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Athena Adds SGI Workstations


Adriane Chapman--The Tech
Students try out the new Indy workstations located in the Student Center and Building 66 Athena clusters. The workstations, made by Silicon Graphics, offer powerful video and graphics support.

By Raymond W. Hwang
Staff Reporter

New Silicon Graphics workstations, equipped with cameras, microphones, and CD ROM drives, are now in use in Athena Computing Environment clusters in the Student Center and Building 66.

"We buy about 200 new Athena workstations each year, of which about 100 end up in public facilities," said Gregory A. Jackson '70, director of academic computing.

"Faculty in several departments have been asking us to deploy Athena SGIs for some time, largely to support applications with intensive graphical requirements," Jackson said.

The 20 new Indy workstations, 10 in each cluster, replaced older DECstation 3100s and IBM RS/6000s. Several divisions of Information Systems also use SGI workstations.

The Indy workstations are made by SGI, a company that produces theworkstations and servers that helped create hit movies like Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump.

The computers, acclaimed for their capacity to handle graphics and simulations, are in an experimental state as Athena workstations, Jackson said. "This means that we haven't finished installing all the commercial binaries on them," he said.

The SGI workstations installed in the Student Center and Building 66 do not support applications including EZ and SAS, he said.

"We haven't finished compiling and debugging all the programs that run on the typical Athena workstation," Jackson said. Programs and services available on Athena workstations always vary from platform to platform. "We expect most of the missing programs on SGIs to appear by the time we deploy significant numbers of them, if indeed we do this," Jackson said.

The SGIs are fundamentally different from other Athena workstations not only in their graphical and video capabilities but in the "reliance on their standard operating systems and user interface rather than the Athena user interface," says Jackson.

"The evidence so far is that people like them," Jackson says. "But it remains to be seen whether further development is worthwhile." Should Athena decide to adopt the SGIs, they will be in a "fully implemented and supported state," according to Jackson. It is intended, however, that a multi-platform public environment be maintained in either case.

Problems with the SGI workstations can be sent to bug-sgi@mit.edu. General comments may be sent to skunks@mit.edu or gjackson@mit.edu.