Upgrade and enhance remote computing
Five years ago with funding from the STF Committee, the Aero/Astro department upgraded its 2 Windows remote access servers. Today, the existing servers are out of date and more students than ever find it essential to remotely access engineering and mathematical applications that are required to complete their coursework but are not available for installation on their personal computers. In addition to local students who need access to the necessary software outside the department's 42-seat GUG 212 workstation lab, a growing number of graduate students are pursuing degrees from off-campus locations. And students are increasingly mobile, often using smartphones and touch pads in addition to their personal desktop/laptop computers. To meet the remote computing needs of our 400 matriculated students, the department requests STF funding to replace our 5-year-old STF-funded Windows remote-access servers, adding the capability to support Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and high-performance 3D data visualization.
This proposal seeks funding in the REMOTE COMPUTING category to upgrade an existing student remote computing resource in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics.
The Aero/Astro department has a total of about 400 matriculated students, including 150 undergraduate-level and 250 graduate-level students (not including Grad Non-Matriculated students). The department supports on-campus student computing in the Guggenheim Hall Room 212 Student Computing Facility, as well as remote Windows access for up to 20 sessions on the department's 2 Windows Terminal Servers. These servers were funded by STF proposal "2010-003-01 Aero/Astro Remote Computing and Storage Upgrade", but are now 5 years old and nearing the end of their useful life.
Undergrads -- While undergrads primarily use the GUG 212 computing facility, there are as many as 150 students competing for the available 42 workstations, and often no free workstations. The remote Windows access servers provide those students with an alternative to waiting, possibly for long periods, for a GUG 212 lab workstation to become available.
Graduate students -- Up to 100 students per quarter have very limited or no on-campus computer access, as they are taking courses from remote locations through the College of Engineering EDGE distance learning program or the AA department's MAE program. The solution for the Aero/Astro department has been to provide remote Windows access the needed engineering/mathematical applications on the department's Windows remote access servers.
Currently remote student access is supported on servers AAHYDRA and AAULTRA, running Microsoft Windows 2008 Server R2. Students initiate Windows sessions from their Windows and Mac personal computers, using the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client application. Almost every AA student has used these servers to complete course requirements, some on a daily basis. The existing servers were purchased with an earlier STF grant (2010-003-01) and have been in operation for nearly 5 years and are approaching the end of their useful life. Their original 3-year warranties have expired and continued maintenance is only available on a year-by-year basis, with all maintenance options expiring soon.
Students have regularly requested remote access to Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and high-performance 3D visualization. The department's current remote Windows capability is limited to the use of the Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop Protocol, which due to the lack of OpenGL support and poor graphics data stream compression, does not support high-performance graphics. Citrix XenDesktop/XenServer addresses these shortcomings, supporting remote access from student personal computers, as well as adding support for Apple and Android touch pads and smart phones.
Benefits to Students and the University
In addition to providing remote computing access for Puget Sound students, an increasing number of students are taking advantage of distance learning opportunities. A key requirement for these students is the ability to access required engineering and mathematical software from off-campus, including locations in other states. Without reliable access, these students are much less likely to enroll in these courses. Upgrading the two existing servers will enhance Windows remote session performance, enabling completion of coursework for more students. The addition of XenDesktop virtual graphics processing unit (vGPU) will allow students remote access to CAD and 3D visualization sessions, important for a growing number of students but not previously possible.
This proposal has been endorsed by the Aero-Astro department computing committee, department chair, and dean of the College of Engineering.
The hardware and software presents no uncertainties, having either been used for years or, in the case of XenDesktop, fully tested. So, assuming funding in early July, the resource will be available for student use by Autumn Quarter 2015.
Resources Provided by Department
The department's financial contribution to instructional computing is significant, including over $13,478 per year in ongoing expenses 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 classroom CAD $1,040
CD-Adapco Star-CCM+ CFD modeling $3,300
File server software/hardware $5,500
Total Expenditure $13,478 per year
The department has made a long-term commitment to support student file storage, having spent $45,000 to purchase a SAN file system in 2014. This storage will be used with the proposed Windows remote access servers. The department has 2 full-time professional computing support staff members responsible for providing technical support for the installation and support of these servers. The department has power, cooling, and network access already in place.
Access Restrictions (if any)
Access is currently limited to the following students.
1) students matriculated in the department (~400 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
Nathan Fulfs (Grad Student/Former Undergrad) -- I'm a student in the MAE program, and the AAHYDRA/AAULTRA servers are absolutely critical for me to participate in the program. If that level of remote access were not available, I simply wouldn't be able to participate in the program, as there's no way I could go into the lab to do my homework. The current hardware does meet my remote access needs, although it can be a bit laggy at times, and sometimes chokes on more computationally-intense operations. I did have to do some CAD work as an undergrad, and a remote option would have been nice then. I hope this helps. I really can't stress enough how essential the remote access is.
Tyler Leis (Junior) -- I personally use the Windows remote access very frequently and would be greatly affected if it were to go away. I have a Mac and rely on the AAHYDRA/AAULTRA servers for access to Windows when necessary. For example, I use MatLAB very often for homework assignments. The current hardware performance is irritatingly slow at times, especially when using process intensive programs. I believe we would all benefit from upgraded systems.
Karl Parsons (Grad Student) -- I am a remote student living in Denver, CO and taking graduate classes with the University of Washington. As I do not have personal copies of the software required for the classes that I have taken, the AAHYDRA/AAULTRA Windows remote desktop sessions are vital to my success in my program. I would not have been able to complete many of the assignments had the remote desktop sessions not been available.
Ben Greaves (Junior) -- As an AA student, I feel that remote Windows access is extremely important and upgrading that would be worthwhile. I've used the remote workstations a lot, especially for completing coursework, and have noticed that while they are a useful tool and function adequately, increased performance would be very much appreciated. They do also help when GUG 212 is full or closed for whatever reason, or when I am unable to access GUG 212 for some reason. I haven't personally used remote CAD software, but I feel that the inclusion of this capability would be extremely beneficial. I know that while I personally have a copy of SolidWorks on my personal computer, several other students do not, and would appreciate the capability of accessing it remotely.
Michael Heyns (Grad Student) -- My only access to all of the computing resources I need is accessed remotely via aahydra. I'm a distance learning masters's student and I have found the remote access to be critically valuable to me. High-performance CAD is absolutely important for my educational needs, as is high-performance modeling and simulation so this added functionality would be amazing to have I think.
Lillian Pryor (Graduate Student) -- I found its use invaluable for my classes. I used it all the time for matlab, and it allowed me to work on homework and class projects in the library or at home. I commonly accessed my work on different computers. I personally did not use (remote - ed.) cad or solidworks but would have found solidworks extremely useful for research purposes.
Sander Levine (Graduate Student) -- I utilize AAHYDRA frequently, often to use mathematica which is installed on my home desktop but not on the laptop I bring to and from school. I have been disappointed in the past with the slow performance of the remote desktop especially when rendering anything remotely graphic intensive in mathematica. I think an upgrade of the system is desperately needed. I have not utilized the CAD capability during the 90-day evaluation period but I do think it would be a nice resource to have available.
Mishaal Aleem (Senior) -- Having access to AAHYDRA/AAULTRA Windows remote desktop definitely helps me complete my coursework. While the computer lab is certainly a great resource in itself, during busy hours there are not enough computers. Additionally, on weekends and late nights, it is often more convenient to work from home. These are both situations where the remote desktops are very helpful as they are easy to access from anywhere and have all the functionality for me to be able to complete my work. Even with my own personal laptop, many of the tools required for class are not available for free, whereas the remote desktop has them all. Personally, having access to the remote desktop has definitely been important for me as an A&A student.
Sarah Langston (Grad Student) -- The access to AAHYDRA/AAULTRA windows remote desktop sessions have been extremely important to me in completing my coursework, and especially research. I have had numerous occasions where I have had to travel away from Seattle, yet still needed to use programs installed on the servers to complete research tasks in a timely matter. As a matter of convenience, it has also been nice to be able to access the departmental programs from other spots on campus, rather than the computer lab. The current performance has met my needs. I did use Citrix XenDesktop remote to try to do some Unigraphics work during the 90 day trial. I did not have much time to work with it, but the ability to access a CAD platform remotely was very helpful to my education. If at all possible, I would try to have keep this option.
Trevor Avant (Grad Student) -- I am a second-year grad student. I use AAHYDRA and AAULTRA often, mostly so I can use MATLAB at home. Is access to AAHYDRA/AAULTRA Windows remote desktop sessions important to completing your coursework or research, especially if you don't use the GUG 212 lab or are a remote student? Yes it is. It allows me to do a lot of work at home which is far more convenient, and in some cases is my only option. Does the performance of the current hardware meet your needs?
At home, the remote desktop lags quite a bit. If it lagged any more I probably wouldn't use it. It is at the lower end of the spectrum of usability. An upgrade would be great.
John Gim (BSAEE 2015) -- AAHYDRA/AAULTRA remote desktop sessions have proven to be invaluable during my undergraduate years at the Aeronautics and Astronautics department at the UW. Access to programs I can't afford personally (such as Solidworks, ANSYS APDL, ANSYS Fluent, MathType 6, FEMAP/NASTRAN etc.) is crucial and necessary to complete assignments and research. At times when the computer lab is busy, I have always been fortunate to have remote desktop options so that I can still control my time on my own terms without having to wait for a local computer to be available. It is also incredibly helpful to have access at home or away from campus. At times when I couldn't come to campus because of a pre-arranged absence, I still had a way to accomplish some work through remote desktop.
However, it is not without its faults. I believe that the performance of the current software could be improved through site licenses of XenDesktop vGPU virtual sessions. I have used the Citrix remote client over a dozen times during the 90-day trial period and it was far smoother in rendering CAD programs than Microsoft-enabled remote desktop. The experience was akin to working on CAD programs through a local computer. It is, without a doubt, far superior than remote desktop for CAD applications.
Many students in the department are actively engaged in CAD work due to the highly intensive design process required by many projects and extracurricular clubs. The SARP group uses Solidworks on a daily basis to update rocket geometry and uses Solidworks drawings to machine them in the AA shop. The senior capstone project for aircraft uses Unigraphics NX 8.5 on a daily basis to draw airfoilds, fuselages and nacelles. The Ram Accelerator laboratory uses Solidworks to design valves and polycarbonate sabots for testing high-energy bursts. CAD is the foundation for all design processes and having access to high-performance CAD remote clients such as Citrix would be beneficial for most, if not all, of the students in the engineering departments. I believe this is an important step in advancing the level of education provided by the college of engineering at UW which if not heeded, will prove to be more detrimental in the years to come.
Ian Johnson (Grad Student) -- I regularly use hydra and ultra to connect to the AA servers, mostly for editing my dissertation when not at school. I used the Citrix remote desktop for solidworks a number of times this spring and would regularly use it again if the department renews its license.
Ward Handley (Graduate Student) -- Yes, remote desktop sessions are important and helpful for completing my course work. This is the only way I have access to high performance machines (I only own a laptop) and some of the homework sets coming out of our AMATH and CFD courses require significant compute resources. I have tried using Solidworks remotely in other situations and it is a pain. Having that functionality built in is necessary because dynamic hi-res visualization of data, models, designs, etc. are the norm now. Upgrades to the hydra and ultra hardware are also welcome improvements. The individual workstations in the Gug 212 lab are quite slow and are really only good for code development. To run code in a timely manner it is often necessary to leverage hydra or ultra. I also like that they are remote machines so you don’t have people physically camped out on them in the lab.
David Lammers (Graduate Student) -- Having the Windows remote desktop is extremely important. As a grad student that lives in Snohomish, I do not make it down to campus very often. Without the remote desktop access I would have to purchase those programs that are not available for free (Matlab, etc). I did not get a chance to use any of the modeling software when it was available, but I think that it is a valuable feature to have available for any engineering college, especially one like UW.
Andrey Sharkov (Graduate Student) -- I am a remote student in the MAE program. I have frequently used the remote desktop server to complete homework assignments during my first year here. My usage has been restricted at this point to Matlab and Mathematica software. Currently the performance of the remote desktops is acceptable. A slight lag/delay exists between input and results, but for text based input it is not a big deal. It would be a bigger issue with running 3D CAD software or other, more intensive applications. Having more updated and modernized servers would be an overall benefit for the department and especially for remote students with no real access to the computer lab.
Son Nguyen (Graduate Student) -- This was extremely important to me as the software/applications I need for completing my projects from previous coursework are resided on the computers where I need to use the AAHYDRA/AAULTRA Windows remote desktop to use them. Sometimes I use the UWAA lab workstations, but the students in the lab are sometimes too loud. I end up leaving the lab and use the AAHYDRA/AAULTRA access via Windows remote desktop. The current computing does meet my needs; however, a more powerful machine/hardware would not hurt as when I need to use FLUENT for CFD analysis from last quarter. It would speed up the simulations a lot faster.
Noel Kim (Graduate Student) -- Many grad students prefer working on their own workstation in their lab, TA/RA office, home, etc. and being able to access department resources via remote desktop is essential. Graphic rendering (on the current servers) is sluggish, for FEMAP, Solidworks etc. Pure CPU analysis seems adequate. I think it (vGPU CAD) will be very beneficial. Solidworks and NX licenses can be very costly yet it is an essential resource for all engineering students.
Matthew Gray (Graduate Student) -- I am a distance student in my second year of the MAE program. I use the AAHYDRA access almost 3-4 times a week especially since I can't use GUG212. The main program I use is MATLAB/Simulink. Last quarter I used the ANSYS Workbench a lot, but that was for CFD work that I am not expecting to do much more of being a Controls focused student. The performance usually meets my needs. I have even used it on the other side of the world while I was deployed without much issue. I have had issues in the past with a delay in what I typed showing up on the screen, but that may be due to internet issues on my end since it is not a constant issue. Being a distance student, the Remote Desktop capability is a great capability and a real selling point for the MAE program especially since the program is designed for working professionals who don't necessarily live on campus or in the Seattle area.
Citrix XenDesktop Platinum suite includes XenDesktop Studio and StoreFront, which are hosted on a separate server and coordinate access to the virtual machines that are stored and managed by the Citrix XenServer hypervisor host. The Citrix Receiver client application is installed on student devices, including Windows and Mac laptops. as well as iOS and Android touch pads and smart phones.Justification
Citrix XenDesktop Platinum software is required to support high-performance CAD and 3D visualization remote Windows sessions from devices students commonly use, including Windows and Macintosh computers, Apple iOS and Android smartphones and touch-pads. Unlike Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop, XenDesktop client sessions support the OpenGL graphics protocol, required by almost all CAD and 3D visualization programs, and boosts session responsiveness, even on relatively low-performance home networks, by automatically compressing/decompressing the graphics data stream.
SolidWorks is an industry standard CAD program. The Academic Research license is required for any non-classroom CAD drawings, including research projects.Justification
Proficiency in the use of industry standard Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) software facilitates the design and fabrication of experimental equipment necessary to complete student research projects, and enhances student employment prospects.
The Silicon Mechanics Rackform iServ R4552 server supports 4 server nodes within a single 4U chassis. The node used for Citrix XenServer hypervisor virtual machines will have 128GB memory, 2 2.6Ghz 10-core Xeon processors, 3 Nvidia GRID K2 modules, and 6 200GB SSD, hosting 6 vGPU virtual machines, running Windows 7 Enterprise. The remaining 3 nodes will each have 64GB memory and 2 2.6Ghz 6-core Xeon processors and a single 15k 600GB SAS drive with eMLC SSD Turbo-boost. One node will host the XenDesktop Studio and StoreFront applications, which coordinate access to the vGPU virtual machines hosted on the XenServer hypervisor. The remaining 2 nodes replace the department's existing Windows Remote Desktop servers, continuing to support Windows Remote Desktop client sessions.Justification
To support the high-performance remote Windows sessions needed for engineering coursework, servers need adequate cpu performance, memory, storage capacity, and for vGPU virtual machines, PCIe peripheral slots to support the installation of Nvidia GRID K2 GPU adapters. Unlike separate servers, this 4-node chassis shares redundant power supplies, significantly reducing power consumption and cooling requirements.
Washington State sales taxJustification
Total requested: $47,302.90
Total funded: $0.00
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