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IS Doubles Athena Storage Space; Quotas Now 10 MB

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Associate News Editor

The Athena Computing Environment saw a sizable expansion earlier this month, as Information Systems doubled users' hard disk quota from 5 to 10 megabytes.

The increase, which did not interrupt service, is the latest in a series of yearly quota boosts. "Each summer for the past several years we've increased the default user quota," said Kimberly A. Carney, systems programmer with Distributed Computing and Network Services. "Last year it was increased from 2.2 MB to ... 5 MB," where it had remained until this month, she said.

However, systems administrators said that an increase is not expected next summer. "I can't predict whether there will be another increase next year," said Gregory A. Jackson, director of academic computing for IS. "At this point, with budgets growing increasingly tight, I rather doubt it," he said.

Despite this forecast, this summer's increase makes the MIT user quota among the highest in the country for a university. By comparison, the California Institute of Technology currently supports a quota of 5 MB, but has plans for an increase to 7 MB in the near future, said Caltech Computing Systems Manager Bob Logan. Harvard University, by contrast, accommodates only 0.2 MB per student, according to Edward Mortel of Harvard Educational Computing.

The move was widely approved by students who had come close to the previous 5 MB limit.

"What do I think of the increase? My quota went from 98 percent to 45 percent, and I think it's great," said Oleg E. Drozhinin '97. "More than half of my account was filled [with electronic] mail alone," he said.

Although the amount of disk quota used varies among students, students typically fall into two groups. "They either fit in between 0 and 15 percent or between 85 and 100 percent," Carney said. She expects the trend to continue: Students who had reached the old limit are soon likely to reach the new one, while students who rarely used their accounts before the increase are unlikely to feel the effects of the change.

User needs prompted increase

The decision to boost the quota was largely in response to students' needs for disk space, Carney said.

"The ability to incorporate pictures and graphics into documents is becoming commonplace," Carney said. "As a result, users are storing larger files and need additional disk quota, particularly for things like their theses."

Instead of installing 10 MB worth of disk space per student all at once --raising the total size to roughly 150 gigabytes -- IS will make space available as users need it. As users start consuming more of their quota, additional disks will be deployed, Carney said.

"In thinking about quotas, we keep a close eye on four things: the pattern of used disk space, the cost of disk storage, our budgets, and the disk-storage implications of ... educational applications," Jackson said. "In general, the cost of disk storage has been going down, average disk use has been going up, our budgets have been steady, and disk-intensive applications are becoming more numerous. These indicators all suggested a quota increase, and we were able to manage it," he said.

Given the magnitude of increase, administrators are focusing on efficiency. "As the number of file servers in the Athena environment is increased, we need to make sure that other parts of the infrastructure" -- notably, the disk backup system and monitoring software -- "can handle ... the increased number of file servers and disk space," Carney said.

System software updated

Complementing the quota increase this month was IS's release of Athena 7.7. This latest version of the Athena operating system features software updates and numerous bug fixes, said Dorothy L. Bowe, Academic Computing Services faculty liason. "As these upgrades go, it was relatively minor," she added.

Among the significant enhancements were general improvements made to the Sun Sparcstations' operating system, Solaris, and upgrades of popular packages like Tex/Latex and Framemaker, which are used in document preparation, Bowe said. The software upgrades, some of which include substantial new features, should be the most noticeable changes to students, said Kevin Cunningham, senior technical writer for computing support services, in an IS briefing.

The release did not significantly affect dialup service, Bowe said. "The dialup is very different. It's something that gets fixed in a different cycle," she said.