Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lab and printing services uncertain after Spring 2012

From: OCF announcements <announce@OCF.Berkeley.EDU>
To: All OCF members
Subject: OCF lab and printing ending after Spring 2012
Date: Wed, Dec 7, 2011 01:31p PST

Hello OCF members,

Last night OCF's volunteer staff unanimously decided to close lab services, including free printing, after Spring 2012.

OCF, as with other student groups in Eshleman Hall, will be moved out of the building in August before it is demolished as part of Bears Initiative. Until new space is obtained elsewhere on campus, we have been allocated temporary space in Hearst Gymnasium basement for the duration of Lower Sproul construction, which is projected to last for at least 3 years.

This area is limited both in space and technical resources, and we feel that it would be a disservice to all OCF members to provide an unreliable and inadequate level of service, in both quality and quantity. We would not be able to fit much of our computing and printing equipment into the space allotted to us, and time constraints limit what can be set up before the fall semester begins.

We understand and share your concern for the OCF. We too are students and members of the OCF. This is a drastic change for the organization, which has had a lab since 1989.

We want to restore the lab and its services as soon as possible, but we must also keep in mind the process of our last two moves (to Heller Lounge in the MLK Student Union, and to our present location in Eshleman). It would be dishonest if we were not to give notice of lab downtime, which has been unavoidable and
excessive during each move. Furthermore, the compressed space and needs of other student groups constrain us more than in the past.

We hope that by shifting resources, we will be able to compensate by expanding our other services, including currently web hosting, disk space, email, and shell accounts, and ensure that they would not be disrupted by a move as they have been before. We are looking at our options for negotiating server space and we will continue hosting websites, including those of student groups. We will better assist other students and student groups as a technical resource given our close proximity in the temporary space, and encourage you to make use of what we would be able to offer.

We will be considering all options, including other space if available, and appreciate any feedback or advice you can offer. We don't want to let you down...

Good luck on finals guys,
OCF staff members,
Eshleman basement

P.S. One of the printers is broken, so printing might be slower than we'd hope, but please, enjoy our lab while it lasts. 9am-9pm hours during dead week and finals, see our website for more info.

You have received this announcement to update you about important changes to the OCF. The Open Computing Facility is an all-volunteer student organization providing free shell accounts, disk space, web hosting, email, and printing from a lab, lounge, and server room in Eshelman Hall.

Update Dec 8: Daily Cal has published an article: Computing facility in Eshleman Hall to close after next semester

Update Dec 17: To clarify, OCF is not going away, but staff felt that, given our constraints, it would not be possible to guarantee a public lab next fall, and misleading if we did not inform members. The post's title has been updated to reflect that lab and printing services are uncertain, since no decision is made in stone, and the constraints which led to our decision can (and hopefully will) change. Sorry about the confusion.

Two years ago OCF completed its 15-month move from Heller Lounge in MLK to the larger space in Eshleman, with excessive lab and server downtime (caused in part by the discovery of asbestos and later a failed pump flooding the new lab, then a pipe burst dropping raw sewage, then a network and later power outage which was prolonged). The current move leaves us two weeks (Aug 1 to Aug 15) to move and bring the lab up in a much smaller space before the semester begins. That also includes getting rid of desktops, servers, and equipment that would not fit in the space, since Moore's Law makes the storage of aging computer hardware uneconomical.

We also hoped that by not committing ourselves to the lab immediately, we would leave ourselves time to ensure that non-lab services, like web hosting, would not be disrupted by the move. During the last move our web hosting, used by many student groups, was down for several months, and the complaints were not pretty. To this day we hear about OCF "unreliability" based on that downtime.

And lastly, we have every intent to restore our lab when it is possible and when we have the logistics of the space worked out. To quote an ex-staff member: "The group's choice to focus on back-end makes a lot of sense given the uncertainty with construction and space."

And yes, this makes us very unhappy.