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- REPORT OF RAL USER LIAISON COMMITTEE MEETING ON 10 OCTOBER 1984
- European Academic Research Network
- VAX (VMS) USER GROUP MEETING REPORT
- REPORT ON GEC USER MEETING
- REPORT ON THE PRIME USER GROUP MEETING
- CENTRAL COMPUTING REPRESENTATIVES' MEETING
- FR80 REPLACEMENT
As we say farewell to 1984 and welcome 1985, it is clear that this edition of FORUM appears at a time of other comings and goings. MVS is about to come in and the FR80 is about to go out. News on both appears in this issue. On the same theme, Dr Brian Davies has come in as SERC's Director, Computing and the ELECTRIC filestore is on its way out.
We publish the first letter for some time; will this lead to a regular Letters to the Editor column? Do write to us more often, we like to hear your views of the service we provide.
There are reports from several meetings; these include the GEC, Prime and VAX User Group Meetings, the DEC10 User Meeting, a report on the PERQ PNX User Forum, as well as the Central Computer Reps Meeting, which was livelier than usual. These meetings form an important role in the support of each machine, enabling users to get together and talk directly to those who provide the service. It is heartening when these meetings are well attended and lively.
May I take this opportunity, on behalf of the FORUM editorial team (Ros Hallowell, Jacky Hutchinson, Bob Maybury and myself), to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous (and bug-free!) New Year.
Paul Thompson, Head of User Support and Marketing, Central Computing Division
REPORT OF RAL USER LIAISON COMMITTEE MEETING ON 10 OCTOBER 1984
The Meeting welcomed Dr Brian Davies in his capacity as Director, Computing.
The main points to arise at the meeting were:-
- Some of the Computer Review Working Party recommendations have been accepted by Council. Decisions on the direct charging proposal for the IBM/Atlasl0 system and the precise definition of Infrastructure will not be taken until December.
- All new administrative arrangements associated with the CRWP proposals which are accepted will start on 1 April 1985. In particular Science Board will take over responsibility for the AS7000 at Daresbury and Engineering Board will take over responsibility for both the ICF and the Single User System program.
- Details of the proposed charging scheme for CMS and MVS are being worked out on the assumption that the direct charging proposal will be approved by Council in December. The ULC was given a summary of the current thinking on such charging mechanisms.
- Details of the Engineering Board's charges to other Boards for their use of the ICF were given and the other Boards have been notified of these.
- The ULC will continue in its present form for the time being. It will retain the current Terms of Reference apart from a few minor changes and will report to the Director, Computing rather than the Central Computing Committee. It is expected that the ULC will evolve to some new body at some later time.
Mike Jane, Secretary RAL ULC
European Academic Research Network
Many of you may have heard of the European Academic Research Network (EARN) and wondered what is, what use it is, can I use it and why does it seem so unavailable.
First some background. There is a network in the States called BITNET which is formed from interconnecting IBM computers with leased lines. The protocol used is the IBM RSCS protocol and, in fact, any computers offering this protocol can join the network. The network relies on the fact that the RSCS protocols can be used for 'staging' files from machine to machine until a destination is reached. Thus the network provides a file transfer and mail service. The network is very popular in the States and some 200 or more machines are connected. IBM's corporate network, VNET, is based on the same idea.
In late 1983 IBM generously offered to finance a European network based on the same idea and christened it EARN. They offered to pay for the lines, modems and some other hardware for a period of four or five years. It had been hoped to get the network operational by the new year. The network is run by a Board of Directors with an academic representative from each country.
The plan is to link various key European sites in a backbone network and for each country to develop a network around their national site. In the case of the UK the site is Rutherford Laboratory. In the UK it has been decided that Rutherford should be the only EARN site but that a gateway should be developed between EARN and JANET to allow file transfer and MAIL traffic. The EARN network is connected to BITNET via a line between Rome and City University New York.
Unfortunately the network involves 'third party switching' of data which is illegal in most European countries and thus special permission has had be sought from the PTTs. Eventually CEPT (the European PTT advisory body) considered EARN and while they are likely to agree to allowing it, wish to impose a few conditions. These conditions require the network to migrate to the use of ISO protocols and the use of public networks within the next four years. The EARN Board of Directors are sympathetic to these requirements. A further complication is that the PTTs are unsure of what tariff to apply and are thinking in terms of a volume related one. This is not the end of the negotiations since each of the PTTs now has to be persuaded to issue a license. You must remember that CEPT is only an advisory body. In the UK the Board of Directors member is busy encouraging DTI to issue a license. He is also busy attempting to encourage BT to allow connections and at a low tariff.
Currently the network is half built. The Rome to New York, Madrid and Heifa lines are working. The CERN to Rome, Paris, Dusseldorf and Rutherford are almost in, as is the Dublin to Rutherford one. Unfortunately the lines to Rutherford cannot be used without BT and DTI approval. In Germany some 50 machines are already connected. In other countries less progress has been made and far fewer connections are expected. As well as the countries already mentioned connections are expected to Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Finland. By now you will have realized why there has been a long delay and what sort, of service you can expect when it all come to fruition. I am the UK EARN Board of Directors member and I am happy to provide further information.
Paul Bryant - Head of Development Group, Central Computing Division
VAX (VMS) USER GROUP MEETING REPORT
The VAX (VMS) User Group met at Garriok House in London on Thursday 11 September. The meeting was well attended with seventeen sites represented. Geoff Smith of RAL's High Energy Physics Division and Bill Pulford of Neutron Division talked about their respective archiving systems - one disk-based and the other using tape. Mike Jane then spoke on the RAL Computing Divisions' reorganisation, something he must by now be used to doing. Sue Weston presented Steve Yip's status report on VAX networking and discussion of this provided input for the afternoon meeting with Ray Jones of DEC'S Network and Communications Team from the UK Technical Support Group at Basingstoke.
The meeting expressed concern over support of coloured book software on Vaxes, particularly the UWTST FTP. The chairman agreed to take up the matter with the JNT.
Paul Thompson, Head of User Support & Marketing
REPORT ON GEC USER MEETING
The twelfth meeting of the RAL-supported GEC User Group was held at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on 6 November 1984. There were 9 users present, a disappointing turnout for a User meeting which is held only twice a year.
The main topics discussed were:-
- Reorganisation of Computing at RAL.
- Report from the ULC Meeting.
- The "Needs of Engineering Computing" Working Party.
- New Resource Management procedures.
- Systems Software development priorities.
The "Needs of Engineering Computing" Working Party will hold its third meeting on 18 December. A sub-group of the GEC User Group was established to meet with this Working Party prior to its December meeting.
Resource Management procedures are being revised. ICF site managers will be responsible for commenting on grant applications, setting-up usernames and AU allocations.
A representative for GEC Computers Ltd accepted an invitation to attend part of the meeting, to answer user questions on a number of specific software and hardware related items.The User Group reviewed the priorities which it had attached to future software developments at a special User Group meeting earlier this year.
This was the last GEC User Group Meeting under the Chairmanship of Dr John Baldwin. The User Group thanked John for his enthusiastic support, and wished him continuing success in his other commitments. A warm welcome was extended to the new Chairman Anne MacKinnon.
Kevin Duffey, User Support & Marketing
REPORT ON THE PRIME USER GROUP MEETING
The Prime User Group met at Garrick House, London on 8 November 1984 where 21 users attended. The major points were:-
- The resignation of the Chairman, F Eastham of Bath University at the end of this meeting, his place being taken by the current deputy Chairman G Dixon of Manchester Polytechnic.
- The formation of a sub-group of 5 people under the Chairmanship of G Dixon to advise the Engineering Board Computing Sub-committee on the requirements of the Prime community. The members of this sub-group are not yet all decided, but in the meantime G Dixon would welcome input from the users.
- It is planned to merge the next Users' Meeting with a Managers' meeting over 2 days, provisionally 25-26 March 1985 at RAL, at which it is hoped that Prime can submit a presentation on UNIX and LAN.
Mike Claringbold - ICF Group, Informatics Division
CENTRAL COMPUTING REPRESENTATIVES' MEETING
A Central Computing Representatives' Meeting was held at RAL on November 1st. Sixty user representatives attended with the majority from off the site. The chairman reported that he was retiring after nearly three years. His successor is Peter Negus from Glasgow.
Paul Thompson, the head of User Support and Marketing Group, outlined the changes in Central Computing. These were covered in the July/August edition or Forum. Paul thanked Graham for his contribution as the first user chairman of the CCRM. He expressed the opinion that Graham would be most remembered for the innovation of the straw poll.
Dr Brian Davies who is the new head of Central Computing Division gave the meeting a report on the current position.
Brian outlined the terms of reference, membership and recommendations of the Computing Review Working Party chaired by Professor A G J Macfarlane. These have been described in previous editions of FORUM so it is not necessary to repeat them here.
One of the recommendations, that a full-time Director, Computing should be appointed, has been carried out and Dr Davies has been appointed to this role The CCC has agreed to become an advisory body to the Director, Computing.
The details of what is included in the infrastructure are still being worked on. Although charging provoked discussion there was no consensus from the meeting either in favour or as to an alternative method of funding central computing.
The possible provision of a Super Computer is to be the subject of a joint Computer Board and Research Council Working Party.
Plans for the purchase of new equipment were outlined. These were divided between items needed now and those which we expect will be needed in the near future.
Equipment for which a case will be made as soon as possible.
- Communications Front End: £150K
- Controller and 5 Gbytes Disk Storage: £130K
- Additional Paging Space and Controller: £75K
- Additional Lineprinter: £22K
Further into the future depending on the availability of funds.
- Large Scale Colour Plotter: £100K
- Optical Disk Storage: £130K
- Hardware Monitor: £200K
- Atlas 10 Storage and XA Channel Processor: £240K
The final session for the morning was devoted to MVS. John Gordon from User Support and Marketing outlined the timetable for the transition and the changes needed immediately. This item is reported elsewhere.
The afternoon was taken up with the general meeting. Points of interest were:
- Although there were suggestions for possible improvements in Service Line the users felt that it had brought about an improvement. Urgent problems which occur outside the hours covered by Service Line should be reported to the shift leader.
- The PAO will give priority to computer mail queries. It was suggested that visits to the PAO should follow an exchange of mail during which the nature of the user's problem was determined and following which it was agreed that a visit was the best way to solve the problem. This has the advantage that if expert advice is needed this can be sought before the visit and if necessary the time can be chosen so that the expert is available.
- The question of documentation was raised. Where suitable documentation is available from the supplier of the software, this will be used. RAL documentation will concentrate on features of our implementation not covered in the commercial documentation.
- We recognise that some sites have no local expertise to help in the introduction of new users on CMS. Until the new courses get started we are prepared to run a short tutorial session at any site with several novice users if the site requests help.
- It was suggested that obsolescent EXECs should give a warning message. This will be looked into since it seems to be a good way to get the message across to the last few users of such EXECs.
The meeting was quite lively with more attendees than usual. If you were unable to be present but have views on any of the issues discussed we would be delighted to hear them. Why not write a letter to the Editor of FORUM?
Bob Maybury, User Support & Marketing Group, Central Computing Division
Readers of the Graphics Supplement published with the July/August edition of FORUM will be aware of the details of the plan to replace the FR80. Work is at an advanced stage and trials of the system are taking place at the time of writing. These consist of parallel running of the FR80 with both the XEROX 8700 laser printer (hardcopy) and NCR 5330 fiche recorder (microfiche). This allows the output produced by the old and new systems to be compared and any differences corrected. This trial system, like the final version, does not require any changes to user programs or JCL - the system performs the rerouting to the new devices. The trial system copes with all FR80 output routed via the IBM Central Computing system but does not deal with FR80 tapes sent to RAL by post.
During December - if no problems are apparent - the FR80 will be withdrawn from service.
The Graphics Supplement explained that the new hardware devices did not cater for film output or graphics on microfiche. It suggested that film would be handled through an arrangement with ULCC and graphics fiche would be processed under a contract with the Stock Exchange. Unfortunately there have been snags in both these areas.
The problems encountered with graphics fiche are believed to be understood and further trials are taking place at the Stock Exchange to ensure that it will be operationally possible to run a service for output generated at RAL. We hope that there will be no interval between the closure of the FR80 and the start of a service at the Stock Exchange but cannot guarantee it. If the non-availability of a graphics microfiche service for a period of weeks would seriously delay your project please contact User Support immediately.
The problem with the production of film is more severe. After discussions with technical staff at ULCC we feel that the production of film on the ULCC Dicomed from FR80 orders generated by programs run at RAL requires greater software effort than we have available. Thus we have reluctantly decided to cease provision of a 16mm and 35mm film service with the closure of the FR80. University users of SERC's computing facilities wishing to produce computer generated film beyond that time should make their own arrangements with the University of London Computer Centre through their local computing service. SERC staff wishing to produce film should contact Kate Crennell of User Support and Marketing Group to see if we can help. We regret having to make this decision but feel that the number of users is so small that we are unable to invest large amounts of software effort at a time of staff economies.
Documentation on directly driving the new devices, rather than using them in FR80 emulation mode, is available from the Program Advisory Office.