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Dialups and Quotas Get Faster, Larger

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Over the summer, users of MIT's Athena dialup servers experienced a major speedup as the four-year-old DECstations, long ago removed from Athena clusters, were finally decommissioned in favor of new Sun SparcStations.

The improvements to the system were necessitated by a variety of factors, said Jonathon Weiss '93, team leader for Athena Server Operations in Information Systems. "The loads on the DECstation dialups that we were using recently were very high" and performance was below the minimum standard levels, he said.

In addition, DECstations have been in the process of being decommissioned for the last several years, Weiss said. All DECstations in Athena clusters were removed last summer as part of the upgrade to Athena Release 8.0.

The ten new SparcStation 5 dialup servers each have two gigabyte internal hard drives and additional one gigabyte external hard drives to store information usually downloaded off the network. All the machines contain at least 160 megabytes of RAM, compared to the 40 megabytes used in theold DECstation machines.

The new machines are similar to new SparcStations installed in Athena clusters except "that the dialups have a lot more memory,"Weiss said.

In addition, the new machines are named after MIThacks instead of pasta sauces used previously.

Quota increased to 15 megabytes

In addition to the new dialup servers, students will see the size of their quotas grow. Standard student Athena quotas were increased in size from 12.5 megabytes to 15 megabytes this summer.

The increase is part of a "continuing process"to increase quota over time, Weiss said. The last increase occurred in April 1996; before then the quota was 10 megabytes.

"As computer technology changes and things like disks get cheaper, people use more of it,"Weiss said.

Since the last quota increase, the total space in the MIT Andrew File System cellhas increased by approximately 80 gigabytes, to 235 gigabytes. The replacement of DECstation servers with Sun machines provided much of the additional space, Weiss said.

The amount of space allocated to users always exceeds the total available disk space. With the quota increase, about 173 percent of the available space has been allocated to users, Weiss said. The disks are currently 83 percent full.

The quota increase will not change the backup schedules, Weiss said. "The tapes will be written into the night a little later," he said.

Athena 8.1 brings Zip drives

In addition to the new computers, Athena also saw its version increment by a tick. During the summer, Information Systems released Athena 8.1 which improves the user authentication system and third-party software.

Mathematical programs like Maple and Matlab were updated to newer versions. Older versions of software, like the Emacs 18 release, were removed.

The most visible change to end-users will be the installation of Zip drives on about 30 Athena machines across campus. Half of the new drives, which can hold 100 megabytes of data, will be located on Sun SparcStation workstations while the other half will be on Silicon Graphics workstations.

The new drives are designed "to do better backup of users' personal files," said Naomi B. Schmidt, manager of educational planning and support for Information Systems. "They'll be able to back up images and other things that they can't put on a floppy."

Courses teach Athena basics

Many of these changes, however, will seem arcane to incoming students. Athena Mini Courses began yesterday in 26-100 with the goal of making MIT's computer network just a bit less intimidating. Students got the opportunity to attend an Introduction to Athena course and a tutorial on Emacs in 26-100.

Between 50 and 60 students attended each class, which were offered every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., said Amy M. Smith '98, one of the instructors.

"There are varying degrees of interest in the system,"Smith said. People attending the courses ranged from programmers to those unfamiliar with computer systems in general.

Tomorrow, the two classes will again be offered in 26-100. On Wednesday and Thursday, classes in usingEZ, a graphical word-processor, and using the Athena filesystems will be offered in 26-100.