The Engineering Department Central Computing System
The Engineering Department's Central Computing System comprises the set of computers used for the bulk of undergraduate computer based teaching as well as a number of other machines providing a variety of Departmental services.
A central file server provides Department-wide access to users' home directories. This service is currently based on a Sun server running the Solaris operating system. Sun's ZFS file system provides a high level of data integrity. Frequent snapshots ensure that accidentally deleted files are easily recovered. At least once a day all user data is copied to a secondary file server. This is archived to tape once a term.
Over the summer vacation 2014 we will be migrating home directories to a higher performance, dedicated Network Attached Storage (NAS) system made by Hitachi Data Systems.
A number of high performance Linux blade servers act as compute servers for some practicals and 3rd and 4th year projects. These also provide boot and file services for the DPO workstations.
One server, iib-projects, is not used for timetabled teaching and is thus available at all times for use by undergraduate project students and research users (the former would have priority in case of shortage of resources).
Direct access to the system is provided by 128 workstations in the DPO and 83 in the EIETL. These are fully capable PCs which normally boot into Linux (currently CentOS 6) but can also boot into Windows 7 for those practicals and applications which require it. Most computer based teaching is run locally on these machines rather than on the compute servers. Priority on these machines is always given to official teaching or project sessions. Out of teaching hours or during vacations they are more generally available for use by research students or staff.
These specifically teaching oriented computers have traditionally been called the Engineering Department Teaching System, and this term is sometimes used, somewhat misleadingly, to describe the central system as a whole.
A more detailed description of the setup of the teaching machines can be found here.
Remote access to the compute servers is possible from within the Department generally and from colleges (but bear in mind the restrictions on use during teaching periods if logging in from outside the DPO, where the presence of a room full of undergraduates may not be obvious!). Only a very restricted set of computers is accessible from outside the University.
Two Linux servers provide general access to allow any users to check e-mail and perform lightweight computing functions. These are accessed via the single alias of gate.eng.cam.ac.uk. They are accessible from anywhere, at any time.
The remainder of the Central System comprises the many computers which support the Department's general computing infrastructure. A few of these run HP's proprietary version of Unix, HP-UX, but most now run Linux. The facilities provided are: database serving; software licence serving; web serving; certain mail related services and a great many techie, backroom functions of which most users need never be aware.