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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

August 7, 2003

Computer co-operation

Michael Rayment (L) and Jiri Husa.
Photo by Chris Hammond
Michael Rayment (L) and Jiri Husa.

Sometimes it seems as though facets of the university function with little interaction between one another. However, the Department of Computer Science and Computing and Communications at Memorial have joined forces to develop and maintain computer labs across campus, to great effect.

These two bodies began co-managing labs since the early 1990s, with the intent that such labs would have a server-based approach. In other words, all the software exists on a network of redundant application servers, rather than on individual computer workstations. This way, a large number of computers could be set up to reliably and securely service a wide range of students. The Unix expertise of Computer Science, and the Windows knowledge of Computing and Communications, means that the two can benefit from each others’ strengths.

What began as a single experiment has turned into a succession of computer labs, implemented and managed by both Computer Science and Computing and Communications, currently containing hundreds of computers and serving at least 6,000 primarily student accounts.

Michael Rayment, systems manager for the Department of Computer Science, said that these server-based labs assist in terms of maintenance, immunity against viruses, software updates, etc.

“Security and reliability work hand in hand. We look to set up a system so that it can’t be compromised.”

To do so, each individual computer contains a chip that restores the computer’s default settings from the application server each time it is reset. Therefore, each time a user logs on to the system, they are working with a clean slate, so to speak, regardless of which computer they choose to work on.

The cooperation between the two bodies is something that both Mr. Rayment and his colleague, Jiri Husa, manager of the Personal Computer Group of Computing and Communications, value. Mr. Husa states, “each of us brings to the table knowledge and expertise from a certain area. My partnership with Mike [Rayment] has been quite exemplary over a period of years.”

In addition to the 13 labs that are currently managed by the two bodies, there are more in the works. Mr. Rayment states that, by the end of the summer, there will be six or eight more on their roster. One big project that they are working on is the new PC lab, called the Information Commons, that will be installed in the QE II Library during the fall 2003 semester.

Furthermore, from a developmental perspective, Mr. Rayment would like to make the existing system become more automated.

“I’d like to build an automated approach to systems administration that would allow us to add new customized workstations or servers in a plug and play fashion simply by creating a configuration entry in a database. We’re 50 per cent there.”

Some of the services currently offered include user file system space, choice of operating systems, wide range of software, daily backups and printing services with cost recovery. Said Mr. Rayment, “it’s a work in progress.” While there is still much to be done, there is no doubt that all have benefited by this long-time partnership. Added Mr. Husa, “our cooperation has been quite fruitful.”


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Next issue: September 4, 2003

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