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I/S Brings Windows Machines to Athena: Project Pismere to be Tested During IAP

By Aaron D. Mihalik


Don’t be surprised if you find an Athena machine running Windows 2000 sometime during Independent Activities Period.

Information Systems is currently planning to launch two to three pilot clusters over IAP as part of Project Pismere. I/S has been modifying and creating applications for Windows 2000 that will enable its use in the existing Athena environment.

The pilot will run for about one month, and only a limited group of users will have access to the pilot clusters. Researchers in Pismere will use the information collected to aid in the system development process. “These initial pilots would serve to provide useful feedback to the project,” said Thomas L. Thornton, Pismere project manager.

NT clusters with Athena features

One of the original goals of Project Pismere is giving users access to Athena lockers and Athena courseware from Windows-based computers.

“A cluster of Windows 2000 machines will contain a lot of features and tools from Athena,” Thornton said. “But we really can’t call it Athena. It’s different.”

Users of the pilot machines will be able to login using their Athena usernames with Kerberos authentication, and they will be able to use basic Athena services such as access to the Athena File System.

“We are importing a lot Athena applications over into the Pismere environment,” Thornton said. Current applications include Zephyr, test versions of Moira applications, and Kerberos 4 and 5.

I/S has not set a date for campus-wide implementation of Pismere. “There are a lot of unknowns that we are going to be measuring during the pilot process,” Thornton said. “We don’t want to damage the rest of Athena when we are running this platform.”

Potentially, Pismere could be distributed as a packaged system for students use in residences and living groups, but this is a long-term goal. Some pieces of Pismere are currently available, including MINK (a Kerberos authentication utility), a print spooler, and a zephyr client.

Microsoft a partner in Pismere

Project Pismere is primarily funded by Information Systems, but does receives some funding and contributions from Microsoft. “We do have a copy of the [NT] source. We do have a good working relationship with Microsoft,” Thornton said.

Many users have “great need for Microsoft platforms to run academic-type software,” Thornton said. “It’s not necessarily a matter of choice... Unfortunately a number of applications nowadays are available only on the Windows platform.”

Currently, I/S supports Windows NT 4, but “there is hardly any security and meager access to shared resources on campus,” Thornton said.

“I don’t see any of our non-Windows systems dying,” Thornton said. “It’s our intention to make sure that we support applications across a lot of platforms,” and have MIT provide a heterogenous computing environment.

Peer schools have similar projects

Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford are currently completing similar projects.

“Luckily we have a really good relationship with CMU,” said Thornton. “We foresee even exchanging some pieces of what we are doing and trying to get the benefit of their work.”

The University of Michigan has also done work implementing Kerberos for the Windows environment, and the University of Colorado is undertaking a large project to work with a technology known as LDAP. “We are all hoping to cooperate and keep from reinventing the wheel, each in a different location,” said Thornton.