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I/S Surveys Community, Considers Clusters in Dorms

Ying Cao--The Tech
I/S is considering installiong Athena Quickstations in dormitories. McCormick Hall's library is one probable location.

By David D. Hsu
Contributing Editor

Information Systems is conducting an online survey to understand better how students use the computing environment. The results of the survey will help determine future MITnet changes, including the possibility of installing Athena workstations in dormitories.

The survey, located at, aims to collect a "baseline profile of how students do computing at MIT, including use of student-owned machines," said Naomi B. Schmidt, manager of educational planning and support at I/S.

The Institute conducted a similar survey in 1996, leading to the installation of Quickstations around campus. However, that survey was accomplished through interviews conducted by I/S in Athena clusters.

"In the intervening two years, the number of students with computers connected to MITnet in their own rooms has grown, and the time has come to do a survey that is more inclusive, including students who may never even enter an Athena cluster," Schmidt said.

The survey asks students about their usage of Athena, Athena software, and personal computers.

The main question for I/S is, "What are the requirements of the environment to support education at MIT?" said Vijay M.S. Kumar, director of Academic Computing at I/S. I/S needs to consider what changes are necessary to meet the community's educational needs.

"Rather than rushing in with the solutions, we need to understand the need space and the problem space," Kumar said.

On the the proposals I/S is considering is changing the makeup of the clusters, Kumar said. For example, maybe there is a need for a specialized cluster with machines geared toward one type of application, he said..

Dorms could receive workstations

I/Sis also looking at the possibility of putting Athena workstations in dormitories. Both Burton-Conner House and McCormick Hall expressed interest in having Athena machines, Kumar said.

However, IS/ does not want to put just an Athena cluster in the dormitories, since that might not meet their specific needs, Kumar said.

"Rather than just addressing these specific requests, we want to look at this in the larger context of extending computing to residential space and public areas in general," Schmidt said.

Representatives from dormitories have been meeting with I/S. They are trying to find out the optimal way to put computers into dormitories is, said Charles Stewart III, McCormick's housemaster.

"This includes the possibility of Quickstations, clusters, and network drops in public areas," Schmidt said.

"It's very preliminary," Stewart said. "The survey is part of the whole series of consultations."

Once I/S gets receives more information, they could create a pilot cluster in one of the dormitories, Kumar said.

"Once we agree on modifications to our environment, we'd just as soon see them happen sooner rather than later," Schmidt said. "The most practical time to effect such changes, especially those in public spaces, would be over the summer."

Currently, I/Splans to install additional Quickstations at the intersection of Buildings 8 and 16 when Building 16 reopens. It is also planning to upgrade all Quickstations to Sun Sparcstation 5s this summer, Schmidt said.