Aeronautics & Astronautics Computer Lab Upgrade
Students in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics have a critical need for access to computers capable of running demanding engineering and mathematical applications. Learning to become proficient with these applications is critical to the educational and professional development of our students. The department offers students a local computer lab with access to such computers and software, and this local resource not only meets our students' critical educational needs but also fosters camaraderie and collaboration which greatly enriches the educational experience and development of our students. Our department's computer lab consists of 41 workstations purchased with funds from previous STF proposals: 32 were purchased in 2009, and 10 were purchased in 2013. We are proposing to replace the oldest 32 workstations (circa 2009) in 2 phases (separate proposals) with 16 newer, faster, modern workstations. The first phase would be now with the second phase next year. The 16 displaced workstations will be redistributed to a smaller lab in the department to continue to meet student demand for computing access.
This proposal seeks funding to upgrade an existing computer lab in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics.
The Aero/Astro department has a total of about 381 students, including 148 undergraduate-level and 233 graduate-level students (not including Grad Non-Matriculated). The department supports student computing in the Guggenheim Hall Room 212 Student Computing Facility, as well as supporting remote access to student computing on the department's 2 Windows Terminal Servers. The facility's 41 existing computers were purchased under previous STF proposals, listed below:
STF 2009-015-1 -- 32 HP z400 workstations (5-year old 3 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, warranty expired)
STF 2013-022 – 12 HP z220 (2-year old Xeon E3 3.4 GHz, under warranty)
All undergraduate-level and most graduate-level students use the student computing resources. The existing 41 Windows workstations are heavily used, with students occasionally finding no vacant computers during peak hours. The computers usually remain busy late into the evenings, 7 days a week.
Student demand for computer access increases during Winter and Spring quarters, when all undergraduate seniors are involved in their senior design projects. These projects focus on either aeronautical or astronautical design and require that the students apply fundamental principles to the design and fabrication of aircraft and space vehicles. In recent years the department has expanded the senior design course requirements to include detailed computer-based drafting and engineering analysis of project designs. As the student designs progress, all the facility's computers are in use for up to 16 hours a day as seniors attempt to perform required design and analysis and complete their reports. We recently sought feedback from students on the condition and capabilities of the lab PC's (see the “Student Endorsements” section of this proposal for examples) and responses stated that the newer 10 workstations are very capable but usually busy, while the 32 5-year old Intel Core 2 Duo-based workstations sometimes cannot run the more-demanding applications required for their classes. Many of the respondents expressed moderate or strong support for replacing the 32 outdated workstations. Nearly all respondents pointed out monitor issues or the desire for bigger widescreen monitors.
Benefits to Students and the University
Skill in computer-aided drafting, design, and analysis continues to be fundamental to professional engineering. The engineering design process has become fully integrated with computer-based structural and fluid dynamic analysis, as well as the testing and manufacturing process. Our students dramatically enhance their employability in engineering by being skilled in the use of high-end CAD/CAM, mathematical, and engineering analysis applications. Workstations with powerful processors and engineering graphics adapters, large memory and high-resolution displays are needed to adequately utilize these engineering applications.
The number of workstations that can be installed in the GUG 212 student computing facility is a maximum of 41. Given this limited number of computers, every computer needs to be capable of meeting the computing requirements of all department courses. The oldest 32 workstations in the facility are 5 years old and based upon the outdated Intel Core 2 Duo processor. They are no longer capable of running the most demanding engineering applications. The increased computer performance and availability afforded with the replacement of the 16 outdated workstations will allow more students to complete their coursework and become more proficient with these tools, improving their student experience and expanding their future employment opportunities.
The proposal was developed and endorsed by the department's computing committee, and is further endorsed by the department’s Interim Chair as well as the the Dean of the College of Engineering.
There is no expected delay in the purchase and installation of the proposed workstations. The workstations are readily available from CDW•G. The department's full-time computing support staff are skilled and ready to install the new workstations. The desks on which the computers will be installed are in place and ready for use, and the necessary power and network access are available, currently serving 16 of the 32 oldest workstations to be replaced. The new workstations will get the 16 new widescreen monitors included in this proposal. The new workstations should be available to students within several weeks of their purchase, or the next academic quarter break.
Resources Provided by Department
The department's financial contribution to instructional computing is significant, including over $13,478 per year to maintain instructional software licenses and hardware maintenance contracts. This includes annual renewal for the following applications and hardware.
Mathworks Matlab and toolboxes $2,270
ANSYS finite-element modeling $1,368
SolidWorks CAD $1,040
CD-Adapco Star-CCM+ CFD modeling $3,300
File server software/hardware $5,500
Total Expenditure $13,478 per year
These expenditures complement the proposed STF award and are made available from departmental and fiscal resources.
The department has 2 full-time professional computing support staff members responsible for providing technical support for the installation and support of these workstations. The department has desk space, furniture, power and network access already in place.
Access Restrictions (if any)
The department's Guggenheim Hall computer lab is a 41-seat, self-monitored, 24x7 year-round operation. To maintain security and minimize equipment theft we currently limit access to the computer lab through the use of a HuskyCard-based electronic lock. The following students have access to the computer lab:
1) students matriculated in the department (~380 students)
2) non-Aero/Astro students registered for an Aero/Astro department class (~20 students per quarter)
3) students participating in research projects with Aero/Astro faculty members (<5 students per quarter)
The department proposes permitting continued access to STF-purchased computers under the above criteria. Students who do not fall into one of the groups listed above may request access to our department's computer lab, but such access would be limited to students with a legitimate need for the special capabilities offered, e.g., engineering design and analysis. Students meeting these criteria would agree to relinquish the use of the workstations to students in the above listed groups if no other workstations are available.
The 381 undergraduate and graduate students matriculated in the department were recently asked to respond to an email survey regarding the availability and quality of student computing in the department. Of the students that responded, 48% expressed moderate or strong support for replacing the 32 outdated workstations.
STUDENT COMMENTS IN SUPPORT OF REPLACING 32 OUTDATED WORKSTATIONS:
“For larger solidworks assemblies the performance can be very slow. Updated Processor, Memory and graphics to handle larger projects.” Zachary Perry (Senior)
“Yes, older workstations take long to even open a web browser. I have particularly noticed its slow processing speed when running medium sized codes on computational software such as Matlab.” John Gim (Senior)
“They could be a bit snappier, bigger monitors would be really nice.” Ward Handley (Grad Student)
“Yes - slower computers run programs like Solidworks and Matlab less efficiently,” Kendall Dale (Junior)
“I've found the computers to hang sometimes while I'm working. If they were higher performance this wouldn't be an issue.” Danny Crews (Junior)
“For more complex finite element simulations, I found the performance to be a bit limiting, as models get more complex, particularly when simulating composite materials (a big focus in the structures groups of our department), it is nice to have the processing power and memory to complete through these problem quickly. Because most things are now formatted for 16x9, changing to that format could be beneficial. Also, bigger is typically better as it allows for multitasking such as reading the user’s manual while operating a program at the same time. Faster processors, more RAM and bigger monitors are always a plus” Luke Richard (Grad Student)
“When you are trying to do some things in Solidworks or Ansys, the speed of the computers is not quite good enough.” Minh Button (Senior)
“Sometimes programs such as ANSYS take a very long time to run, even with relatively simple and unrefined meshes. Slightly larger monitors, maybe 23" with a 16:9 aspect ratio would be beneficial for multitasking, like splitting the screen in order to have two programs open at once, which can be very necessary when simulating things.” Alex Cureton (Senior)
“An increased monitor would be nice as mentioned, but an updated processor would indeed be necessary” Tarik Haj-Khalil (Junior)
“The CPU and overall speed definitely affects their utility--start-up time takes foreeeeever compared to, say, the workstations that are in the CSE labs I use. The big issue seems to be boot time and login time. Seems like the CPU is an issue. RAM might also have an effect,” Nathaniel Guy (Grad Student)
“A higher resolution monitor would be ideal for viewing one document while editing another; something I frequently do while writing lab reports and doing homework.” Brian Ramaley (Junior)
HP Workstation Z420 - Xeon E5-1620V2 3.7 GHz - 8 GB - 500 GB
These workstations are a vast improvement over the 32 oldest workstations in the lab, and will enable the students to run the computationally intensive engineering and mathematical software required by their coursework. Each workstation consists of:
HP EliteDisplay E241i - LED monitor - 24" - Smart Buy
A 24" 16:10 (1920x1200) workstation LED monitor, capable of displaying multiple windows of high-resolution engineering and mathematical application output is required for effective use of engineering workstations. The lab currently has 4:3 non-widescreen 20" monitors (1600x1200). Many students who responded to the survey expressed big desire for 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen monitors.
This is the required state and local sales and use tax owed on each workstation we purchase.
This amount was calculated using the State of Washington Department of Revenue's Sales and Use Tax Rate Lookup Tool available at the above URL.
Total requested: $34,869.00
Total funded: $34,869.00
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