Monthly Archives: February 2016

Benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

 

Giuseppe Sollazzo
Senior Systems Analyst
St George’s, University of London

 

 

 

 

Last October I was lucky enough to be selected for a UCISA bursary to attend O’Reilly Velocity in Amsterdam. Velocity is one of the most important conferences for performances in IT Systems, which is my area of work at St George’s, University of London: I lead a team of systems analysts who take care of the ongoing maintenance and development of our infrastructure. I had wanted to attend the conference for quite a while, but was always prevented from doing so by the hefty funding required, something that my institution could not readily justify.

The format of Velocity is particularly well suited to a mixture of blue-sky thinking, practical learning, networking with other professionals. Each day ran from 8:30 till 18:30. Following this schedule for three days was intense, but extremely rewarding in terms of learning.

I have written blogs for UCISA day by day throughout the conference. You can read about the specific sessions I followed on each day at the following links: day one, day two and day three. In summary, I learned about a mixture of practical techniques and heard about experiences in a variety of sectors.

As I wrote in my first blog post ahead of the conference, a focus on performance and optimisation is important for academic IT services, and specifically for my institution: with our 300 servers and 30,000 accounts to take care of, this is not just an important consideration, but our major worry on a daily basis. Access to funding is becoming increasingly competitive, as is student and researcher recruitment; it is becoming our primary goal to provide systems that are effective, secure, scalable, fast, and at the same time manageable by constrained staff numbers.

I was interested in three types of sessions:

  • practical tutorials about established techniques and tools
  • storytelling from people who have applied techniques to certain specific situations
  • sessions about new learning about new systems, to see where the industry is heading to.

Velocity has been great to help me crystallise my strategy on how to make St George’s systems evolve. In the past four months, this has translated into taking action on a number of aspects of our infrastructure. The most important are the following:

  • leading the team to build upon our logging systems, in order to extract metrics and improve the ability to respond to incidents
  • increasing our dependability on our ticketing system, by measuring response times and starting a project to make the ongoing monitoring of this part of our weekly service reviews
  • launching an investigation into researchers’ needs in terms of data storage and high performance computing; this has so far resulted in an experimental HPC cluster, which we are testing in collaboration with genomics and statistical researchers who are interested in massively parallel computations where performances are vital to the timeliness of research results for publishing.

I’m very grateful to UCISA for the opportunity it has given me. The knowledge and experience I’ve gathered at Velocity have been invaluable not just for starting new projects and reviewing our current service offer, but most importantly in beginning to understand what our strategy to maintain performances should be to still be able, in five to ten years’ time, to provide excellent industry-standard services to our community.

 

Some reflections on the UCISA Bursary and Educause

simon

 

 

Simon Geller
Senior Project Manager
University of Sheffield
Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

 

I was very pleased to win a bursary to attend Educause 15. On reflection, however, I’m not sure that this is the best conference for bursary applicants to apply to.

So, what are my reservations? Well, it’s a very large conference, and therein lies the problem. It was hard to pick out presentations that could be relevant to my role, varied as it is, and I’d say my judgement was about 50% correct.

With the plenary sessions, of course, there were no choices to be made other than to get up and be ready. These large events were very professionally presented, although the topics were highly generalised – I think the conference could have had more of them, with speakers who had a strong overview of ICT in HE.

So how was the bursary of benefit to my professional development, to my institution, and to the HE IT community? The key thing I brought home was that my colleagues in the US are facing the same problems as we do in the UK – institutional inertia, resistance to change, ever-reducing budgets and ever-higher workloads, with a failure of senior management either to defend the industry or to bring in the kind of far-reaching changes that would enable us to adapt more quickly to changing circumstances, whether that is the political landscape or technological advances. However, my US colleagues didn’t seem to have the answers to these questions any more than we do in the UK.

Coming from University of Sheffield, the slow rate with which US institutions had embraced new technology was also quite striking. Technologies such as Google Docs, which we have been using for years, seemed like strange new innovations to many people. This is, however, not much different from UK institutions, with many still dependent on legacy systems for their core services.

I also learnt that interest in “sustainable IT” is on the wane. To an extent, this is because sustainability has become more embedded in the industry – personal devices and data centres have become more efficient, while the adoption of cloud services, which give institutions the opportunity to off-load their carbon footprints onto the cloud provider, do tend to be more energy-efficient than locally provided ICT services.

On reflection, therefore, I think it would be better to encourage colleagues to apply for bursaries to attend conferences that focus on their specialised areas, rather than big, generalised conferences.