Department of Engineering

IT Services

Overview of Research Computing Facilities

Getting Help

  • CUED's Help System (over 3,000 files) is the main source of localised help, leading you to both documents and people.
  • Most Divisions and Research Groups have their own Computer Officer, who should be your first point of contact wherever possible:

    For routine questions and requests concerning the departmental system you can send electronic mail to one of the administrative mailboxes listed below.

    • helpdesk - General computer operational problems.
    • postmaster - Problems and queries regarding electronic mail.
    • network-support - Network problems
    • webadmin - Problems regarding the World Wide Web.
  • Local specialists - CUED's IT Services Division may have people who can help.
  • Local admin help - user-admin deals with computer-related administration - the Computer Administraion page may help.
  • University specialists - The UCS (University Computing Service) provide a helpdesk (e-mail help-desk@ucs.cam.ac.uk), but only for queries about their own facilities - they expect users to consult their local support for more general queries. They also have some specialists - for example the Centre for Scientific Computing can offer help.
  • Courses and talks - Most Fridays during termtime at 3pm there are computing seminars. These cover subjects like the use of LaTeX, Matlab, Unix, Fortran and C++. For more details see the help system's Seminar page.

    The University Computing Service offers many seminars too. See their Seminar information and Course information pages for details.

    A university-wide list is at talks.cam.

Machines

  • Research groups in the department which rely heavily on computers in their work usually have their own computers to suit their particular needs. These facilities are normally restricted to the members of the group concerned but a certain amount of sharing does take place.
  • The departmental teaching system consists of a network of machines running Linux and Windows. This is heavily used for undergraduate teaching so only a limited number of machines are available during the day. Outside timetabled hours it provides a rich resource for research work. There are also some more powerful compute servers (ts-access, etc) and a file server. Another linux machine, gate, is available for light use and is available from outside the department.

The teaching system operates continuously throughout the year except for the Christmas period when the Department is closed. A Computer Operator (IT Helpdesk) is in attendanceappropriate 08.45-16.30, Monday-Friday (illness and holidays willing)

The Design and Project Office (DPO) is locked at 22.00, Monday-Saturday, when undergraduates are required to leave. Postgraduates and staff may enter the DPO at night and weekends using a swipe card. Some workstations may be accessed remotely - see our Remote Login page.

Most of the time, everyone has equal priority but, during term-time, teaching has priority during the periods 09.00-13.00 and 14.00-16.00/1800. This applies both to access to individual workstations and the use of shared resources, primarily the main fileserver (file-serv). Restrictions on research use during these times are discussed below.

Workstation clusters reserved for teaching classes are clearly identified by notices at the end of each bench. All other users should vacate these machines in good time before the start of classes to allow incoming students to find a free workstation with minimum delay. This is particularly important during the Part I courses when over a hundred undergraduates are attempting to login at the same time. Workstations in unreserved clusters are sometimes available for non-teaching use. We operate a system based largely on trust and we hope that people will follow these rules as a matter of honesty.

  1. No remote logins are allowed during busy teaching periods. These are advertised in advance - look at the online timetable and hours information.
  2. During busy periods all non-teaching users should ask the demonstrator whether they can use a machine (rather than the demonstrator having to tell them to log off).
  3. The operators will monitor the system at times during a laboratory or when requested by demonstrators.
  4. Anyone who ignores these rules will receive two warnings, any further transgressions will result in them being banned from the teaching system for several weeks.
  5. The "message of the day" will be changed on the clusters during busy periods to remind people that access is restricted.

It will be assumed that research students and staff have read about Access to the System for Non-Teaching Use and the disciplinary procedures therein.

  • The UCS (University Computing Service) provides a number of PCs and Macs available for student use (Managed Cluster Service). Postgraduate students will normally be given an account on this system when they register. For further infomation see the UCS' webpages.
  • The University also run CamGrid and the High Performance Computing services.
  • Buying Hardware - It is hard to give comprehensive advice on hardware purchasing as each user's requirements are different and there are continuous developments in hardware so that today's best buy may well not be tomorrow's!

All computer systems will place some load on the computing staff within the department and there may be difficulties associated with particular hardware and software configurations withing the department. Individual research groups or divisions may favour particular systems which suit their research needs. It is therefore essential to consult your local division/research group IT support before rather than after purchase.

In general you should only purchase a system running software other then that already in use in the department after having consulted both your local division/research group IT support and having emailed research-support.

Before you start shopping around, it is helpful to have as clear an idea as possible of your requirements and of your budget. Useful points to bear in mind when considering requirements are:

  • Compatibility with other systems either for running particular software or from the point of view of system administration experience.
  • Any special constraints imposed by software packages which you want to run. The suppliers of these packages sometimes offer advice on hardware requirements.
  • CPU performance: Comparison can be difficult as the observed speeds depend on the application, for example the balance between integer and floating point operations, the extent to which the code can be parallelised, the size of the program.
  • Main memory size: This may have a much greater effect on performance than the CPU as having insufficient memory will force the system to transfer bits of your programs between memory and disk on a regular basis (paging and swapping). Typical if you have any extra money in your budget purchasing extra memory is consided worthwhile.
  • Disk size: You need enough space to store the operating system, application programs, your own files and swap space. A minimum of 20Gb is recommended, for any multi-user Unix system
  • Graphics: A very application dependant requirement and can hugely affect the price. Decisions need to be made about the graphics adaptor (size of video memory affects the maximum resolution, number of colours, support for acceleration of 2D and/or 3D operations) and the display (screen size and resolution).

The following are some useful places to look for further information:

Details of the University's annual 'bulk purchase' arrangements for PCs are available on line.

Programs

  • For some packages we have a site-license that lets us install the package on various platforms (HP, Compaq (DEC), SUN, Linux and Microsoft Windows). See the department's Programs Information page.

    Site-licenses can sometimes be arranged for other packages with costs shared between CUED (or university) groups. Depending on the kind of machines you run you may be able to take advantage of some university deals. See the University Computing Service's Sales pages for deals.

  • A wide range of utility software has been installed on CUED's Teaching System. Here's a selection.
  • University - see their Are you paying too much for software? article
  • Buying Programs - see our Software licensing page.

Departmental Services

  • Printing - The printers on the teaching system can be used for postgraduate work outside teaching hours, and in a restricted way (for short jobs) during teaching hours. Please contact the operators (IT helpdesk) first if you need to printout during these times. For more about computer based teaching times see the DPO timetable. Please leave a 10 minute gap after the end of the teaching sessions for users to complete jobs and for session overruns.

    Access to Laser printer facilities over the network is controlled on an individual basis to allow sharing of costs and to discourage misuse and wastage. Scanning and poster printing facilities are available.

    See the Computer Printout Charging page for details of costs.

  • Back-ups - The main departmental fileserver is available for storage of material for which regular backup provision is important. Transient working data sets should in general be kept on local research group facilities. See the backups page for details.
  • Web-space - Individual researchers' pages and research group pages are available from the department's Home Page. Individuals should read up on How to create a research profile. If a group wants to make information available, they should read about the options listed in Serving Information at CUED
  • Networking
  • Libraries and Literature Searches - The CUED catalogue is online. The main catalogue of the University Library can be consulted from any computer with access to the University Data Network. This on-line version contains all the index entries from 1978 together with information on serials, and some departmental collections. See the Library page for more information on computerised literature searches.

University Services

The UCS replicate many services that CUED provide. In addition they offer

  • Data Recovery - See the UCS Hardware Support Data Recovery page
  • User run mailing lists - but note these should be applied for via the Engineering Department postmaster so that they can be integrated with the departmental mail system: see CUED's Applying for a mailing list page for details.

CARET provides CamTools - Web-mediated groupware services (discussion boards, etc)

The University also runs a Streaming Media Service so you can publish audio/video files

Security and the Law

  • Physical Security - Computers are a prime target for burglars. Please follow the departmental security rules.
  • Hacking and Viruses - The department has also suffered from an increasing amount of "hacking". A security breach endangers not only your own account but also those of others. Choose a password that's hard to guess, keep it safe and don't use the same password on all systems. Report any possible intrusions on Engineering Department machines to cued-cert.

If you look after a machine, be especially careful - consult our security page and keep updating your Antivirus software. Note in particular the rules about Attachment of Systems to the Department's Network.

See the Security page for general information. Information on newly discovered security weaknesses is circulated - contact postmaster to be added to the appropriate mailing list if you are a new system administrator, indicating what systems you deal with.

If you believe that your system has been attacked please contact cued-cert.

Machines within the department can only be reached from the outside world if they are on an open-access subnet. See the network rules for more details of the various levels of access.

  • Rules - All users of research systems which are connected to the network must have registered to use the departmental system, even if they do not need an account on the teaching system. Users must use their departmental username or Computing Service identifier on research systems - use of non-standard user names causes problems with some network services. Users should also use their departmental user ID (UID) on all Unix systems in the department. Mail user-admin for information about setting up accounts.
  • User Registration - All users of departmental systems are required to complete an online application form. Contact the Computer Operators (IT Helpdesk) in the DPO (helpdesk , x32686). The use of Engineering Department teaching computing facilities is subject to the rules of the ISSS which are published in the University Ordinances and available online http://www.cta.phy.cam.ac.uk/software/matlab/student.php in the help system.