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Athena Loses Funding, Becomes Part of IS

By Ben Reis
Staff Reporter
____The eight-year experiment in educational computing known as Project Athena ceased to exist on June 30, following the loss of grants and support from the Digital Equipment Corp. and IBM. As a result, groups involved in the support of the Athena network on a day-to-day basis merged with Information Systems.

IBM and DEC said they did not want to continue funding Athena in its present form, adding that servicing equipment should be MIT's responsibility.

The companies feel that they helped us to create it, and now we should pay for it, said Athena Director Earll M. Murman.

Athena was successful in developing "a new computing service infrastructure" on campus, Murman said. The challenge now is "to start a second-generation project for the type of leading-edge educational and systems research which is the other component of Athena," he added.

Merger affected Athena structure

Murman did not expect the loss of 20 Athena staff members to affect student involvement with Athena.

Wrighton agreed, saying that student participation played a "critical role" in Athena's success. "We've been very fortunate to have very talented students working with Athena," he said, adding that students' role in Athena's future is unclear.

IS has considered installing either additional Athena clusters in dormitories or Ethernet drops in dormitory rooms. Such drops would enable students to connect their own computers to the campus network.

MIT pays computing bill

The Institute is providing all of the $3.7 million budgeted for academic computing during 1991-1992. Although overall funding declined 60 percent because of the loss of outside sponsorship, the Institute's contribution rose from $2.4 million last year.

IBM and DEC contributed a total of approximately $6.6 million for Project Athena during the 1990-1991 academic year, and both may support future academic computing initiatives, Wrighton said. "I believe that both DEC and IBM are pleased with the Athena project and are anxious to see what we will do next."

Wrighton still hopes to obtain outside funding for what he terms the infrastructure of Athena. He said he would still "like very much to secure additional support" for more workstations and improvement of the service segment of the acmpus computing network.

Murman said he was not displeased that Athena's experimental period was over and that continued research would have to be done under the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives.

"It's like the Apollo program and going to the moon," he said. "You set a goal, you take a giant step forward, and once you've done that, it's time you take on new direction. We've set up a computing environment, Act I has been completed, and it's time we raised the curtains on Act II."

Wrighton was extremely pleased with the results of the Athena experiment. "I think it's been a remarkable achievement. It went from something very much research-oriented to something that provides [a variety of services] for a large fraction" of the MIT community.