committee comprises academic nominees from each sub-department, a member from the administration, a member from the practical course computing committee, a member of the publicity committee and the head of central computing services. The chairman of the committee is appointed by the PMC. The committee meets at least once a term.

4.2 Technical Committee on Physics Computing

The function of this committee is to discuss technical and operational matters relevant to computing and IT across physics, and to respond to any technical queries referred from the Computing Committee.

  • Any member of the Department with responsibility for computing or IT may attend the meetings.
  • The committee aims to disseminate information relevant to all sub-departments thus promoting common solutions to technical problems.
  • Members of the TCPC advise the Computing Committee on technical matters and may suggest changes concerning strategic matters via their Computing Committee representative and the chairman.
  • The meetings take place monthly.

4.3 Sub-departmental committees

Individual Sub-departments may decide to form committees to oversee local IT matters.

  • If such committees are formed, they should include members from both the Computing Committee and TCPC to maintain a degree of cohesion within the Departments overall IT strategy. Other members would be appointed by the sub-department in question as considered necessary.

5. Efficient Use of Resources

Computational physics is generally a research activity, which should remain primarily a sub-departmental issue. Thus, physics research requirements will largely determine the types of computer systems used in the Department.

However, for routine office tasks such as e-mail, word processing, access to information systems, etc. a common approach throughout the Department would facilitate communication and greatly reduce the load on non-expert staff. Therefore, a balanced mixture of departmental support provision is required.

The demand for IT and computing support in the Department is likely to grow over the next few years. Current staff in post are already fully committed, and it would be prudent to explore means by which the efficiency of common areas could be improved. Given the current volatile nature of the IT job, hardware and software markets, the Department must plan its IT strategy such that it minimises its reliance upon any one individual, or any one piece of software or hardware. This should be set in a University-wide support context.

All IT services should be structured such as to require minimal active support for normal operations. Reliance on highly specialised and skilled individuals should be kept to a minimum. It should be our aim to create systems where it becomes possible for technical and administrative staff to handle the more routine tasks of daily operation of the central systems.

There should be continuing appropriate centralisation of IT infrastructure, for example networking, email, Web services and software licensing.

5.1 Provision of new IT facilities

  • Sub-departments, central services or the teaching course, making strategic computing decisions, or contemplating large capital outlay on computing, should seek advice from the Computing Committee to ensure consistency with departmental IT policy and impact on staff and resources.
  • Software should be chosen using criteria that ensure the prolonged usability of the system together with adequate documentation.
  • Local direct support should then focus on the subject specific needs of each unit, whilst maintaining close links via the TCPC with other support staff in physics.

5.2 Support services

The central support team consists, at the moment, of the head of central computing services, together with five IT support staff. They are currently responsible for:

  • the maintenance and development of the departmental network;
  • the provision of central mail services;
  • the provision of central Web services;
  • support for users of the central services;
  • the provision of Windows NT based file servers;
  • support for Windows-based desktop systems;
  • Unix support for the Clarendon Laboratory;
  • site-licensed software for the Department.

IT support staff working primarily within a single sub-department typically are typically responsible for:

  • operating system specific support;
  • the provision of user support;
  • the provision of sub-departmental mail and Web services;
  • the support of research-specific applications.
  • A list of current IT support staff and their primary functions may be found at

The number of operating systems that require administration and user support is a concern and any opportunity to reduce the list should be taken. It may also be desirable to consider a model where support for each type of operating system is shared across the department (as is already the case with Windows NT and most recently VMS). This would reduce the requirement on IT staff to become expert in so many different operating systems. Those staff currently full time within a sub-department would then have to spend more time supporting other parts of Physics but in return would be getting additional help from other staff. Whether this would be compatible with efficient provision of user support and other sub-departmental duties is an issue and would need to be fully discussed.

6. Conditions of Use

6.1 Security and Privacy

  • The Department adopts the University's policy on security and privacy and the rules for computer use set out within, together with the University’s published rules on computer use and misuse.
  • The Department will publish its rules for use of IT facilities on the Web, together with a list of system managers authorised by the PMC. All members of the Department making use of IT facilities must sign an agreement to abide by these rules.

6.2 Software licensing

  • It is the responsibility of individual members of the Department to ensure that all software in use is covered by an appropriate licence.

6.3 Network connectivity

  • All systems connected to the Department’s Ethernet should be identified to computing support staff for insurance purposes and to maintain network security.
  • Members of the Department should avoid running unnecessary network services, as these can provide a means for hackers to enter the network.
  • Wherever possible, users are encouraged to use only those network services that are provided on systems managed by the IT support staff, and to run their own service only where they can demonstrate that they have some special technical requirement.
  • Those running their own services must be familiar with network security and have sufficient expertise to keep abreast of network security issues and to implement security updates and procedures as necessary.
  • Requests to start a new network service should be agreed with local IT staff.

7. Training for IT Staff

Training and professional development for IT staff will be undertaken where appropriate. It is hoped that it will be possible for all IT support staff to attend training courses or conferences every 2-3 years, using funds provided by the PMC. Requests by IT staff for training and conferences should be addressed in the first instance to the head of central computing services.

8. Web Services

  • Responsibility for the content of research and individual web pages rests with individuals appointed by each sub-department.
  • Responsibility for the overall presentation of the physics department to the outside world via the web rests with the publicity committee as directed by the PMC.
  • Sub-departments are encouraged to make use of the central physics web service wherever appropriate.

Categories: Computing | Policy | Strategy