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More Workstations Purchased for Athena Clusters

Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
The fishbowl cluster in 11-113 recently received two new Silicon Graphics Indy workstations. The SGIs are two of 100 new computers purchased this year

By Carina Fung
Staff Reporter

In a yearly effort to keep computing facilities on the cutting edge, over 100 new Athena client workstations have replaced outdated models in public clusters.

The new computers, mostly consisting of Sun Sparcstation 5 workstations, are all "dramatically faster than the workstations they replace," said Director of Academic Computing Gregory A. Jackson '70.

The replacements also include 30 Silicon Graphics Indy workstations. The Indys are particularly useful for high-performance graphics applications since they offer 24-bit color, accelerated XZ graphics for three-dimensional imaging, and integrated video capabilities, Jackson said.

Martha H. Greenberg '96, a member of the Student Information Processing Board, said that the XZ graphic boards that have replaced the old XL boards are much faster and are intended for third-party software used by professors.

"The SGIs are intended especially for advanced visualization and other graphically-intensive academic applications," Jackson said.

The SGI machines were purchased in response to specific requests from faculty in several departments, Jackson said. In addition, one cluster of new workstations in 2-032 is configured to run Macintosh Application Environment, a package that simulates a Macintosh computer on a Sparc workstation, he said. The MAE-capable machines replaced old, general-use Macintoshes, he said.

New machines replace old ones

"We try to replace about a quarter of the Athena environment each year," Jackson said. This means 250 new workstations are purchased each year, with about 100 in general-use clusters, another 75 in departments, and another 75 in other locations, he said.

Generally, the new machines are placed where the old computers were and not concentrated in any one area, Jackson said. Also, a trade-in allowance is received for old workstations and put toward the cost of new ones, he said.

"The machines being replaced are primarily Digital Decstation 3100 and IBM RS/6000-320 workstations, all of which are at least four years old," Jackson said. A few Decstation 5000 workstations have also been replaced, he said.

Jackson said that Athena did not actually expand, since the total number of workstations is about the same as it was last year, except for a small new cluster in Rotch Library and the new configuration of 2-032. The regular workstation renewal purchases are "to retire obsolete equipment, not to increase the number of Athena seats," he said.

The Athena cluster in 4-035 is now semi-private and is used by certain classes like Computer Graphics (6.837) and various chemical engineering classes, said Abbe J. Cohen '96, a member of SIPB.

Jackson said that the general-use machines and most of the departmental machines are intended for student use. There are also about100 or more workstations not in general clusters, he said.

Demand is high for SGIs

Faculty and students generally seem to like the new workstations, Jackson said. "Everyone seems to like them. The complaints we get are that we don't have more of them," he said.

Stuart H. Schaefer '96 and Theodore M. Yang '97, both students in 6.837, said that while they like the graphics hardware that runs on the SGIs, there are too few machines. It is often difficult to find an available computer because "more and more people log on, sometimes spending all day in the clusters," Schaefer said. More SGI workstations are needed to accommodate demand, he said.