IT Needs of Active Research Survey Progress – 18 months on

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Back in the spring of 2022, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research’s ‘IT Needs of Active Research Survey’ was released, and four months later we provided summary results and actions that would be taken in response. The 2024 survey has just gone live (19th February), and we wanted to update you on the progress made.   

Progress in Advanced Research Computing (ARC)

We have increased the availability of Research Software Engineering support – In the 2022-23 financial year Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR) Research Software Engineers (RSEs) were bought out for funded work totalling £301k, and are projecting £450k for 2023-24. Since April 2022, we have hired 5 new RSEs and are recruiting shortly for at least two more posts. You can read more about the development of the service in the Research Software Group 2023 Annual Report.

The Data Scientist team – Cai, Kamilla and Jeremy.

We have launched a Research Data Science Service, in partnership with the Institute for Interdisciplinary Data Science and AI and the Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Government. There are now 2.5FTE of new Research Data Scientists available for a combination of grant-funded and institute-funded work.

We are expanding the range of training workshops we provide in 2024, with more advanced workshops covering key topics like ‘Advanced BlueBEAR’, ‘Image Processing with Python’ and ‘Intermediate Research Software Development Skills’, all being run for the first time over Feb/March 2024. There are also plans to develop an ‘Advanced R’ workshop later in 2024. Workshops can be booked via our training webpages:

We have bought more GPUs for BlueBEAR, and researchers can now access 52 A100 GPUs of an equivalent specification to the GPUs found on our national (Tier 2) supercomputer, Baskerville.

The BlueBEAR supercomputer

We have added thousands of new CPU cores to BlueBEAR, with a peak usage of 18,000 cores being reached for the first time in November 2023.

We have raised the limits for individual users for CPUs and GPUs. For CPU cores the increase is from 576 to 864 cores in use simultaneously (across all running jobs), with GPU core default usage doubling from 2 to 4 GPUs in use simultaneously.

We have increased our outreach around BEAR services, with seminars e.g. on the BEAR portal and Baskerville, and events related to topics raised in the survey, e.g. a session on data horror stories, covering good data management and open data. In 2023, our Research Engagement & Data Group held discussions with over 1,100 researchers at various university events, twice the number from 2022. Advanced Research Computing webpages have been refreshed to make information easier to find and we have moved them to the main website, prior to the planned decommissioning of the old Contensis-based intranet. They are now available at

Wider IT Services responses

There were a number of comments that related to End User Services, the part of IT Services that manages desktop facilities, as well as support for devices and facilities in College. These comments covered topics including the reorganisation of support in College, admin rights on user devices plus the sharing of files externally.

We collaborated with End User Services to enable increased file sharing via Microsoft 365, previously available in BEAR DataShare. We are pleased to report that ‘Anyone links’ were enabled in mid-2023.

We raised issues over responsiveness to tickets and support. IT Services is working to ensure that the research support teams are all up to full strength, by filling vacant posts, and requesting new posts to enhance the support capability. Two Linux specialists are currently being recruited, with more requested to cover specialist areas.

IT Services are commencing a project to implement a managed admin rights solution, with an aim to start implementation by mid-2024.

IT Services now provide Apps Anywhere to give widespread access to standard software packages.

IT Needs of Active Research Survey 2024

The 2024 survey is now live until Monday 18th March! The majority of the questions have been kept the same to allow for comparison to past surveys, however there are some updates around training workshops and the new Data Science service, reflecting the significant advances in these areas.

We need as many researchers as possible to complete the survey, to make the data meaningful and to ensure roadmaps reflect researchers’ needs. Therefore, please complete the survey when you see the relevant email, either from Professor Rachel O’Reilly, your Director of Research or via the various networks are using to spread the message.