Computing and Communication Service Upgrades and Enhancements, 1995/1996

This issue of NACS-News summarizes some of the improvements in Network and Computing services NACS has made during the 1995/1996 academic year. The demand for communications and computing access continues to grow at a fast pace. NACS is tracking the increasing demand and is making critical improvements as resources allow.

UCI Network Backbone

In September 1995, NACS pulled and spliced a significant amount of new fiber-optic cable around the campus to expand UCI’s network backbone. At the same time, the backbone was reconfigured into five switched Ethernet subnets, cabled in a star configuration. These changes not only accommodate current growth in campus electronic communication demand, but also increase UCI’s flexibility in responding to demands anticipated in the next five years and beyond. (See the Web document http://www.nacs.uci.edu/communication/backbone-1995 for detailed information).

Modems

NACS increased the number of modems in the campus modem pool from 220 to 300 in September, 1995 as a part of our Dial-up Remote Access Plan. To improve modem performance including file transfer speed and character echoing, two additional terminal servers were added to those servicing the modem pools in April 1996. Terminal servers are specialized computers with communications electronics that connect the modems to UCI’s backbone network. Further performance improvements resulted from balancing the 308 modems and incoming calls among all five modem terminal servers.

As previously announced, NACS has stabilized the free modem pool at approximately 300 modems at 14.4 kilobytes per second. See the Web document http://www.nacs.uci.edu/communication/Modem_Action_Summary.html for detailed information about 1995 modem changes. Enhanced modem services are now available through commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs); for more information, see the Web document http://www.nacs.uci.edu/communication under “Internet Service Providers”.

Network Services

UCI’s network is not all wires and data communications equipment, it also includes dedicated computers that service network requests such as hostname to address correlation, mail transfer, and user authentication. In September NACS upgraded the “cpl2” network server to new hardware with over ten times the performance of the old. In March of this year we added an additional Mail Transport Agent (MTA) system which is used to post mail sent via LISTSERV mailing lists. Earlier in 1995 we upgraded the campus USENET News server (news.service.uci.edu). These changes collectively reduce the time required for electronic mail delivery, network computer name lookups, USENET newsgroup access, user authentication and campus directory database access.

EA – Student Educational Access Service

Accounts on our EA (Educational Access) student computing servers have grown from about 3,000 just a few years ago to over 14,000 this year. To accommodate that growth, NACS added a fourth system to the cluster in the Fall of 1995, effectively increasing capacity by about a third. Further configuration enhancements were made in January when two systems were added to handle high-volume “operating system” tasks such as mail transfer and user authentication. We also increased overall EA disk storage space several times to accommodate the additional users and large electronic mail storage need.

Over the summer of 1995 we changed the way students receive their UCInetID network identifiers and EA computer accounts. Students no longer have to visit NACS labs during the day to get their IDs and get started, they can go to any location with computers connected to the campus network. Further, they now use the same ID and password for modem use and logging into the EA systems. This ID is also available to each student as an electronic mail address of the form ID@UCI.EDU.

E4E – Faculty and Staff Electronic Access Service

NACS’ E4E service provides electronic mail and other services for over 3,000 faculty and staff. To meet increased demand there, the E4E server was upgraded in January to a new SPARCserver 5 system, which has approximately three times the computing capacity of the previous system.

NACS Instructional Labs

This past year, we have made several improvements to our Instructional Computing labs and more are planned for the summer. Our classroom Macintosh lab in Engineering and Computing Trailer (ECT) 120 has a new server and has been reconfigured to greatly reduce the amount of time required for programs to load. New user requested software, including ClarisWorks, is now available as well. In the ECT 123 Pentium Classroom lab, we have increased memory and updated software. We plan to move our PC labs to a Windows-NT environment over the summer which will improve system reliability and provide a current software platform for campus use.

UNIX File Backups

NACS has provided a file backup service for campus UNIX computer systems for a number of years. This service frees research groups and departments from having to maintain their own file save schedules and tape archives. In late 1995, this service was migrated from a homegrown solution to a commercial file save product, greatly increasing the efficiency of running saves. This change allows us to keep up with increasing demands for saves without increasing fees and will allow us to offer additional save services in the future for MS-Window and Macintosh computers.

 


 

Your Feedback is Important

What did you think of the first three issues of NACS-News? What topics would you like us to cover in the future? Please e-mail comments and suggestions to our NACS@UCI.EDU address — include “nacs-news” in your subject line to facilitate processing.

NACS’ “Response Center” Help Desk

Welcome to the second issue of NACS-News, the Network & Academic Computing Services electronic newsletter. Below we describe our help desk, which serves as a central starting point in NACS for obtaining information and service. You may utilize the Help Desk by visiting Engineering Gateway E2130, calling (949) 824-6116, or by sending electronic mail to the address NACS@UCI.EDU.

The Help Desk is also known as the NACS Response Center and is a part of NACS’ Core Services group. It is located in Engineering Gateway E2130 and is open 8 AM to 5 PM daily except during weekends and holidays. In addition to providing computing assistance and information, software kits including the Macintosh and Windows Anteater Access Kits (MAAT and WAAT) are sold here along with print cards and a few other supplies. Two Apple digital cameras are available as well for loans up to a day in length to those needing illustrations for reports and Web pages. E2130 is also the place to come to resolve any issues with UCInetID’s and passwords.

In-Lab Consulting

Student consultants are available in NACS’ Engineering Gateway E1140 Computing Lab to assist those using NACS lab facilities. They provide help activating and using UCInetID’s, and help using electronic mail, information retrieval tools and other software. The consultants also facilitate access to high-quality monochrome and color printing and flat-bed document and image scanners.

Student consultants are available daily between 8 AM and 8 PM except weekends, holidays and when school is not in session. All UCI students, regardless of major or class enrollment, may use NACS lab facilities and consulting assistance for educational purposes.

NACS@UCI.EDU E-mail

The NACS@UCI.EDU electronic mail address provides an additional way to ask questions, report problems, and provide feedback to NACS. The address is staffed by a combination of student and career computing support staff with assistance from area specialists throughout NACS. Our goal is to provide an initial response to inquiries within one business day of receipt. Electronic mail is an excellent way to make non-urgent inquiries, especially those that require specialized or in-depth expertise.

What the Help Desk Does Not Do

The Help Desk does not generally assist with hardware and software purchases, issues requiring on-site visits or other longer-term matters. Our help with installation and configuration issues for home computer systems is limited to phone-support as time allows and to those following standards we communicate (the UCI Macintosh Anteater Access Kit based on MacSLIP, the UCI Windows Anteater Access Kit based on Trumpet Winsock). On-site PC and Mac support needs are best provided by local departmental staff.

Recent Improvements

We have recently gone to a “receptionist / dispatch” scheme at our help desk to make it easier to reach us, ensure that urgent matters are handled without delay, and improve overall service quality. Callers and visitors now interact with one or two trained receptionist-dispatchers who determine the most effective way to respond to their needs. We have also implemented a call tracking system to enable us to respond to requests in a timely manner and ensure each receives appropriate attention. The system tracks outstanding problems and will provide key information concerning help desk trends to accommodate continuing service refinement.

Supported Software and Services

Support for the following areas of expertise is offered by front-line Help Desk staff. Included is campus standard software, software of widespread use, and items of critical importance to the computing mission of UCI and NACS:

  • Operating environments: Microsoft Windows 3.1 (Windows 95 and NT support coming), Macintosh, basic UNIX
  • Network Applications: Telnet, FTP, Web browsers (Netscape, Lynx), Electronic mail (Eudora, Pine)
  • Other Network services: UCInetID network authentication, campus directory database, modem use with WAAT and MAAT packages, access to campus-wide information services, LISTSERV mailing lists
  • Productivity Applications: Microsoft Word and Excel
  • NACS Services: “EA” Student computing, “E4E” Faculty and Staff electronic mail, Orion UNIX service, Convex research computing service, NACS instructional labs

The Help Desk also provides limited access to specialized assistance in other software as expertise and staff time allow. Please direct your questions about other software to us via electronic mail to NACS@UCI.EDU.

Director’s Welcome

Welcome to the first mailing of “NACS-News”, the electronic newsletter of the Network & Academic Computing Services. Our goals for NACS-News are to regularly share important information about our services, organization and activities; and to share our observations about the rapidly changing environment of computing and electronic communication.

Two themes will most likely dominate campus discussion of computing and electronic communication during the next several months.

First, the distinction between computing and communication will become smaller every day. I am fond of saying that the box on our desk that was once called a computer is, in reality, a communication device. We use that box to communicate with each other through a variety of multimedia modes (today with text and graphics, and tomorrow with voice and video), and to interact with on-line data sources for research, educational and administrative purposes. These communication capabilities already are changing the way the university functions. Two years ago, few of us knew of the World Wide Web. Today most of us use a WWW browser as our primary tool for accessing electronic information; I suspect that most of us have little idea of what computing and communication tools we will be using two years from now.

Second, the campus is committed to the development of the Electronic Educational Environment. All universities are challenged today with the introduction of educational technology into the curriculum. At UCI this takes the form of improved electronic communication between and among faculty and students, and of access to information in electronic form. We will be challenged to provide an adequate number of access points and server/infrastructure capacity for our students, to provide training to thousands of new students in basic electronic communication and information retrieval skills, and to provide to our graduates the skills and wisdom to survive and prosper in the new information era. Another challenge will be to provide sufficient personnel both at the department level and within NACS to maintain the electronic educational environment.

In order not to overwhelm your already crowded electronic “in basket”, we will post to NACS-News no more frequently than once a week.

If you have any questions about NACS services or activities, please send an electronic mail message to our service address, nacs@uci.edu. You are also encouraged to contact myself, or Associate Director Dana Roode (DRoode@uci.edu), at any time, with issues of concern to you, or to share observations or recommendations concerning NACS services.

William Parker
Director, Network & Academic Computing Services
WHParker@uci.edu

NACS’ Mission and Strategy

The mission of the Network & Academic Computing Services (NACS) is to assist the campus in the creation and maintenance of a computing and electronic communication environment that meets the needs of UCI’s programs in research and instruction.

NACS’ strategy is one of leveraging campus-wide computing and communication by providing:

  1. ubiquitous electronic communications infrastructure,
  2. basic computing and communications services to students and faculty,
  3. unique computer and network expertise and services best provided by a campus-wide organization,
  4. assistance to departmental computing personnel,
  5. technical leadership and campus-wide coordination for computing and electronic communication, and
  6. enhanced services to a few academic programs needing leading edge technical support.

NACS Services

The following is a summary of NACS’ services, which we will elaborate on in future postings to NACS-News. You may also obtain more information by browsing our Web page at http://www.nacs.uci.edu, or by contacting us via our NACS@UCI.EDU e-mail address.

User Assistance and Problem Reporting

  • NACS “Response Center”:
    • E-mail: NACS@UCI.EDU
    • Phone: (949) 824-6116
    • Location: Engineering Gateway 2130
    • Hours: 8 AM – 5 PM Monday – Friday
    • NACS information and problem reporting; help desk for key software and services (UCInetID’s, EA systems, Windows, MacOS, UNIX user interfaces; Word, Excel, Pine, Eudora, WAAT and MAAT (SLIP and modem use), ISP referrals, Emacs, etc.)
  • Network/Telephone trouble reporting:
    • Phone: (949) 824-2222 (24 hours a day)
    • E-mail: NACS-ECS@UCI.EDU (non-urgent only)
  • NACS Computer Operator
    • Location: Engineering Gateway 1141
    • Phone: (949) 824-6065
    • Computer facility and lab operations; 24 hour a day urgent problem reporting center for systems supported by NACS
  • Student consultants
    • Location: Engineering Gateway 1140
    • Hours: 8 AM – 8 PM Monday – Friday (when school is in session)
    • Assistance to students and others using NACS Mac, PC, X and UNIX labs and facilities
  • Academic Specialists on AVS, Matlab, Maple, Mathematica and other applications available

Central NACS Services

  • Convex C3840 high-end UNIX system
  • EA: Student “Educational Access” UNIX system cluster, providing electronic service to all students at UCI who request it (about 14,000 at present)
  • E4E: Electronic Access service for all Faculty and staff at UCI not otherwise served
  • DCSLIB: Campus-wide UNIX software environment for Sun, DEC and SGI computers; uniform access to popular and academic UNIX software
  • CWIS: Campus-wide information (gopher, Web) server (in conjunction with the Office of Analytical Studies and Information Management, OASIM)
  • News: Internet (USENET) News server
  • Orion and VMS: General access UNIX and VMS services with common software

Computer labs

  • 24 hour PC, Mac, X-terminal and dumb-terminal labs open to all of UCI, networked to the world
  • Lab laser printing, color printing, document scanner, digital cameras available
  • PC, Mac, and UNIX classroom labs available by reservation for instructional and other uses

Electronic Educational Environment

  • Student Educational Access (EA) accounts on UNIX systems
    • Enhanced/Increased capabilities for graduate students (Fall 1996)
  • Course-Centered Computer-Mediated Communication
    • Course Announcement Mailing lists and Archives (Fall 1996)
    • Web Areas for Individual Courses
    • Web Development Tools oriented towards instructional needs (e.g., interactive construction on-line quizzes for student self-evaluation)
    • Special Web Seminars and Support for Instructors
    • Course Management accounts on UNIX systems
    • Course-centered on-line discussion facilities (“Notepads”)
  • Integration of NACS services with other campus capabilities (e.g., Registrar’s Office on-line course information and management services, Clone Factory printing services, seminars and training sessions offered through the Libraries and academic units, etc.)

Communication Services

  • Infrastructure:
    • Inter and intra-building voice and data communications infrastructure design, installation, and maintenance services: fiber optic data backbone, copper telephone cable, Ericsson telephone system, building routers, and repeaters/hubs
    • Off-campus network connection to Internet via CERFnet, phone connection via Pacific Bell and long-distance service providers
    • Phone instrument installation and maintenance
    • UCInet network connection installation and maintenance
  • Network Service Infrastructure:
    • Campus-wide computer-name / network-address Domain Name Service (DNS)
    • Campus-wide authentication service (UCInetID’s)
    • Electronic Mail directory and delivery services
  • Dial-up modem service to UCInet via (949) 824-9000 and express (15 minute) (949) 824-8960
  • LISTSERV electronic mail mailing list services
  • Telephone directory services and campus phone operator
  • Campus-wide radio coordination and repeater services

Support Services for Departmental Computing

  • UNIX System and Network Administration services
  • Workstation Acquisition Service: Advice and assistance to those purchasing Sun, Digital Equipment or SGI workstations and peripherals (NACS is the Sun and SGI purchasing point for UCI)
  • File Backups: Remote over-the-network file saves to tape for UNIX systems
  • Site/Bulk software license coordination
  • Campus-wide coordination and technical services for departmental and workgroup support personnel
  • MS-Windows/Intel and Macintosh consulting services on time-available, hourly/recharge basis