Saturday, 3 November 2007

Dave Speake goes to a RUGIT meeting

I'm please to welcome my first guest blogger, Dave Speake, Assistant Director for Technical Services:

Yesterday, standing in for Chris Sexton, I went to my first RUGIT meeting, at the JANET(UK) headquarters near Didcot. I decided to go by car, given the difficulties of train travel and my need to get back home to look after my dog, who is terrified at this time of year by the almost continual rocket and grenade attacks that are the precursor to Bonfire Night.
Given the nature of a lot of the discussion at the meeting, this was a decision calculated to make me feel guilty.

The Harwell Innovation Centre is an interesting place - half nuclear bunker and half enormous shiny doughnut, with various huts and sheds scattered in between. With my unerring sense of direction I found JANET's headquarters, in one of the smarter sheds, on only my third attempt.

The meeting itself was very interesting, and particularly relevant for me as a number of the issues raised by other attendees were very similar to those troubling us in CiCS at the moment.
The first item of business was a presentation by Chris Scott of IBM about the problems facing data centres now and over the next few years, followed by experiences from various Universities. I was particularly interested to see that the 'green' agenda is now firmly embedded, at least in this sample of IT directors. All present were concerned about the apparently ceaseless growth in research computing energy use, and the need to find more efficient ways of cooling than the traditional 'blow cold air about the place' approach. One university had invested in doors filled with CO2, which attach to the rear of the racks containing their HPC equipment. This is claimed to remove up to 80% of the heat from the racks. It wasn't clear to me what the cost (both in energy and money) of this approach is, but it's something I will be getting my Data Centre expert to take a close look at.

Other concerns were the growth in physical space requirements, again mainly driven by the unpredictable requirements of research computing. Some universities have multi-million pound projects either starting or underway to provide new data centre facilities. At Sheffield we're both fortunate and unfortunate in this regard. Fortunate because we've just completed a major fitout of a second machine room and refurbishment of our first, and are therefore fairly secure for the next three years, and unfortunate because it means that we haven't been able to take advantage of some of the 'green' technologies coming through.

Shared facilities are being actively investigated by some universities, while others have or are about to rent facilities from third parties.

After lunch there was an update on progress with the 'Shared Research Repository'. This takes the form of a feasibility study funded by HEFCE, which will investigate the possibility of building a nationwide distributed repository for research data. This would be a massive and complex project, but one which, if successful, would provide enormous benefits for the UK research community.

Cambridge then gave us a talk about their VOIP project, which will replace (almost) all their analogue phones with IP phones. One of the benefits of this project is that members of the University will be able to take their phones home and benefit from the calling rates negotiated by the University. The speaker had used such a phone in Melbourne Australia successfully - all charged at local rates! As someone who is somewhat cynical about the benefits of IP telephony, which strike me as being mainly for the providers, this was an interesting idea.

All in all a very interesting day out, although I didn't have time for the tour round the facilities, as I wanted to get back before the fusillades started. As it was, it took me three and a half hours. I really don't know how people who use the motorways as part of a regular commute manage to retain their sanity!

Reading the Guardian technology page I see that VOIP has already attracted the attentions of the spammers - particularly the phishing community - who see it as another opportunity to persuade the gullible to part with their bank details. Of course there are already acronyms for these activities - IPT spam is called 'SPIT', and IPT phishing is called 'vishing'. I sometimes think that IT phrase coiners are responsible for more misery in the world than all the spammers, phishers, vishers, hackers and crackers put together.

1 comment:

pj said...

can I be the first to say what a 'spiffing' entry this is and look forward to many more from you as a guest blogger