Dispatches From The Geeks

News and Announcements from the MCS Systems Group

Dispatch #3: 2006/10/30

Can you believe it’s been two months since the last dispatch? Wow, where did the time go? This dispatch, our focus is on some minor updates made in the environment, a hint on how to stay abreast of changes we make, answering some questions on the new web pages, and highlighting a service we provide to you, our users. And, as always, some news on what we’ve been doing.Keeping abreast of changes: First up, I’m going to drop out of the editorial “we” mode for a second to personally encourage everyone to keep up-to-date with the blog using their favorite method. I want to be careful not to inundate everyone with so much information that it becomes spam, but I do want our users to be able to stay on top of any changes we make in processes or other small tweaks that don’t necessarily justify a division-wide mailing. I will endeavor to post things like that to the blog, and if you’d like to stay on top of it, you have a few options.Those of you who familiar with RSS can use your favorite RSS aggregator to stay on top of new postings. Links are provided in the blog’s sidebar to add to your favorite RSS-capable news sites, and links at the bottom of each page point to the RSS feed location. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can get a primer from Wikipedia.If you prefer to be notified by e-mail whenever a post if made, simply subscribe to our mailing list for blog posts – systems-blog@mcs.anl.gov. You can subscribe by sending a message to majordomo@mcs.anl.gov with the line “subscribe systems-blog” on a line by itself in the message. The regular Dispatches will always be mailed to mcs@mcs.anl.gov.And, of course, you can simply visit the blog itself at http://www.mcs.anl.gov/systems/blog/.Changes since the last Dispatch include:

Machine Room Overhaul: The last power bump is the most recent example that drives home the need for us as a group to get a better handle on how our machine room’s power, cooling and networking are laid out. So, earlier this summer we embarked on a project to bring things into focus. This is a largely internal project without a lot of results you’ll see outside the machine room, but it’s a big task we’re working on, and it’s a worthwhile project on which to shine a spotlight.When we’re done, we’ll have:

  • a solid picture of what our available power capabilities are
  • a map of what our existing deployment looks like
  • redundant power schemes in a tiered configuration to keep critical services up and running during outages
  • better cooling and airflow planning
  • easy to manage networking
  • a more efficiently laid-out machine room

We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, but we’ve been loathe to sink a lot of time and money into the machine room when a new machine room was on the horizon. However, we’ve waited long enough that it’s no longer optional.Much of this work is geared towards making the management of our IT infrastructure easier. This certainly benefits the Systems team significantly, but there’s going to be a significant benefit to our users as well. Specifically, we’ll be less susceptible to outages, be able to deploy new servers and services in a more timely fashion, and generally spend more time providing services to you and less time fixing things.This will take some time, and there will be brief announced outages as we migrate machines and services to the new infrastructure. But it’s going to be worth it. When we’re done, we’ll have a divisional open house in the machine room to show off the fruits of our labor. We’ll provide updates on our progress via posts to the Systems blog.New Web Questions: We’ve been getting some questions on the new web pages, typically dealing with what’s required to be “compliant”, what is and isn’t allowed, and similar issues. We don’t have all the answers, but here’s some information that may help:

  • Personal web pages do not need to use this new template. You’re free to use them if you want, but you aren’t required to do so.
  • Argonne’s identity guidelines dictate that divisional and group logos are not permitted. It is our understanding that this relates specifically to groups contained entirely within Argonne and not groups that span multiple facilities or institutions. Logos such as Globus, TeraGrid, MPI, etc. are okay. The only consideration is that if you do use the Argonne logo, you must follow their usage guidelines, available at http://inside.anl.gov/resources/standards/ (internal access only). (My favorite violation is turning the Argonne logo into a stick-man head.)
  • The top level pages were required to be compliant. Below that level, it is our understanding that using the templates is recommended, but not required. You do not need to change your existing pages, however, any use the former MCS or Argonne logos must be removed. Once our conversion to the new style pages is complete from a Systems point-of-view, the image files hosting the now contraband logos will be removed, or possibly changed to reflect the new Argonne logo.

Featured Service: This week’s featured service is a set of tools developed by a student of ours, Chris Vuletich. All of these tools are designed to make it easy to use a CAPTCHA. A CAPTCHA (an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”) is a way of verifying that a user is actually a human upon form submission. You can find instructions on using these tools along with links to the tools themselves at http://www.mcs.anl.gov/formbuilder/verify/help.html .The first tool is designed to allow users who have existing forms that send mail to incorporate this technology. By making the modifications on your form, you can reduce the amount of spam generated from that form.The second tool is geared towards people with forms that don’t simply send e-mail, but use a more complicated results page.The third tool is designed to help people create their own forms. It produces output that you can download and incorporate into your web pages.These tools are new, and we’re always happy to get suggestions on how to improve them. Likewise, if you have suggestions for new tools like this, please pass them on!Well, that about wraps it up for this dispatch. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this… some people fear change, some people embrace it. Others put it into a piggy bank and wonder what’s up with those first two groups of people.


Written by Craig Stacey

October 31, 2006 at 8:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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