Choosing your software for the next academic year

Posted in: Computing Services, Software Delivery

We are here to support the University in delivering world class teaching and a key part of this is our software consultancy. This process makes sure that our academic staff and students have the right software on the machines in the general teaching areas (GTAs) and public access computers across the Claverton campus, in the Virgil Building and also for use through the remote Windows service (UniDesk) and our remote linux service (linux.bath).

One part of my role as an IT Service Manager is to review changes to ensure they are straightforward and efficient, and to address any delays or confusion within a process. Software consultancy is a complex process, so I wanted to take some time to explain what we do, and the factors that we think about when deploying teaching software in the right areas and in good time for the new academic year. This is very much a combined effort, involving colleagues from Software Delivery, Supporters, Software Licensing and other teams.

We launched a completely new process for the 2017/18 academic year, and it was very successful, with over 350 software requests coming through to us. Once we’d whittled out the duplicates and packages that we were unable to provide for whatever reason, we had a list of 70 packages to work through and deliver in our main public access and GTA lab image, and many others needed in Departmental PC labs. We’ve now reviewed that process again, and tweaked it a bit for this year.

Where to find the form to request your software

We have sent out an email to staff who may need to request software with a link to the new form.  You can link from the email or use the go.bath.ac.uk/software-consultation address to get to the form.

Why do we ask you to let us know each year that you want software? It’s quite simple, the image we are creating is extremely large and complex, so to be able to minimise the conflicts that can occur between packages, and to be able to deliver any necessary security updates during the year, we can’t have unnecessary packages within the image. The only people able to tell us if packages are required are those people using them, and teaching with them.

Acceptance Criteria

We have certain criteria that software being requested has to pass in order to be accepted into the image for the next year. These are a series of questions that we need to answer to be able to process the request and provide the software:

  1. Has sufficient information been provided, to allow us to make this software available?
  2. Is the software licensed, or is funding in place to purchase, if required?
  3. Will the software work with the hardware specification that we have?
  4. Does the software provide the same functionality as another package being requested (we aim not to have too much redundancy in the image, to save space and time)?
  5. Is it technically possible to provide this software? i.e. Does it work on Windows 10, will it work in a shared environment, and similar considerations.
  6. Does the software work when installed in our environment?
  7. Can we deploy and remove the software in an automated manner?

Some of these questions we can only answer when we start testing.

Testing

Although we can see if a piece of software has installed, very often we don’t know how to test if it actually works. Within the request form we have questions about testing and we would value any testing procedures that you can supply for the software that you are requesting.  This ensures we can be reasonably certain that it is working before we start to deploy it. For some packages this could be quite simple but for others we recognise that it’s more difficult. If you provide instructions for students showing how to use the package then we are happy to receive those to work through. We aim to be testing the software during August, so if you or someone else that knows the software can help us with that, please let us know on the form.

Although I can’t guarantee that it will be possible, I am hoping that we will be able to provide an area to test the new image as it is being created. If this does prove possible, we will be in touch with requestors to let you know where and when this will happen.

Software Licensing

In many cases this isn’t an issue, but to be certain we have to check the licence condition of every piece of software being requested. For requests that would require the purchase of licences we need to know that funding is in place to enable these to be purchased and maintained throughout the period of the deployment. Obviously we would like to have funding to provide everything, but we don’t, so please keep this in mind when placing your requests.

 

Posted in: Computing Services, Software Delivery

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