A Backward Weighted Bear Crawl - 2012 in Review

As we near the year's end, time for a quick look back at the highlights of 2012.  My Twitter word cloud for 2012 above (via wordle.net) points at the likes of HPC Midlands, our work on open data and GEUG12 (the Google Apps user group meeting I helped to organize), but misses out one very important thing - winning a Times Higher Award!  

Here's that epochal tweet again for posterity:


You can read more about this initiative in my blog post about the i2012 project.  i2012 was our catchy name for the multi-million pound programme to replace the entire campus network, telephony and data centre / storage infrastructure, in collaboration with our partners Logicalis, Cisco and NetApp.  Well done to everyone who has been involved in i2012, which has now touched just about every corner of IT Services and School/Departmental IT provision.  [NB: I was only peripherally involved in i2012!]

2012 was also the year that we and the University of Leicester brought in £1m of EPSRC funding to create HPC Midlands, a new supercomputing service for research and industry, as part of the UK government's e-Infrastructure initiative.  You can find out more from the HPC Midlands website, or see the slides below from my talk at this Summer's IDC HPC User Forum:


For an update on HPC Midlands developments, and a teaser for our launch event this coming spring, do come along to my talk at the Hartree Centre's HPC as a Service for Industry event in January.

In addition to the Times Higher Award, we also won the S-Labs Equipment and Services award for our Kit-Catalogue project, which has been funded by JISC and EPSRC to produce an open source database and code framework to support equipment cataloguing and sharing.  Kit-Catalogue has been picked up by a number of higher education institutions including Aston, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leicester, Newcastle, Nottingham and UCL.  My congratulations to Paul Newman, Melanie King, Rachel Thomson and Jonathan Attenborough for all their hard work on the project.  Find out more from the Kit-Catalogue website or the slides embedded below:



One of our goals with Kit-Catalogue has been to provide an Open Data feed of information that could be "mashed up" by other projects and services, and UNIQUIP in particular.  I'd also brought in a small grant from the JISC Open Course Data programme to work on making a machine readable version of our online prospectus, another Open Data project.  You can find out more about this project from our Open Course Data blog, or see my slides embedded below from my talk at June's Open Course Data technical day.  A byproduct of this activity was that I suddenly found myself the go-to guy for all things "Open"...


There is a much bigger story developing here around openness, in that the whole sector has been instructed by the research councils to open up both our publications and the underlying research data, with the aim of maximising uptake, re-use/reproducibility and commercial exploitation.  In a recent blog post Describing the Elephant, I summarise our first tentative steps towards understanding what this means for us in terms of research data.  Some key findings from our survey of PIs on recent grant applications were that a lot of research data that wasn't online to begin with (implying digitization on demand or a Google Books style mass digitization project), and that a significant proportion of researchers had hundreds or thousands of datasets - with implications for metadata management that will require careful consideration.

You can get a broader perspective on the move to "open by default" from the slides for my talk on the accelerated pace of change for February's Digital Curation Centre Research Data Management Roadshow, as embedded below.  I also wrote about the cultural changes this implies, in my post Suddenly Everything Has Changed - in brief, what happens when an event comes along that shakes your mental model to the core?  [See also recent announcements about FutureLearn and UK institutions' involvement in rival projects like Coursera]


In 2012 we also saw sales of Microsoft Windows going into reverse, due to the "Post PC" transition which was kickstarted by the iPad, but is increasingly being dominated by products running Google's Android operating system.  I've blogged about this a few times, but probably the key post is Dark Clouds and Silver Linings, where I propose a few concrete steps that organizations can take to avoid being wrong-footed by what is clearly a move away from Microsoft Windows and Office as the cornerstone of people's IT environment.  If you are still in denial about this, check out my blog post from July 2010, iPad naysayers have it wrong - in a nutshell, it's not inherently better or worse, just different.  Some of the differences are pretty compelling, though.

In all of the excitement about tablets it would be easy to forget about Google's other operating system project, ChromeOS.  ChromeOS simply gives you a computer that runs the Chrome browser as its "operating system".  Under the hood there is a stripped down Linux distribution, much like the Android phone in your pocket right now, but ChromeOS is all about syncing with online data services and the device itself being interchangeable and essentially disposable.  I talked about ChromeOS at the JISC Innovation Forum in July 2010, and blogged about this at the time in Chromoting, and what it means for you.  So, whatever happened to ChromeOS?  This...


Moving to the ARM processor (as found in your tablet and smartphone) made it possible to reduce the cost of producing a ChromeOS device to "impulse buy" level, and the current Samsung Chromebook model has consistently been the best selling laptop on the Amazon charts since its release in October.  Welcome to the new reality :-)

A big part of the new reality for us is our partnerships with suppliers like Bull (for HPC Midlands), Logicalis, Cisco and NetApp (for i2012) and Google (already covered here at some length!).  Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in the presentations from June's Google Apps for EDU European User Group event (GEUG12), which include perspectives from Denmark, France, Ireland and Poland in addition to several UK speakers.  I'll take this opportunity to say thanks again to all the speakers, and most of all to Manish Malik for taking on the the local organizer role.  Julian Lintell-Smith, Sharif Salah, Jordan Pedraza, Ross Mahon and William Florance also played a huge part in the success of the event - thanks all!


I'll be expanding on many of the themes covered here when I present at BETT in January.  The working title for this session is The Perfect Storm, which I hope you'll agree is appropriate!  Please do come along if you are in London, or feel free to contribute online.  I'll do some crowdsourcing as we get closer to the date...

PS If you were thinking "what is a Backward Weighted Bear Crawl?" - wonder no longer.  This is just my way of saying that it has been a very challenging year as well as a very successful one.  Here's to 2013!