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Minutes of the meeting held on 19/ 11/1973 at State House, London
- Professor H Bondi (Chair)
- Professor D W Barron
- Professor P G Burke
- Mr D W Davies
- Dr G E Thomas
- Professor B H Bransden (Science Board)
- Professor R H Dalitz (Nuclear Physics Board)
- Dr V C Reddish (ASR Board)
- Dr J Howlett (Director of ACL)
- Mr A E Seddon (NERC)
- Mr B R Taylor (DTI)
- Miss V E M Bowell (Engineering Division, SRC)
- Mrs J O Patton (Science Division, SRC)
- Dr J A Fendley (Science Division, SRC)
- Professor G D S MacLellan
- Mr E C Appleyard (Computer Board)
The Chairman welcomed Professor Dalitz, now representing the Nuclear Physics Board, and Dr Reddish.
2 Minutes of Last Meeting
1. The Minutes of the Third Meeting were confirmed.
3 Matters Arising
2. Dr Howlett reported that the paper on the new microfilm recorder to be presented to the Science Board had been written and would be discussed with the Chairman as agreed at the previous meeting. The Science Board meeting in October had not dealt with requests for equipment and the December meeting would be the earliest opportunity for the paper to be presented.
3. The Chairman reported that the future role of the Laboratory had been discussed by Council in July. The Council was still considering the future arrangements for its establishments. Decision taking would begin in January 1974.
4. Dr Thomas enquired if the estimates and forward look of the Laboratory would be placed before the Committee. He reminded the Committee that it had been agreed earlier that the forward look and estimates would be considered by the Committee. The Chairman regretted that these had not been brought before the Committee and asked that they be circulated for the Committee's comments.
5. Dr Thomas enquired if there were any developments on the idea of attaching a vector arithmetic option to the 1900 range. He said that the Universities were still interested in this and saw a significant role for ACL in this respect. Dr Howlett reported that he had had several conversations with the Chairman of ACTP and had been promised information on the matter following a recent meeting to discuss it. He still awaited this information. Mr Taylor commented that the position of ICL was not fully decided and he believed that they were still considering it, though possibly only for the ICL new range of computers.
4 Use of ACL Facilities - ACC/73/14
6. Dr Howlett said that the information presented for the IBM 370/195 showed that there 'were two sorts of usage, use of the allotted 20 hours and or spare time. It was clear that very large amounts of time were being taken up by guaranteed users and that the procedures for the allocation of resources to users were working smoothly. He said that most of the use in excess of allocation had arisen from the use of spare time arising chiefly at the weekends.
7. Mr Taylor said the tables did not show how the allocations were divided between the machines. Dr Howlett said that as far as possible jobs exploiting the extreme power of the 370/195 arithmetic unit were assigned to that machine whereas jobs with significant data processing requirements such as those of the Ariel 4 satellite programme were assigned to the 1906A.
8. Dr Howlett drew attention to Tables IV and V showing respectively commitments for existing awards and for applications under consideration. If the latter were granted in full there would be insufficient resources to meet them but it seemed unlikely at this stage that this would happen.
9. Mr Fossey summarised the usage figures for the ICL 1906A in the corresponding quarters and outlined the commitments on the ICL 906A until the end of March 1974. He promised to circulate tabulated information with the Minutes.
10. Dr Reddish commented that difficulties with the manufacturers of the GALAXY machine would have a delaying effect on the processing load arising from the Southern Sky Survey. He expected that the demand of about 10 hours per week on the 1906A would slip by 12 months.
11. Dr Howlett noted the growth in the use by NERC of the Laboratory's facilities. Dr Howlett was very anxious that NERC should appoint a member of its staff to superintend NERC's use of the facilities as soon as possible. Mr Seddon undertook to convey this to his Council.
12. The Committee was concerned lest the use of time in excess of allocation by guaranteed users was preventing other users from obtaining time. Dr Howlett assured the Committee that no user was being prevented from taking up his allocation in full. The Committee asked that the subject committees be kept fully acquainted of the use of the facilities by guaranteed users and be informed of the availability of time.
13. Professor Bransden commented that the projected growth in the Nuclear Physics demand for 370/195 time very much reduced the likelihood of future spare capacity in that area.
5 State of the 1906A - ACC/73/15
14. Dr Howlett said that the Laboratory had experienced more trouble with the 1906A than it had hoped for. ICL had incorporated all field modifications to the central hardware of the 1906A but a substantial backlog of work on the peripheral system still remained.
15. Dr Howlett confirmed that the operating system GEORGE 4 Mark 7.5 was in daily use and gave rise to about one break per day unless there were hardware troubles. Its efficiency had also significantly improved. The Laboratory could have no complaints about the effort and service provided by ICL in rectifying hardware and software faults.
16. Dr Howlett concluded his remarks with the comment that the operating system on the machine provided powerful facilities including a central filing system. These were important to users and any disruption to the service quickly gave rise to dissatisfaction especially since the number of remote terminals exposed the state of the central machine. He was disappointed that it had taken so long to get the performance of the machine to a satisfactory level but he was by no means disheartened because the machine had done and continued to do a substantial amount of work. The Committee noted the report.
6 Communications: GEC 2050 Terminal - ACC/73/16
17. Dr Howlett said that the terminal approved under the urgency procedure was on order. Mrs Paton said that it was essentially a purchase brought forward from the financial year 1974/75. The Committee noted and endorsed the approval.
7 Principles of Allocation of Terminals - ACC/73/17
18. Dr Howlett said that the Science Board was concerned that means for the provision of terminals should be equitable. He had been invited to prepare a paper setting out the criteria and alternative methods for use in allocating terminals. He sought the advice of the Committee.
19. Dr Howlett summarised the existing application procedure. Each applicant for ACL facilities was made aware in his approach to the Laboratory that he could ask for terminal facilities. An applicant sought the support of a specialist committee which judged on scientific grounds whether the work was worthy of support and might suffer unduly from delays inherent in the use of postal services. If the scale of the allocation of computing resources justified the provision of terminal facilities, it would not then be necessary to take account of the allocations to other supported users at the same institution, to assess their need for terminal facilities, and to explore ways in which they could be provided.
20. Professor Bondi said that he thought the Science Board was making heavy weather of the matter of the provision of terminals but since they had expressed the wish to oversee the allocation of terminals the Committee would have to acquiesce.
21. Mrs Paton said that the Science Board was concerned with terminals not solely in relation to the work it supported in University Science but rather in relation to its stewardship of ACL for Council. It wished to see that terminals were distributed effectively and it was concerned lest the distribution of terminals was based more on the pattern of past computer usage than on the future needs of users. Part of the difficulty might be that subject committees were not allocating amounts of time for periods longer than a year. If the Committee thought that this was the case, then it should draw the attention of the Science Board to this difficulty when it came to consider a coherent plan for the placement of terminals.
22. Dr Thomas said that most universities had terminal facilities. He felt that the chief problem was not in the provision of terminals but in the provision by the Post Office of linkage between the terminals and the Chilton site, a cause in many cases of serious delay.
23. Professor Burke doubted whether there was need for greater publicity for terminals since in his experience the question of terminal facilities was always a topic of discussion between ACL and the applicant in the early stages of his seeking the use of ACL facilities.
24. Professor Bransden felt that the period of time over which an allocation of ACL resources applied was the key issue. He also thought that it was necessary to draw a distinction between dial-up facilities and tied Post Office lines. The only grounds for placing a terminal were a sufficient allocation of guaranteed time to one or more users and a need for ready access to the facilities to sustain progress on the work.
25. Professor Bondi summed up the discussion by saying that there was doubt about the need for more terminal facilities in the Universities. There was a problem in providing an adequate number of linkages through Post Office lines. The Science Board's attention should be drawn to the need for providing terminals to those institutions where the weekly guaranteed allocation of time and the type of usage warranted the provision, and that placement of terminals should take account of any plans for interconnection of University Centres through networks.
8 Front End Processor - ACC/73/18
26. Dr Howlett said that there were several universities with supported users, some with allocations of time on the 1906A and others with allocations on the 370/195. This was also so at the universities where the remote job entry terminals were placed. It was desirable that they provided access to either machine. Manual switching or rep1ugging of Post Office lines at the Chilton site although possible in theory would lead to practical difficulties in scheduling the time of connection to one machine or the other, and might even effect the transmission reliability of the lines. A front end processor permanently connected to both machines and the Post Office lines would have many advantages. The difference in the message format protocol of either machine could be treated by software in the processor. Each terminal station could be linked to both machines at all times when connected to Chilton by Post Office line. The supported users would be able to submit jobs and receive back output without impeding the work of those with allocations on a different machine at Chilton. Moreover the front end processor could be adapted to match any protocol standards, to changes in the main computers, and to developments in network linking.
27. Dr Howlett said that he was aware that the Computer Board had plans for the setting up of a network linking the Universities and indeed the Post Office had similar plans. He had no wish to set up a separate network and the long term aim of this proposal was to permit connection to a national network.
28. Of the three machines examined, the ICL 7905 was too expensive and was far too closely tied to ICL 1900 range equipment. The CTL Modular 1 was also expensive, particularly if it were extended to provide 9600 baud working. This left the GEC 4080 as the machine which the Laboratory sought to purchase.
29. Professor Bondi said that the Committee must decide whether to use a substantial part of the remaining 1974/75 budget for communications equipment and remote job entry stations on the front end processor.
30. Dr Thomas expressed concern about the scale of the proposal on the grounds that the computer might not be sufficient to provide a rational interface with any proposed University or national network. He had hoped that the Laboratory would act with all possible speed on the recommendations of the Network Panel (ACC 73/6) and take a close look at the work undertaken in Edinburgh on the Computer Board proposals towards a similar end. They involved expenditure of about £120,000 and were more comprehensive, without being too ambitious, than the proposal before the Committee.
31. Mr Davies was surprised by the paucity of channels on the proposed GEC 4080. He thought that the Laboratory's immediate problem of providing access to the 1906A and the 370/195 would not be solved unless the machine had more channels.
32. Several members thought that this proposal could provide a quick solution to a practical problem currently besetting the Laboratory. They were concerned that the proposal contained no indication of likely commissioning dates. Dr Howlett said that it should be possible to obtain the machine in July 1974 and that the software should be available shortly afterwards since a substantial part of development work could be undertaken on the GEC 2050 already in the Laboratory.
33. The Committee felt that the Laboratory should be concerned with its interface to any larger network. They were satisfied with the assurance that the purchase of the GEC 4080 would not prejudice any future development. Dr Howlett was asked to investigate the more far-reaching scheme envisaged by Dr Thomas and to report to the Committee early in January 1974.
34. Professor Bondi in summing up said that the Committee agreed to the purchase of the GEC 4080 front end processor at a cost of £19,170.
9 Allocations Working Group - ACC/73/19
35. Dr Howlett said that the Committee had discussed the need for an Allocations Working Group at its meeting in March ]973. The Committee had not, however, made clear what kind of body was required. It could set up a sub-committee to provide instructions for the Director on the allocation of ACL resources and recommendations on the distribution of terminals. It was also possible for the body to consist entirely of SRC officials who would give advice to the Director and incidentally to the Committee on the same topics.
36. Mrs Paton said that the Committee must be concerned about possible conflict arising from the demand for computer resources and about the allocation of facilities to meet the demands. She felt that decisions on these matters should be taken by the Committee.
37. Mr Seddon asked whether the Atlas Computer Committee had a management function with regard to the allocation of computer resources. The Chairman said that the job of the Committee was to see that the Atlas Laboratory ran efficiently. Decisions on who would receive the service of the Laboratory were taken by Council.
38. The Committee agreed that it wanted to see the formation by the Director of the Allocations Working Group which would report directly to him. The Chairman said that the Director was responsible for the daily work of the Laboratory including the resolution of minor conflicts of demand. Where conflict arose involving the thinking of the Boards the Working Group would sometimes be able to advise the Director on suitable allocations, but occasionally it might recommend that the matter should be referred to the allocating Board, and if necessary to Council itself, for resolution.
10 Meeting House Concept - ACC/73/20
39. Dr Howlett said that the principles governing the "Meeting House" concept had been discussed at the last meeting. Following the Council discussion, he had been invited to put a paper to the Science Board meeting in October together with a specific proposal. The Laboratory regarded the "Meeting House" concept as an exciting proposal which it would be happy to take up.
40. Dr Howlett said that the Laboratory would welcome the greater contact and collaboration with the academic world. The Laboratory wished to maintain its expertise and identity as a computing laboratory and to avoid transition into a Laboratory committed to a scientific specialism.
41. Dr Howlett said that he had reproduced for the Committee the whole paper put to the Science Board. When it had been discussed there, the Chairman of Council had pointed out that entirely new ground was being broken with quite far reaching consequences. It was therefore essential to start with a pilot project which would have the advice and guidance of able people in the academic world. Dr Howlett suggested a suitable project was a study of molecular correlation errors in theories which surpass the Hartree-Fock theory in accuracy.
42. Dr Howlett said that he had written to Professors Bransden, Burke, Coulson and McWeeny. Professor Coulson was unfortunately ill and had not yet replied but the others had agreed to undertake the work of providing guidance and it was hoped that a first meeting might be held within the next two months.
43. Dr Reddish said that the service provided by the Atlas Laboratory was of tremendous value to SRC. He wondered if the "Meeting House" activity would reduce significantly the service provided by the Laboratory. He enquired how many projects of this kind the Laboratory could sustain. Dr Howlett expected that not more than three or four "Meeting House" projects would be in progress simultaneously.
44. The Chairman said that on the scale at present envisaged, the new "Meeting House" activity should not detract from the services at present provided. However if the idea proved to be successful the present type of service might then become a smaller component of the total of the Laboratory's activity, all of which was in support of university and Research Council scientific work. Dr Howlett added that it was extremely important for the Laboratory to maintain a service element to its work.
45. Professor Burke said that the pilot project must be regarded as an experiment. It involved an examination of current work in Quantum Chemistry, exploring what could be done, and attempting to introduce some rationalisation into the new ideas.
46. In response to a query by Mr Taylor, the Chairman stated that the Science Board had felt that some but not all "Meeting House" activities should be centred at the Atlas Laboratory.
47. The Committee approved of the paper put by the Director to the Science Board, took note of the Board's comments upon it, noted that the first few projects would be experimental, expressed its interest in this style of working and asked for full information on the progress of the first pilot scheme, and accepted that there would be no significant diminution of the service element of the Laboratory's activity.
11 Computer Studies in Theory of Liquids - ACC/73/21
48. Dr Howlett said that the Theory of Liquids was a field in which computers were playing an increasingly important role. Substantial amounts of 370/195 time were already allocated to groups working in this field and it was considered that a symposium on Computer Simulation Studies in the Theory of Liquids would be timely. His paper was seeking the Committee's approval.
49. Professor Burke said that it was an extremely good idea which should be encouraged.
50. Mrs Paton asked if the proposal was in conflict in any way with other plans such as that for the "Meeting House" concept. Dr Howlett commented that the proposed symposium would primarily be a review meeting examining the current state of computer simulation in the theory of liquids. It might provide the impetus for another "Meeting House" activity.
51. The Chairman said that the Laboratory should have a continuing activity in initiating symposia. This was separate from a "Meeting House" activity although at a later stage it could become part of it.
12 Next Meeting
52. The Secretary agreed to fix dates for the next meetings of the ACC in February and May. It was agreed that the May meeting should be held at the Atlas Computer Laboratory.
13 Any Other Business
53. Mr Seddon asked for clarification on the extent to which papers for the ACC were to be treated in confidence. Mrs Paton said that it was the general policy of SRC to mark papers for Committee and Board meetings "In Confidence". This did not however prevent the papers being shown to colleagues for the purposes of advice and comment. The Chairman said that members should be very careful of papers dealing with personnel or commercial matters but the marking "In Confidence" was not an official classification.
54. Mr Seddon said that he was thinking in particular of the NERC Computer Committee who would wish to see some of the material. The Chairman said that the papers could be seen by the NERC Computer Committee.