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September/October 1984


The summer may sometimes be a quiet time for a Computing Service, but this one was an exception as the Computing Division split into two (see following article) with the attendant upheavals in the management structure. I believe that we managed to achieve this with no adverse impact on the service we offer. The management of both the new Divisions is satisfied that the new structure will enable our work to be performed more effectively. In the short term FORUM will continue to include articles from both Central Computing Division and Informatics Division.

There is an article describing the CRWP recommendations, and we have spent some effort planning for the implementation of one of them (not yet accepted by Council) that the RAL mainframes should be run on a direct charging basis. One implication is very clear - the Computing Service must be more than ever responsive to the needs of its users, and the change in name of our User Support Group to User Support and Marketing' reflects this attitude.

We must draw the attention of mainframe users to the article on the Introduction of the MVS Service. This marathon project to convert from MVT is almost over; the actual date for the introduction of the production service (a trial service has existed for several months) is given at last. This date will also mark the beginning of a rapid rundown in the MVT service, so MVT users - you have been warned.

Cliff Pavelin, Temporary Head, Central Computing Division


As reported in the last issue, the RAL Computing Division has been divided into two. This has been under consideration for some time owing to the expansion of Engineering Board activities which has caused a considerable increase in the size of the Division. The production of the CRWP report (described elsewhere in this issue), has now made such action timely.

A brief description of the functions and structure of each of the new divisions is given below.


This is responsible for the mainframe services at RAL, communications and other computing infrastructure, and administrative developments.

Computer Services Group (Mr D G House)

Running the computing services, hardware purchases, capacity management, Service line, telecommunications, control of software changes etc.

Systems Group (Dr R Taylor)

Development of mainframe systems, support of production software, graphics.

User Support and Marketing Group (Mr P C Thompson)

Marketing and support of the mainframe services for scientific users, assessing future requirements, training and public relations, resource management, accounting, user accreditation etc.

Administrative Computing Group (Dr K G Jeffery)

Development/support of RAL office automation, SERC administrative computing at RAL, support of electronic mail services. This group will also support the central database requirements of admin. and scientific users.

Development Group (Dr P E Bryant)

Development of of RAL site communications, OSI networking, assessment of new products.


This is responsible for the provision and development of interactive facilities for the Engineering Board's Computing Sub-Committee acting in its federal role and the Alvey Directorate's infrastructure for the IKBS/SE/MMI programmes. It also provides coordination and support for the Alvey Directorate's activities in the areas of IKBS/SE/MMI, and research in these three areas.

Software Engineering Group (Dr R W Witty)

Coordination and support for the Alvey Directorate's activities in the Software Engineering area and research into Software Engineering.

Intelligent Knowledge Based Systems Group (Mr W P Sharpe - acting Head)

Coordination and support for the Alvey Directorate's activities in the IKBS area and research into IKBS.

Distributed Computing Group (Head to be appointed)

This Group has three sections:-

Alvey Infrastructure (Mr R E Thomas)

UNIX developments on the GEC Series 63 and SYSTIME VAX 11/750 systems, UTS developments on the central mainframe system and overall management of the GEC/SYSTIME infrastructure.

Interactive Computing Facility (Dr M R Jane)

Support,development and resource management of the ICF systems and contacts with the Multi User Mini sites.

Single User Systems (Dr K Robinson)

Running the Single User System programme for the Engineering Board and Alvey, including PERQ support and developments, Single User System evaluation and and network development on Single User Systems.

Cliff Pavelin, Temporary Head Central Computing Division and Bob Hopgood, Head of Informatics Division


The present organisation and policy of SERC's Central Computing Committee is based on the report of the Working Party on computing which was chaired by Professor Elliott in 1980. The implementation of most of the recommendations of that report is either complete or well advanced. The Central Computing Committee therefore decided last year that a new review was required in preparation for the next Five Year Forward Look. It set up a Review Working Party under the chairmanship of Professor A G J Macfarlane. A summary of the terms of reference is as follows:

  1. to review the provision of computing facilities and computing support by the SERC;
  2. to provide strategic plans for the financial support of computing within SERC and to suggest ways of collaborating more closely with the Computer Board in planning such provision;
  3. to report to the Central Computing Committee and thence to Council.

The report has been produced and widely discussed by Boards and Committees, and has had a first discussion by Council. The recommendations of the report can be summarised as follows.

  1. Boards would be made responsible for providing those computing resources which are directly required for their experimental facilities, while some central provision would continue to be made for those aspects of research computing judged to be more cost-effectively handled in this way. There would be central support for infrastructure and networking but all other computing provision will depend on the Boards. Within this framework:
    1. The AS 7000 at Daresbury should become the responsibility of the Science Board.
    2. The RAL mainframes should be run on a direct-charging basis.
    3. The ICF should become the responsibility the Engineering Board, with support for non-ICF and VAX machines devolved as far possible to Boards.
    4. The single--user systems programme should become the responsibility of the Engineering Board, with contributions from other Boards directly linked to the systems installed in their area.
    5. Support for infrastructure and networking should be a direct Council responsibility.
  2. A full-time Director of SERC Computing should be appointed.
  3. The Central Computing Committee should be retained with revised terms of reference.
  4. SERC should not pay for vector processing charges at National Centres.
  5. The new administrative arrangements relating to recommendation 1 should be brought in by April 1985.
  6. A joint Computer Board/Research Councils Working Party should be set up to give urgent consideration to the future provision of advanced research computing.

Council had a major discussion of the report at its July meeting, but further discussion will take place in October. Essentially the recommendations have been agreed apart from:

  • 1b - further discussion needs to take place on issue of direct charging for the RAL mainframes
  • 3 - the replacement for the CCC will be advisory to the Director of Computing.
  • 4 - it has been agreed to pay Cray charges for a further year.

For planning purposes, RAL is proceeding on the assumption that direct charging will be adopted. Draft charging algorithms etc. have been worked out to assist with discussions with Boards about their central computing requirements next year.

Cliff Pavelin, Temporary Head Central Computing Division


We will soon have as our production batch service IBM's MVS - their main-line batch operating system. We have all waited many years for this moment (most other IBM installations have had MVS since the mid 1970's), we hope you will find the changeover relatively painless!

We have postponed the introduction of the MVS service to 3rd December 1984 as there is still some new software to test and administration and documentation to complete.

For those of you who have not yet registered to use MVS and tried it out, we urge you to use the Trial MVS machine to iron out any problems before the introduction of the Production Service. The Trial machine was upgraded in August so it has more of the facilities destined for the Production system than before.

For details of how to use the Trial MVS service contact John Gordon. John will be sending an MVS Conversion Guide to all users by early November.

Please note that after the MVS production service is introduced, it is the intention to phase out MVT as soon as possible. It will be maintained just to allow users time to transfer remaining work to MVS, to retrieve program modules from the MVT user-library archive and to accommodate any jobs which for some reason still have problems under MVS. We can not run the two operating systems in parallel. MVS has to be closed down if we wish to run MVT, thus MVT will be brought up only when there is sufficient work queued.

Margaret Curtis, MVS Project Leader, Central Computing Division


The split of Computing Division into two divisions (Central Computing and Informatics) will not change FORUM substantially in the short term. We will still be including articles from both areas of computing, but will keep these separate as far as possible.

Following the Graphics Special, we aim to have another Special edition in the near future. We have had suggested a Network Special and one involving Text Processing; have you any more suggestions?

In the long term, we will also be considering changing FORUM to use the fonts available on the electro-erosion printer, as in the Graphics Special.

Readers' comments on any aspect of FORUM are always welcome and you can send articles for consideration at any time. The deadline for FORUM articles (in machine readable form) is the last Monday of even numbered months (ie 29 October and 31 December this year). For articles which are not in machine readable form, please bring these deadlines forward a week.

Jacky Hutchinson, User Support & Marketing, Central Computing Division


SERC's use of computers for administrative purposes is already well established. New interactive versions of the main administrative systems are being developed, bringing with them opportunities for integration and interworking which their batch counterparts could not support. To explore these opportunities the Laboratory took an initiative last October in mounting a low-cost office automation system on the 3081/Atlas 10 complex. The system was installed on a trial basis to serve approximately 100 administrative staff (drawn from both RAL and Central Office) and uses IBM's VM/CMS-based software called PROFS - an acronym for Professional Office System. A review after 6 months' operation concluded that the benefits were sufficient to justify retaining PROFS indefinitely and trying to double the number of administrative staff using it over the next 12 months.

As installed for SERC use, PROFS seeks to improve office productivity by:

  • automating everyday office tasks, In other words, there is computer mail akin to that in routine use by scientists and engineers; distributed word processing using full-screen terminals, and electronic aids for booking meetings and conference rooms. All these come as part of the standard PROFS package;
  • providing a convenient and user friendly interface to several service functions (databases, spreadsheet tools, etc) specifically added at RAL. Information in these databases is now more accessible to non-specialist users who can extract it and re-work it at will using the document preparation facilities built into PROFS.

The RAL value-added services are:

  1. an abridged version of RAL's INFO-based personnel system;
  2. a STAIRS database containing the full text of documents describing SERC's financial procedures, its codes & conditions of employment, Laboratory notices. Circulars, etc.
  3. a spreadsheet package (ExecuCalc) for modelling finance and manpower data.

User reaction to the pilot scheme was very encouraging, surveys showing the standard office automation facilities offered by PROFS to be consistently highly rated. The average user expended about 0.4 AUs per week, which overall amounted to a little under 4% of the 3081. Costing out equipment, computer usage and support suggests that in the case of a middle manager PROFS will break even if it offers him gains in efficiency of about 10% or less.

In parallel with bringing new users onto the system and adding to the facilities available, PROFS will be interfaced to the new generation of MVS/CICS-based systems - principally the finance & manpower accounting package - being developed for SERC as a whole. Unlike these Council-wide initiatives, PROFS runs on the scientific machines and co-exists with the scientific workload. In common with the rest of this workload PROFS will be subject to the charging procedures recommended for the RAL mainframes by the CCC's Review Working Party, so that users will have to be satisfied that PROFS offers them value for money.

David Leech - Administrative Computing Group, Central Computing Division


The first ever joint meeting of the two User Groups was held at Cosener's House on 11 July. There were 26 users present - 14 GEC and 12 PRIME.

The main topics discussed were:

  1. The reorganisation of Computing Division into two new Divisions.
  2. The Computer Review Working Party Report.
  3. The Needs of Engineering Computing Work Party.
  4. Applications Software Support on GEC and PRIME Multi User Minis.
  5. Graphics Support and Progress with GKS.
  6. Systems Software Support.

The Meeting welcomed the return of the responsibility for the ICF to the Engineering Board although some concerns were expressed by the non-EB users present as to the likely effects on them. Hopefully these worries were dispelled in the subsequent discussions.

The talk on Applications Software Support by Dr A Bryden emphasised that the objective was to provide the Engineering Community with a software environment in which to do Engineering Research and that it is important to realise that the hardware on which the software runs is of much less importance. Users should regard themselves as members of the Engineering Community rather than GEC or PRIME users.

The schedule for the implementation of GKS on the PRIMEs was welcomed by the PRIME users. GEC users were concerned that no decision has been taken on implementing GKS on the GEC 4090s and that this decision was unlikely before the end of the year.

The ICF complement figures were presented and were seen as surprisingly good although users were very concerned at the in-post situation. The Meeting was reassured that every effort was being made to recruit to fill the vacancies.

The consensus of the users present was that the Meeting had been worthwhile and it was agreed to hold another such meeting when appropriate. Users will be consulted on the precise format of any future joint meetings.

Mike Jane, Head of ICF Informatics Division