MIT Information Systems will begin major renewal of the Athena Computing Environment this summer by replacing outdated workstations with new equipment.
The first phase of renewal, pending final budget approval, will begin with the purchase of about 200 DECstation 5000 model 25 color workstations and a smaller number of grayscale workstations from Digital Equipment Corporation. Information Systems also expects to purchase more than 40 RISC System/6000 Model 220 workstations from IBM Corporation and to deploy them later in the academic year, depending on resolution of several technical and contractual issues. Both new Athena workstation models also will be available for departmental purchases from the MIT Computer Connection at what Information Systems said would be "attractive prices."
The transaction "may be the largest single purchase of workstations ever by a university," said Professor James D. Bruce, vice president for information systems, "and it will result in dramatically enhanced service to our faculty and student customers."
Dr. Gregory Jackson, director of academic computing, said that "within the first three years of this continuing renewal process we will bring and keep the maximum age of Athena workstations under four years. The speed of the least capable Athena workstation will increase twentyfold, and color workstations will proliferate. Faculty and students will be able to work much more efficiently on the system, and Information Systems will be able to provide more powerful software and tools than our current environment can support."
Cecilia d'Oliveira, director of distributed computing and network services, said, "We selected the new Athena workstations after comparing competitive equipment and bids from different vendors. They can perform at least 27 million instructions per second (MIPS), compared to 1 million instructions per second for the five-year-old MicroVAX IIs and VAXstation 2000s they will replace. We are continuing Athena's commitment to a multi-vendor environment by buying both DEC and IBM equipment this year; and we expect to broaden our vendor base further beginning next year."
A product of the eight-year Project Athena partnership among MIT, Digital and IBM, the Athena Computing Environment today provides academic computing at no cost to MIT students, faculty, and others through 1,000 workstations and 200 servers distributed across the campus.
The Athena equipment renewal will be accompanied by a new release of the Athena software environment and by a suite of new third-party software, including the widely used SAS statistical-analysis package and eventually including new programs for computer-aided design and document preparation, the announcement said. There also will be improved dialup access to Athena, expanded file storage and access for users, and improved or new versions of selected services for Macintosh and IBM-compatible MS-DOS computers.
Information Systems says that virtually all undergraduates, a majority of graduate students, many faculty, and numerous staff members have Athena accounts-about 12,000 active users in all. Each day about 5,000 different individuals use the system, about a quarter by dialup and the rest at more than 30 campus or living-group workstation clusters. Almost 100 MIT subjects require Athena software and services.
Several Athena educational projects have won national prizes and other recognition. Many of the technical innovations spawned by Project Athena, including the X Windows system and the Kerberos authentication system, have become standards for distributed computing worldwide. Each year Athena receives more than 200 visits from universities, colleges, government agencies, and individuals around the world who are interested in its design and achievements.
This article was written by Dr. Gregory Jackson, director of academic computing.
A version of this article appeared in the April 29, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 28).