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Other Athena changes on the horizon

Scanners

Though initially interested in deploying multi-function printers, the Athena Working Group will be testing out the idea of scanners in Athena clusters. The pilot scanners will be separate from printers and will be full-featured photo and document scanners that can scan to a file directly. The working group decided against using multi-function printers because many students need higher quality scans than the typical multi-function scanner can provide. (There might still be pilot multi-function devices to test out scanning in general.)

Quickstations and thin clients

Currently, there are 44 Athena quickstations on campus, and more are slowly being installed. The working group hopes it will be able to add about five more stations by IAP.

IS&T is in the process of experimenting with “thin clients”: cheaper, slower machines that run their software off a remote server. The server does all the heavy lifting, so the computer that accesses the servers (the client) doesn’t need to be very capable.

Such a system makes the quickstation computers resistant to tampering, since all their software is located on the remote server. The machines could also be cheaper because they don’t need to speedy or state-of-the-art — the group thinks it can save $1,500 off each computer.

One challenges associated with the thin-client infrastructure is that the system works a lot better with Windows than Linux. But Athena machines run Linux systems. It will take some time to determine which system — Athena VMware or Windows VMware — works better.

Looking at cost, efficiency, and sustainability

Data from the initial working group recommendations showed that about 20 percent of the paper printed at the high-traffic W20 Athena cluster is never used. The hold-and-release model will not only save paper, but also reduce wear-and-tear on machines and save toner.

Athena printers use only about 60 percent of the paper purchased for them; the rest disappears. The hope is that number will decrease because the printing budget for dorm and campus printers has been unified.

Regarding cost-effectiveness of the current system, Oliver Thomas, of IS&T, said, “that the hope is that we will break even this year due to input costs of licensing for Pharos, etc. The nice thing about Pharos is that it helps us implement policies and look for patterns that we might be able to do something about. We hope that this system will help us to better allocate our resources to tailor to student needs.”

Future timeline

Over IAP, if all goes well, the printers in all Athena clusters will switch to hold-and-release, and scanners will be added to some locations.

In the next couple of weeks, there will be a strong push for student feedback on the existing pilot programs. IS&T and the UA hope to put forth more programs that address different configurations in multiple contexts (because dorm printers have different needs than central campus printers). The goal is that by the beginning of summer, all Athena printers will have the Pharos component added to them.

The second phase of improvements will look into location placement of Athena clusters and quick-stations. It is still under discussion, and the working group hopes to optimize infrastructure and student needs. The introduction of team-spaces adjacent to Athena clusters and spaces conducive to more professor-student interaction are central.

Thomas believes that this phase will require significant input from both students and faculty. “We want a combination of broad-base input from students and some deep participation from students. More faculty participation is always helpful but it is difficult to get their help because their availability is so scarce. We’d ideally like to use their input to conduct experiments to see how we can best maximize our resources.”

“Ultimately,” he said, “the renovation of the Athena printing system is a work in progress.”

Divya Srinivasan