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Engineering Computing Newsletter: Issue 2
- New Initiative in the Engineering Applications of Transputers
- Computer Aided Applications in Architectural Design
- Software for Electronic System Design
- ECSTASY - An Environment for Control System Design
- Update on the Central Server Facility
- Use of Cray Supercomputer
- Allocation of Un-required Perq Workstations
- Software for Engineering Applications Questionnaire
- Forthcoming Events
In this second issue of the Engineering Computing Newsletter there is an announcement of an Initiative in the Engineering Applications of Transputers, applications-specific articles on the work of ABACUS at Strathclyde University, Electronic Computer Aided Design at RAL and ECSTASY, an environment for Control System Design. Also included is information on the Cray X-MP/48 in the Atlas Centre of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, an update on the Central Server Facility and information on the Engineering Applications questionnaire. For the Perq owners of the engineering computing community, there is a short piece on the allocation of surplus Perqs.
After the next issue (May/June) the Newsletter will be published quarterly. Please send in any articles you think may be of interest - space is no problem! Any engineering computing related problems are also welcome.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who replied to the questionnaire sent out with the first issue. It has enabled me to get a better mailing-list together for subsequent issues. If you know of anyone who would like to receive their own copy, please let me know. Also, if you change your address, or no longer wish to receive future issues, please let me know.
I assume, from the lack of adverse comments, everyone is happy with the general format of the Newsletter. However, if you do have any ideas for improvement, please let me know.
Fran Childs (Editor)
New Initiative in the Engineering Applications of Transputers
I am pleased to announce that the Engineering Board and Council have approved this exciting new initiative, based on the recommendations of a Working Party set up by the Computing Facilities Committee.
The initial approval is for one year only (1 April 1987 to 31 March 1988). The remainder of the programme is currently subject to the new Five Year Forward Look discussions and it could be several months before any definite decision is made.
Although the proposed Programme had to be revised to ensure it could be funded immediately, overall the funding requested is the same as in the Working Party Report.
The main components of the total Programme are:
- a significant hardware and software Loan Pool offering 6 months Pump Priming loans to the UK Academic Community;
- one National and three Regional Support Centres providing support, training and access to transputer-based facilities, particularly for the benefit of UK Industry;
- a small Coordination Team based at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, responsible for the day to day running and coordination of the Programme;
- earmarked funds for ensuring specific key software developments are carried out, to ensure that transputer systems are able to be exploited in real applications areas;
- access to all the facilities for people not normally supported by the Engineering Board.
Copies of the letter announcing the Initiative, the Working Party Report and details of the revised programme, which enabled funds to be found by the Engineering Board to approve the first year (it is always very difficult to find significant sums of new money for the next Financial Year within the SERC's funding system), can be obtained from me at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. You should also contact me if you wish to be on the mailing list for the Initiative. The letter also contains information on the plans for the immediate future in terms of the Loan Pool and the Support Centres.
Mike Jane (Head of ECFE)
Computer Aided Applications in Architectural Design
ABACUS is a research group of approximately 10 multi-disciplinary researchers in the Department of Architecture and Building Science, in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. We have been working for about 15 years in software research and development and promoting the use of computer aids in building design in the education and practice of the building design team. This has involved us in several complementary activities: research and development of software for building design, teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate students, giving consultancy help to design practices and selling software.
The major application areas of our work have been concerned with:
- building sketch design - performance evaluation of competing designs,
- visualisation - 3D modelling and viewing in wireline or with added colour, rendering and shading,
- energy analysis - detailed simulation of building energy flows.
All of the ABACUS software is, in essence, performance evaluation software. That is, it attempts to predict the performance of the building before it is built in terms of, for example, the costs, the energy use, the visual appearance etc.
Our long history tied us firmly to mainframe computing on, successively, the NEL Univac 1108, the ERCC DEC10and University Vaxes, and to Tektronix graphics terminals. We have in the past few years acquired 'new' computer hardware systems from SERC, the University, and others, totalling over £250k, including a Vax750 minicomputer, provided by the Engineering Computing Facility (ECF), running UNIX BSD 4.2. We finally escaped from our roots in old Tektronix-4010 technology with the purchase of stand-alone UNIX workstations - a dual Sun2, and two Whitechapel MG-1 - and some new graphics terminals - Cifers and Pericoms. In addition, our work in visualisation is now supported by a Silicon Graphics IRIS 2400 colour graphics workstation for real-time animation, provided on evaluation through ECF, and by a frame grabbing/display system based on IBM PC-AT and PLUTO-II display driver.
Of course, new hardware facilities give major problems for existing mainframe/terminal based applications software. Restructuring of the software is under way to incorporate modern user interface techniques and graphics.
The IRIS is a high performance, high resolution, colour computing system for 2D and 3D computer graphics. It provides a powerful set of GKS-like graphics primitives together with customised graphics processing chips (the Geometry Engine), linked with a conventional 6801O-based workstation. This allows real-time animation of 3D models under user (mouse) or program control with optional colouring or depth-cueing.
As part of an evaluation process, we have converted visualisation software to utilise the IRIS Geometry Engine and then constructed, under contract, a computer-based model of Glasgow for use in planning, promotional and public relations work. The model consists of all terrain, roads, bridges and buildings of the central area and the intention is to provide random or tailored walks through the city on the IRIS and on video. Data from a variety of sources - physical models, Ordnance Survey maps, stereo photos etc.- were used, in total, some 3000 objects.
Initial results confirm the value of the facility in real applications:
- wire-line or hidden line real-time animation of the model is possible. Single colour depth-cue is possible. With over 1000 objects swapping of the object data-set occurs, causing a 30 second delay between frames.
- simple colour filling is possible without depth sorting. More realistic colouring, at least on the configuration that ABACUS currently has requires extensive use of software.
- animated display of already processed 2D hidden-line or coloured/shaded pictures is possible and effective.
Harvey Sussock (Deputy Director, ABACUS)
Software for Electronic System Design
Electronic Computer Aided Design (ECAD) Software Initiative
During 1986, acting jointly with the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), SERC negotiated licences with a number of leading commercial suppliers of electronic CAD software, which will enable their software to be used on computers in universities, polytechnics and research laboratories for educational and non-commercial research purposes. The SERC component of this initiative is funded through the Information Engineering Committee of the Engineering Board as part of its Microelectronics Facilities programme.
This is a logical extension of the SERC Microelectronics CAD Facility which has been available to academic users since 1979 based on Prime computers at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. It comes at a very opportune time as the trend in engineering computing is moving from centralised time-shared machines to distributed workstations connected on local area networks. This trend raises the potentially difficult problem of obtaining software licences for a rapidly expanding, distributed base of machines.
The ECAD initiative has overcome this problem by negotiating comprehensive licences covering use of a wide range of electronic CAD software packages on an unspecified number of computers within the academic community. The long-term commercial advantages of having their software available to this community persuaded the software suppliers to agree to more flexible licensing arrangements than would normally apply in a commercial context.
Software Distribution and Support
To make the software distribution and support problem tractable, a number of lead sites have been identified within the community through which the suppliers distribute the software and receive feedback from users. For the SERC-supported user community, RAL acts as the lead site, through the Electronic CAD Group in Technology Division. SERC grant holders with suitable computing equipment can apply to the ECAD Group at RAL for any of the software detailed below to be installed on their machine, subject to signature of an end-user licence agreement. Those applying for grants and wishing to use this software should ensure that provision is made in their application for suitable computing equipment.
Range of Software Available
A very wide range of electronic design software is available through this initiative. The principal packages are listed briefly below under the name of the software supplier, with an indication of their function and an availability code which gives the computer ranges on which they are available.
- SDS - circuit schematics (B)
- HELIX - functional simulation and libraries (A)
- BIMOS - logic simulation (A)
- ANDI - analogue/digital simulation (A)
- SWAP - switchec1 capacitor simulation (A)
- ARDS - gate array IC layout (A)
- CALMP - standard cell IC layout (A)
- PRINCESS - full custom IC layout (A)
- HILO-3 - functional/logic/fault simulation and libraries (C)
- ELLA - functional simulation (D)
- ISIS - simulation and IC layout (E)
- REDCAD - PCB layout (F)
- MINICHIP - gate array design (G)
- QUICKCHIP - gate array design (H)
- SMS3, SMS5 - CMOS standard cell libraries(A, E)
- A: Vax (VMS), Apollo (Aegis), IBM (CMS)
- B: A + Sun (UNIX)
- C: B + Vax (UNIX)
- D: Vax (VMS)
- E: Vax (VMS) with Racal V800 workstation
- F: IBM PC/XT, PC/AT, 7 PC compatibles
- G: BBC micro with 6502 coprocessor
- H: Acorn workstation, Vax (UL TRIX)
In addition, a number of other software utilities and libraries are available which have been developed by the ECAD Group at RAL. These include interfaces to the MCE BX gate array design system, waveform display programs for simulators, drivers for graphics terminals not supported directly by the CAD suppliers and additional simulation libraries.
The ECAD Group is also evaluating other electronic design software needed to fill gaps not covered by the existing licences. These include analogue design tools, microwave design tools, IC layout verification and advanced PCB layout.
Prospective users of this software who are supported by SERC and therefore qualify for distribution through the RAL lead site should, in the first instance, contact David Boyd at RAL (0235 44 6167) to discuss their requirements. This offer is open to anyone within the SERC community who needs to design electronics in the pursuit of their research objectives.
David Boyd. (Electronic CAD Group. Technology Division)
ECSTASY - An Environment for Control System Design
The Control & Instrumentation Sub-committee of the SERC's Information Engineering Committee runs a coordinated initiative in the field of Computing and Design Techniques for Control Engineering (CDTCE). A central part of this initiative is the development of a software environment to support Control System Design (CSD). It is intended to exploit this environment in a number of ways as follows:
- to support academic control system research by providing a common software base enabling the transfer of results between groups of researchers and economising on the need for the development of ad-hoc CSD packages to support the work of individual groups.
- to act as a vehicle for the transfer of CSD techniques and algorithms, arising from research in academia, into industrial practice.
- to be made available to industry, on an appropriately costed basis, for use in industrial CSD activities.
The development of this software system, called ECSTASY (Environment for Control System Theory, Analysis & SYnthesis) commenced in December 1986, in the Control Systems Centre at UMIST, under a contract with SERC.
The UMIST development team will comprise five people, under the overall direction of Prof. Neil Munro. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is providing consultancy advice to the UMIST team in the areas of functional specification and man-machine interface. The contract with UMIST is planned to lead to an embryo version of the ECSTASY environment by the summer of 1988. Subsequently, ~ -testing, support and further development will be supervised by RAL.
Functionality and Structure
The functions required in a complete control system design exercise, in its most general form, are indicated in figure 1.
The software environment for such an exercise must provide access to a range of algorithms or tools for each of the steps in the design. These will include a comprehensive non-linear simulation package, with facilities for deriving linear models of the engineering systems to be controlled, together with linear control system design packages, incorporating various design algorithms, from which that most suitable for a particular application can be chosen. The environment itself must contain database, man-machine interface and documentation facilities appropriate to the task of control system design.
The structure of ECSTASY is shown diagrammatically in figure 2.
A range of software engineering tools provides the graphics, database, MMI and other house-keeping functions, running under the machine operating system. Portability of the software engineering tools to other operating systems is an important requirement. Interfaced to the software engineering tools will be the design tools, carrying out the various design functions. An aim will be a common command structure addressing these design tools and enabling proprietary software packages, having their own command structures, to be accessed from within the environment.
The embryo version of ECSTASY, being developed by UMIST, will use the SET tools modules from PA Management Consultants, running under UNIX on Sun3 workstations. The software will be written in C where practical. Most of the control system design tools to be incorporated are in Fortran 77, as are some of the components of the infrastructure itself. However, the availability of facilities in the PA SET tools for calling Fortran subroutines from C and vice-versa, should provide solutions to these interfacing problems. Portability to other operating systems than UNIX will be provided by the use of the onSET module.
Fig. 1 Functions in a Control System Design Exercise
Fig. 2 Structure of Embryo Version of ECSTASY
ECSTASY is being developed in close collaboration with a Swedish control system design team at the University of Lund, under Professor Karl Johann Astrom. This collaboration is by an agreement between the SERC and its Swedish equivalent, the Styrelsen For Teknisk Utveckling. CSD software tools developed at Lund will be incorporated in ECSTASY. Also as part of the project, joint workshops are planned on aspects of CSD software, with invited participation from academia and industry.
Percy Hammond (Coordinator for CDTCE and Project Officer - ECSTASY)
(There will be more information on ECSTASY in future issues of the Newsletter, including details of workshops etc. Ed.)
Update on the Central Server Facility
It was not possible in the last Newsletter to give full details about the choice of supplier for the Central Server Facility. Contractual negotiations have now been completed and the selected suppliers will be as follows:
This server system is intended to support of the order of 3 or 4 Suns. The supplier is Sun Microsystems, offering a Sun3/180S with 4MB of main memory and 380MB of disk.
Medium and Large System
These server systems are intended to support in excess of 6 workstations which may be mixed Suns and Perqs, the former running NFS, the latter running Newcastle Connection. Configurations have been defined for 6 and 12 workstations, allowing for the possibility of a large proportion of diskless machines. However, configurations capable of supporting larger clusters are possible. The supplier is Pyramid Technology. For the medium configuration, they are offering a WorkCentre system with 4MB of main memory and 620MB of disk. The large system will be similar but will have 940MB of disk.
Initially, a medium system has been purchased for evaluation at RAL to test existing and formally committed software. Depending on policy decisions to be made, it is likely that a number of further systems of various sizes will be purchased early in the next financial year (1987/1988), to be installed in academic institutions. Details of the site selection process will be provided at a later date, but the overall objectives will be to add value to workstations allocated to grantholders and to reduce the cost to subject committees and projects of subsequent purchases.
Julian Gallop (Common Base Manager)
Use of Cray Supercomputer
A Cray X-MP/48, which was jointly funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), Computer Board and the Advisory Board for Research Councils (ABRC), has been installed in the Atlas Centre, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and commenced a trial user service on 2 February 1987. A full service is due to commence on 30 March 1987.
Together with the existing two Cray 1-S computers at the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC) and the Cyber 205 at the University of Manchester Regional Computer Centre (UMRCC), the new Cray forms part of the National Advanced Research Computing Facilities for the University and Research Council community. Information on the Cray X-MP/48 is contained in the Advanced Research Computing Newsletter, copies of which can be obtained from the editor (Mrs J R Hallowell) at the Atlas Centre. Currently, two issues, December 1986 and January 1987, have been produced.
Applications to use any of the above machines wilt be handled through the normal peer review system. A new form, NS I, for registering applications for access to the National Supercomputing Facilities is being prepared. In the interim period, the existing form, AL54, should still be used. Copies can be obtained from Resource Management, Atlas Centre.
Pump Priming facilities are available for those who wish to try the system to determine the final form of their applications. About 5% of the capacity of each machine is available in this way. A maximum of 0.1% of the resources on a system will be allocated per applicant for a maximum period of three months. Applications for pump priming need to be authorised by the Director of the appropriate National Centre.
Potential users, who would normally be supported by the Engineering Board, are encouraged to discuss their requirements with the Engineering Computing Facilities Executive (ECFE) at RAL which is coordinating all Engineering requests to the Director, Computing, for use of the Atlas Centre Cray facilities. Any problem of physical access to the Cray should also be discussed with the ECFE.
Alan Bryden (ECFE)
Allocation of Un-required Perq Workstations
Following the expiry of some grants with which Perq equipment was supplied and the decision in August 1986 by ICL to discontinue the manufacture of Perqs, Single User System (SUS) Support has had enquiries from users looking for extra Perqs and from users who no longer need the Perqs they have. SUS Support will assist in the re-allocation of Perqs using the following mechanisms.
While SUS Support does not wish to reclaim unwanted Perq 1 machines, it is prepared to assist in the re-allocation of machines of this type. SERC will not accept any liability for the condition, the cost of transport or the future maintenance of this equipment.
SUS Support is prepared to be involved in the collection and re-allocation of unwanted Perq2s.
Priority in the re-allocation of Perq2s will be given to existing grantholders who already have Perq workstations provided under their grant (eg to replace a Perq1). Maintenance and support of reallocated machines will last for the duration of the grant only. All other conditions of the grant will still apply.
The ECF will arrange transport of Perq2s to their new owners.
Will you please tell SUS Support if you have any unwanted Perqs or wish to put in applications for additional machines. In the first instance, please contact SUS Support via Service Line.
Mark Phillips (Single User Systems Support)
Software for Engineering Applications Questionnaire
The Computing Facilities Technical Advisory Group (CFTAG) wishes to obtain information on current and potential use of application software by the Engineering Research community. Questionnaires have been widely distributed with a request that they are completed and returned by the end of March 1987.
If you work in an area supported by the Engineering Board and use, or intend to use, any form of application software and have not received a questionnaire, please contact Geoff Lambert (0235 44 6105 or email: email@example.com ).
Geoff Lambert (ECFE)
- Conference on Software Engineering Environments 8 - 10 April '87 University of Keele
- AVC87 Alvey Vision Conference 15 - 17 September '87 University of Cambridge