Monday, 11 June 2012

Research data, printing and HPC at RUGIT

Today I've been at a RUGIT, (Russell Group IT Directors) meeting in London. Slightly larger group than usual, as the Russell Group has welcomed four new members - York, Queen Mary, Exeter and Durham. So we began with a bit of an introduction about what we do, and concluded that we're a bit of a self help group - sharing information, having open discussions and collaborating. We have two sub groups looking at security and service quality, and as well as all of the RUGIT members we have representatives from JANET and the Russell Group itself.

Today we discussed several topics, the first being research data management. We all see this as an issue, and one that we've been talking about for a long time. The amount of data being produced and processed is rising rapidly, and with that comes the need to store it, and to curate it. The research councils now demand a research data management plan with all grant applications, and there is pressure to keep and manage data in a way that allows its reuse, which involves digital data curation skills including applying metadata. We have a draft Research Data Management Policy which is the result of a collaboration between us, the Library and Research and Innovation Services. Like many other universities we're looking at how we implement it once it has been finally approved. One of the areas we discussed was charging policies. If we charge, then staff will go off down to PC World and buy terabytes of disc because it's cheaper then what we charge, with no consideration of the extra services provided centrally including back up, mirroring, archiving, security, disaster recovery etc. If we don't charge, then it becomes a valueless service with no limits, which we can't afford. We need to get the balance right between value and cost. This is definitely an area where we're all in the same boat and there's opportunities for collaboration.

We also discussed printing. Most of us have a printing service for students, and have had for some time. Many Universities have already implemented a similar service for staff, and others, like us, are just in the process of implementing one. Despite the obvious benefits  - access to an improved service with faster printing, colour, A3, duplex, it being more sustainable, more cost effective, and the devices managed centrally - there is always initial reluctance. Staff are very wedded to their own printers. So, we had an interesting discussion about the barriers to change, and some of the cultural issues we have to manage.

Towards the end of last year, funding was announced for Tier 2 HPC (high performance computing) centres of excellence, 5 were funded, and we had short presentations from three of them:

N8 - Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Durham, Lancaster, Liverpool, Newcastle, York.
South consortium - UCL, Southampton, Oxford, Bristol
Midplus - Birmingham, Warwick, Nottingham, Queen Mary

All have been awarded several million pounds to establish regional HPC facilities, to improve research collaboration and to encourage business engagement. One of the things we discussed, given that the grants are for the initial capital and only one year of recurrent money, is how do we make this facilities sustainable? How are they to be funded when this money has run out? we will need to demonstrate the impact that they have had, not just in research and technological terms, but in collaboration and engagement with industry. It will be an interesting couple of years!

Our final discussion of the day was on benchmarking, Something we've been talking about on RUGIT for as long as I can remember, and it usually centres around how do we know we're comparing apples with apples,  as we all have different structures and services. Well, a small group of us is going to have a go. We'll see what happens.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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