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Linux Hits W20 Athena Cluster

I/S Tests Feasibility of Red Hat 6.1 as Third On-Campus Platform

By Dana Levine
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Information Services recently installed ten Linux boxes in the W20 Athena cluster in order to test the feasibility of using Linux as a supported Athena platform.

“This is only in the evaluation stage right now,” said SIPB member Camilla R. Fox ’00. In March, I/S will evaluate the success of the experiment and then decide whether to purchase more machines.

If the project is a success, I/S plans to add more machines during this summer’s upgrades.

Systems programmer Garry P. Zacheiss said that I/S tries to support three different Athena platforms at any given time. If Linux is adopted as an official platform, the supported platforms would include Sun Solaris, SGI IRIX, and Linux.

I/S hopes to eventually phase out the SGI machines because they are significantly more expensive than other platforms and use a nonstandard interface. In addition, Silicon Graphics is moving away from the IRIX platform.

New Dell workstations installed

The ten new Linux machines are Dell Optiplex workstations with Pentium III processors and 128 MB of RAM.

“We want machines with the same basic capabilities as the [Sun] Ultra 5,” Fox said.

I/S chose Dell to supply the machines because Dell workstations are already widely used across campus. “We’ve had a long history of supporting Dell. We already have service contracts with Dell, so it seemed like a logical place to go,” Fox said.

Dell can provide machines with a very similar configuration and I/S has developed a streamlined installer which allows easy installation of the Athena software on the computers.

Project originated in SIPB

The Linux Athena port began as a Student Information Processing Board project, but I/S recently started developing the project and will support version 6.1 and any future Linux releases.

“Any experiment that SIPB starts is ideally going to be taken over by I/S,” said Zacheiss.

The current software is based on Red Hat 6.1, one of the most popular distributions of Linux. This will allow students who have Red Hat running on their own PCs to install the Athena packages and gain access to Athena programs and services.

Linux currently supports a large number of applications which the new machines will be able to run. “One of the reasons we were excited about this is because there were a lot of third party applications [available for Red Hat Linux],” Zacheiss said.

Although the Linux boxes are unable to run Framemaker, Adobe has stated that there will probably be a beta version within the next year. Much of the other Athena software, such as MATLAB and MAPLE, already runs on the Linux platform.