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IS Replaces Old Machines; Living Groups Disgruntled

By Deena Disraelly and
Eric Richard

Staff Reporters

Last weekend, Information Systems replaced all of the remaining Vaxstation 3100 workstations in the Student Center Cluster with IBM Powerstation 220 machines and Sparc Sun stations as they moved towards completely withdrawing support from the older platform. According to Gregory A. Jackson, director of Academic Computing, approximately 30 VS3100s in public clusters will be replaced this year in order to work towards discontinuing support of the platform by mid-1995.

Living groups which had Vax 2000s as holdovers from Project Athena are facing the decision of whether they will purchase newer Athena workstations or lose support for their clusters.

"Their performance is no longer competitive, and they no longer serve our general purposes of supporting students' access to state-of-the-art commercial software," Jackson said of the VS3100s.

"Our goal is to have no client workstations in public clusters, in departmental clusters, or on faculty desks that are more than four years old," Jackson said. "When a generation of workstations approaches the end of its four-year lifetime with us, we solicit bids from vendors for new workstations and then buy the most attractive ones we're offered."

"This will improve operations, since the VS3100s are unpopular and slow and poorly equipped with commercial software," Jackson said.

The VS3100s were scheduled for replacement during the next fiscal year, but the process started early to ease the transition. "Since there are a lot of VS3100 workstations ... and software availability has already become a problem, we began replacing VS3100s this year to smooth the replacement stream for that platform," Jackson said.

Living groups upset

Since IS is planning to terminate its support of the Vax platform, several living groups, including Next House and pika, have had their Vax 2000 machines taken away.

The Vax 2000s were donated to each of the living groups by Project Athena as an experiment to determine whether residential or on-campus clusters were better, according to Craig A. Anderson '95, former computer chair for pika.

One dormitory and four independent living groups were equipped with the clusters when Project Athena was underway, Jackson said.

Next House and pika residents had become quite accustomed to using the in-house clusters and have been hurt by the change.

"Being on the edge of campus, we generally find it very difficult to go to campus and log on," said Dominic J. Sartorio '94, Next House's cluster manager. "Even though we didn't have the fastest machines, people used them for convenience."

Jackson explained the change saying, "With the completion of the Resnet project to extend MITnet into living groups and dormitories, living groups that had Vaxstations now fall under the same policy as other living groups: that is, selecting and buying computers to connect to the network is their problem." "We will not support VS3100s in living groups any longer than we support VS3100s elsewhere," Jackson added.

However, Sartorio said that people at Next House had been using their cluster to use programs like Matlab which are not available on Resnet. "Even though Resnet is a good addition to the dormitory, it does not adequately replace all the capabilities provided by the cluster."

Anderson concurred, explaining that since few people at pika own computers, Resnet is not effective for them.

Pika is considering buying three DEC DX stations on their own. "In the next couple of months, we will have our own cluster in the basement to replace the old one," Anderson said.

Replacements are routine

The process of replacing older platforms is nothing new, with IBM PC-RTs being replaced this fiscal year by DECstation 5000s, IBM RS/6000s, and Sun Sparc stations. The original Athena workstations were replaced two years ago with DEC 5000s.

Jackson explained the problems associated with older machines. "As computers age, three things happen. They fall further and further behind the performance of our newest machines, leading students and faculty to avoid them and complain about them. It becomes increasingly difficult to support courseware and commercial software on them ... and they become much more expensive and difficult to maintain and repair."

While the VS3100s are being replaced by currently-supported platforms, IS is discussing the possibility of introducing new platforms in future years. "Our plans for new platforms such as DEC Alphas, Silicon Graphics Incorporated machines, Hewlett-Packard machines, PowerPCs, and so on are currently taking form," Jackson said. "Even that list isn't complete. Until our consideration advances further, don't expect any particular kind of new machine."