Just another day at the office

It’s been another busy week: Friday has come, and almost gone, but what is it that has filled up every working hour?

As I mentioned previously, Sysdev is involved in the provision of a number of IT services, handling all aspects of some and looking after the infrastructure of others. Here’s a list of the things we’re involved with:

  • Webauth, Kerberos, Oak LDAP, and Shibboleth
  • Maillists
  • GNU/Linux computing environment (linux.ox.ac.uk)
  • User web publishing (users.ox.ac.uk)
  • Web virtual hosts (including many of OUCS’ own web sites)
  • Oxford’s Alumni Email Forwarding Service
  • News, IRC, and Jabber
  • Mirror service (mirror.ox.ac.uk)
  • Self-registration (hosting only)
  • WebLearn (hosting only)
  • Podcasts (hosting only)
  • Green IT – Desktop Computing (wake-on-lan and power management monitoring)

We also provide a number of tools for use within OUCS, including the Request Tracker, Subversion, Room booking system, and OUCS Blogs, and various members of sysdev sit on OUCS, unit, and University-wide groups and panels.

Sysdev is occasionally described as having a “hive mentality” on account of everyone having a sufficiently broad range of skills and knowledge to cover pretty much everything we do. We have a daily rotation to decide who will take support enquiries, and much of our development work is done collaboratively (albeit over IRC/email as we’re split across four physical offices).

On a day-to-day basis our work broadly falls into four main areas:

  • systems development (selection, installation, and configuration of servers, operating systems, and applications),
  • systems administration (updates, patches, attending to reports from automated maintenance jobs, …),
  • support (processing service requests, second/third-line advice and fault diagnosis),
  • management (planning, advisory groups, project management, service management, reporting).

So a typical day might involve applying security patches to c. 100 servers, helping out a user who is getting unexpected results from the maillist service, setting up a new queue in our Request Tracker, contacting the maintainers of the Fedora upstream repository to work out why we weren’t able to fully update our local mirror, deploying some new software and an updated database for one of the other OUCS teams, and meeting with the podcast team to discuss growing storage requirements.

Regarding our longer-term committments, here are some of the projects and groups that we are participating in:

  • Student Systems Replacement project
    Providing technical expertise to assist UAS in selecting a replacement for the Oracle Student System and associated services;
  • Core User Directory
    Augmenting our identity and access management stack with a very wide-reaching directory of people having some association with Oxford University;
  • Energy Efficiency and Monitoring project
    Enhancing the Power Monitoring and Management and Wake-on-LAN services pilotted in 2010;
  • Enhanced Authentication and Privacy project
    Developing a multi-factor authentication capability to offer stronger user authentication for applications that require it (e.g. for controlled access to examination papers);
  • UAS Identity and Access Initiatives
    Advising UAS and BSP on identity and access management, and helping address issues such as SSO integration of key applications such as student systems, and the new HRIS.

If you are involved with web sites at Oxford then you are likely to have received a survey invitation in the last day or so. This is part of our “Blue Spinner” project which aims to collect information to help us design a new generation of web hosting service(s) for the University. We have already received a huge response, but would welcome any further submissions as this will be an important development for the University and has the potential to provide a range of  cost-effective and easy-to-use web hosting options for ITSS, web managers, web authors and publishers, and many more besides.

However, it is after 5pm on Friday, so don’t go looking for the survey right now – it’s time to head off for the weekend!

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