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'Quickstations' Could Alleviate Cluster Crowding

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

MITstudents all know that finding a vacant Athena workstation in a cluster can be a difficult task. Information Systems is currently considering a plan that may help alleviate cluster crowding and provide a convenience for students.

The project would allow students to log in to low-power computers - termed "Quickstations" - outside of clusters for short-duration and high-use applications like e-mail and Zephyr.

The plan comes after a survey of Athena users that IS conducted last spring. The survey revealed that most Athena users were logged in for an average of 12.9 hours per week and spent a third of their time reading and sending e-mail, with World Wide Web browsing and Zephyr also taking up significant portions of log in time.

"I can speculate that some directions and ideas to explore would include dedicated-use facilities" supporting specific applications, facilities for short-duration and high-use applications like e-mail, Macintosh and Windows functionality in some machines, and more extensive access to some courseware and software tools in dormitories, said Vijay Kumar, director of academic computing services, one branch of IS, in an interview last spring during the pre-planning stages of the project.

It is this train of thought that led to the Quickstation concept.

The planning for the Quickstation project is still in the early stages of information gathering, said Naomi B. Schmidt, manager of educational planning and support for academic computing services.

Schmidt is leading a team that is examining the logistics of implementing such a project. The team will consider which hardware platforms are best suited to the tasks, what software would be necessary, and where the Quickstations would be located.

The team will also estimate the costs of implementing the system in terms of staff development time, new computer hardware, furniture, and the network and power necessary to support the stations.

The team will also seek permission and assistance from groups around MIT in the project and its implementation, Schmidt said. Hopefully, the team's goals will be met by the beginning of October at which point a final decision will be made on whether or not to pursue the Quickstation project, Schmidt said.

The final decision will be based on the team's findings on costs, and on approval within MIT.

"This project is at the might stage.' We've gotten input from students, and we're thinking about what it would take and what we would need to do if we wanted to do a real project," Schmidt said.

Student focus group adds input

A student focus group met to discuss Quickstation issues in August.

"Generally Ithink [Quickstations are] going to be more convenient," said Kerem Limon '97, a student in the focus group.

Students will be able to use the five minutes between classes to check e-mail or maybe look at MIT Web pages. "It seems like a good idea," he said.

"I think it's going to cut down a lot on cluster congestion," said Adam D. D'Amico '99, another student on the focus group. The idea is partly inspired by computer systems at Columbia University and Stanford University, he said.

"I think it's a really good idea. It's a step forward to getting rid of the waiting in line in clusters," D'Amico said.

D'Amico expressed some reservations about the project. It may be difficult to make sure that students will not stay logged in for too long, he said.

Dan McGuire contributed to the reporting in this story.