Before I retired, I was the digital repositories manager for the Australian National University in Canberra. I’ve previously been the Operations Manager (Servers and storage) for the ANU.
I’ve had a varied and so far interesting career.
Like many people, I had no clear idea what I wanted to do or wanted to study at university and started with a very traditional set of sciences and mathematics options, at which it has to be admitted I was not terribly successful, principally because I was not terribly interested.
However I discovered psychology, became fascinated by the biological bases of human behaviour and was reasonably successful. When I completed my degree I still found I had questions about the biological bases of human behaviour and went on to start, but not complete a PhD in psychophysiology at Hull.
Why didn’t I complete it? A complex set of reasons – I’d lost all interest in the topic, I’d also made the discovery that I was not cut out to be an academic – and to be frank, I’d run out of money. Under other circumstances I’d have completed it and perhaps I should have.
From there I went to work at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (now merged with Cardiff University) at their biological field research station in mid-Wales.
As well as my official duties as a computer officer and supporting researchers and liaising with the central computing facility in Cardiff, I started running field survey projects including project management and staff management.
From there I went to the University of York, where, despite what the official job description was I was employed as a technology evangelist to spread the word about desktop computing, support people’s word processing needs, and help people move data between different platforms.
In my first five or so years at York I
- rationalised desktop pc and printer purchase and established de facto preferred suppliers
- put in place a document format interconversion service
- developed a self service file transfer service to allow people to easily upload data to the central time sharing system
- piloted various computer networking initiatives to integrate desktop and central computing provision
- built the University’s first public access networked computer lab
On the basis of these activities I was appointed Head of Personal Systems in 1992, managing the Personal Systems Group, who were charged with developing a rolling out a campus wide computing network. In order to contain costs, this was done using Sun’s PC-NFS product, using central unix based file servers to provide filestore via nfs mounts.
This allowed us:
- to provide a common home directory service for unix and pc users
- to provide a single username and password
- to provide a common standard predictable environment
- to provide a common campus wide printing solution
- contain licensing costs
building on the need to contain licensing costs, we also developed a microsoft-lite desktop where products with more favourable licensing terms were substituted for their Microsoft equivalents.
In time the central unix servers were replaced with network appliance filers to provide the nfs based service. With windows 9x and later windows 2000 we moved to a more orthodox solution, but we were able to significantly ease the transition by being able to use the abilities of Network Appliance filers to offer the same filestore as both an NFS and CIFS mount allowing us to maintain the common filestore service across platforms.
The only major failure was our inability to reliably and economically provide macintosh integration. This was eventually resolved by the ability of the Mac OS to handle CIFS mounts
Besides developing a campus network solution I
- formalised and negotiated preferred supplier agreements for pc’s printers and servers
- installed and maintained the university library’s campus wide networked cd-rom access service
- installed and maintained a citrix based thin client service for both off and onsite access to the cd-rom service
- procured a replacement central backup service including software and replacement tape library
- re-used old hardware to provide a quick access mail checking service for students
- replaced/upgraded printer management and accounting solution
- worked with a regional consortium of 18 universities to put in place a region wide set of purchase agreements
- helped negotiate a range of agreements to provide economical onsite pc maintainance services to UK universities
- was a member of the UK mirror service steering group
- was chair of the UCISA software forum
- participated in various University committees
Also in the mid nineties I established a series of surveys on the uptake of various windows platforms in UK universities, which allowed institutions to track each other’s deployment plans, a mailing list to allow people to share information and a series of highly successful conferences to allow staff from various universities share expertise and strategies. These conferences were originally hosted by the University of York, and were later organised via UCISA. From the outset I was able to gain some informal sponsorship of these events, including from Microsoft.
In 2003 I moved to Australia – my wife who is Australian by birth wished to return home, so we took the courageous, perhaps foolhardy decision to sell up and prove to ourselves that we could re-establish ourselves in Australia.
I first worked for CSIRO in a temporary role as an IT support officer covering for someone on Long Service Leave. During that time I gained a contract as a project manager for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to specify, procure and implement a digital asset management system.
AIATSIS had a large collection of photographs and field recordings that needed to be conserved as part of the digital patrimony of the aboriginal people of Australia, and had taken the decision that the content was of greater value than the artefacts and that the most appropriate solution was to digitise them. This of course required a digital asset management solution to ensure the long term maintenance of the data and the metadata so that items could be searched for and found reliably. It was my job to design, procure, and implement this solution which I did, on time and under budget. My success in doing so also led AIATSIS to appoint me as the Institute’s IT manager.
Besides working on the digitial asset management system, I
- moved AIATSIS’s website from an externally hosted service to an in house service
- migrated AIATSIS’s web content from a classic model to a content management based solution
- developed specialist websites to host digitised content and specialist databases
- participated in discussions to develop a national digital recording initiative to record indigenous cultures
In 2006 I moved from AIATSIS to the ANU to manage servers and storage, including identity management services, email provision, student filestore provision.
During my time at ANU I have
- replaced the backup solution including procuring a replacement tape library
- significantly extended the SAN infrastructure
- initiated a consolidation and redesign of the ANU’s AD implementation
- improved performance in the identity management space
- initiated consolidation in the provision of email including webmail services
- moved to a common password environment where credentials are shared between ldap and AD
- initiated various projects to demonstrate the uses of shibboleth for wide area autnetication
I have also been instrumental in setting up a group to look at new technologies in the social media space as applied to teaching and learning in order that the ANU is better able to react intelligently to web 2.0 style developments.
In addition I have managed the development of ANU Data Commons, a research data management solution based on Fedora Commons and which includes facilities for the automated acquisition and ingest of instrument based data, including data from astronomical instruments, programmatic extraction of technical metadata, and facilities to publish dataset descriptions to other services, including Research Data Australia.
As well as automated ingest the system allowed the uploading and publication of research data. Our ingest workflow had a number of useful features including automated virus checking of uploaded data, normalisation of a second copy of the data to the standards recommended by the NAA’s project Xena and automated format identification using the UK National Archive’s Pronom database.
The solution was data agnostic, meaning that any data type could be uploaded to it, allowing it to be used not only for numeric data, but also image collections and audio data.
Since retiring, I’ve been working for a couple of days a week cataloguing artifacts for the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) as part of the Dow’s pharmacy documentation project – a somewhat novel experience to become a data provider rather than a data custodian, but one that has given me insight into the problems of cataloguing physical objects,