Monday, July 21, 2008

  • 'Redundant' Internet link works
  • Robot plane is ready to compete
  • Notes in the last week of classes
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

'Redundant' Internet link works

A backup connection between UW and the worldwide Internet is in place and working, the staff of the Campus Network confirmed Friday after a test that they hadn’t planned for.

“UW now has a redundant internet service, and a redundant pair of border routers,” said Bruce Campbell, director of network services for Information Systems and Technology. “We can now experience a failure of our primary internet service provider (ISP), or either border router, without complete loss of service, as had been the case in the past.”

Backup for the university’s Internet connection (serving the outposts in Cambridge and Kitchener, as well as the main Waterloo campus) became an issue last year after several outages in the summer and early fall. Campbell said last September that IST was looking into the possibility of a second connection to the Internet.

That arrangement is in place now, he said, explaining: “Our primary ISP is still Cogent, with whom we have a 500 megabit/second symmetric service, charged at a flat monthly rate. Cogent’s nearest point-of-presence is in Toronto, and we rely on the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) to connect UW to Cogent.

“In the past 12 months, there were approximately 30 hours of ORION service interruption, which meant UW had no Internet service for those 30 hours.

“We've contracted with Hydro One Telecommunications (HOT) to provide UW a secondary Internet service, with a base 30 megabits/second, burstable to 300 megabits/second, charged according to usage based on a 95th percentile calculation, which is common practice with burstable services. HOT has a local PoP, allowing UW to connect directly to their service.”

In normal circumstances, Cogent will still carry UW’s traffic. “The connection to Cogent and HOT is configured as active/standby,” Campbell said, “with the HOT service being activated automatically, if Cogent is down or unreachable. During such a transition, there would still be a brief service interruption, while worldwide internet routing tables are updated.”

The unscheduled test of the HOT arrangement — which IST technical people call a “failover” — came on Thursday morning starting about 8:15. “There was a one-hour failure of ORION,” says Campbell, “and our service switched over to HOT and nobody noticed.” There was a second failover around noon the same day, lasting about ten minutes.

He says the decision to use an “active/standby” configuration rather than “active/active” — two companies’ connections working at the same time — “was driven by economics. The latter would cost approximately $250,000 more annually, because of the high ongoing cost of symmetric services. The burstable service has a lower base cost, but becomes very expensive if used heavily. We will not experience excessive charges unless our primary service is unavailable for over 36 hours in a given month, and historically that has never happened.

“If symmetric services become more affordable over time, we'll review our options.”

He noted that the steps taken so far aren’t proof against “partial worldwide internet failures, as has happened some times in the past when Cogent had peering disputes with other ISP's, notably France Telecom, and Level 3. We're still vulnerable to those. An active/active configuration would be required to address that risk.”

In the past year, Campbell says, UW has had 46 hours of downtime for its Internet connection: “16 hours were our issues (8 hour core failure, 8 hour border router failure), and 30 hours were ORION.” One of the ORION problems happened when a construction crew cut through a fibre optic cable; other failures occurred while the network was attempting to deploy new technology to increase resilience to failures.

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[Takeoff]Robot plane is ready to compete

You can click the image at left to see the first-ever flight of Hyperion, an unmanned craft built by students that will represent UW at the International Aerial Robotics Competition next week. Well, you could until week's end, anyway; YouTube is now listing the video as "removed".

“This probably the largest UAV being constructed by student teams,” says a proud faculty advisor, David Wang of UW’s electrical and computer engineering department. The students are organized as WARG, the Waterloo Aerial Robotics Group, whose web site explains that it’s all about the international contest.

Says the site: “The objective of this multi-year competition is to push the envelope of technology by seriously challenging students to accomplish near-impossible mission objectives. The goal is to build a fleet of air vehicles capable of flying three kilometres, identifying target buildings, entering the structures and navigating inside to obtain visual reconnaissance information. This must be done within a period of 15 minutes and without the help of any crew.”

The 2008 competition opens July 28 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The competition’s web site, with the official rules, cites three “scenarios” that the teams are modelling: hostage rescue, inspection of an out-of-control nuclear reactor, and an Indiana-Jones-style raid on an ancient mausoleum.

Hyperion, named for a sun-flyer in ancient Greek mythology, is the largest robot to be built by WARG, says Wang. The airplane has a wing span of 4.3 metres (14 feet) and a body length of 3.7 metres. Weighing in at 40 kilograms (90 pounds), it's powered by two electric motors and has a flight time of 25 minutes. (After three successful flight tests, WARG members are now working on the airplane's autopilot.)

It took three years and about 40 people to design Hyperion. Among them is team leader Jason Dyck, a mechanical engineering student, who says that what Hyperion has going for it is size and speed. "The plane is very large and capable of carrying a lot of cargo. It can travel at much higher speeds than can the helicopters used by other teams."

Challenges Hyperion will face in the competition include autonomously flying a three-kilometre aerial course, visually identifying a marked building and releasing a parachute containing two vehicles.

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Notes in the last week of classes

I'd better start with an important correction: Thursday's Daily Bulletin reported that Margarita Neumann, retired from the staff of UW's library, had died recently. That's not the case. Such notices are usually based on memos from the human resources department, and HR says that in this case its memo was in error. What should have been announced was the June 24 death of Margarita Neumann's husband, Rudolf.

[Magazine cover with a circular something]The second ("summer") issue of Catalyst magazine, published by UW's Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, has appeared, and does that mandala on the cover (right) remind you of anything? A note inside the magazine explains that planning student Ryan Felix "created the planetoid, called "Gear" from photos of Dana Porter Library (outer ring) and the Davis Centre (inner ring). "Inspired by the perpetual activity found in these on-campus hubs," it says, "'Gear' represents student life at its very best. The gears of these student centres are driven by learning and doing, and the forward momentum accrued there is exactly what's needed to propel students forward into lives of innovation and creativity." The magazine reports on student-driven innovation at UW, the research being done inside CBET, and the work done by some of the centre's master's degree graduates, including Kurt Gooden, who's an executive in the "applied innovation department" at RBC Royal Bank of Canada. "Within the economy of RBC," says the magazine, "he does everything an entrepreneur outside of the company would do."

A memo from Alan George, associate provost (information systems and technology): "As you may know, Reg Quinton, senior technologist responsible for IT security, recently left UW. This has prompted us to review IT security services within IST as well as for the campus generally. Thanks to all who provided assistance and advice. Our intent is to create an IT Security unit, responsible for both strategy and operations. While IT security duties are shared by numerous groups that support computers and software, the new unit will provide focus and resources for key security projects, directions, and operations. The group leader will report to the Associate Provost, IST. We will begin soon to recruit the leader of this unit, and plan to add a small number of staff positions to it through reallocation of open positions within IST. In the interim, staff within the Computing Systems Services and Network Services units of IST are providing operational support for security where necessary."

"Do you avoid purchasing bottled water or single use products?" asks a memo from UW's Employee Assistance Program drawing attention to an event this Wednesday. "Are you using the blue recycling box correctly? Are you using the energy saving light bulbs that are available? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you have thought about your carbon footprint — a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. It is meant to be useful for individuals and organizations to conceptualize their personal (or organizational) impact in contributing to global warming. Please pack an environmentally friendly lunch, join Mike Greulich, an employee in the Plant Operations Department and EAP committee member, as he provides an array of facts and ideas that are easy to incorporate into our day-to-day lives both at home and at work. Mike has had a long time interest in our environment and has done his own research into this topic. He has implemented many changes into his home life which he would like to share with the UW community. It promises to be an entertaining and lively discussion." Wednesday's session is a brown-bag lunch starting at 12 noon in Davis Centre room 1302.


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The Centre for Contact Lens Research, in UW’s school of optometry, is marking its 20th anniversary, and there’s extra cause for celebration: its director, Desmond Fonn, has received the 2008 Medal of the British Contact Lens Society) in recognition of "outstanding contribution” to the field. As head of the CCLR since its beginnings, Fonn has been a leader in the field of contact lens research, particularly relating to the significant role played by oxygen in eye health. His research has contributed to work on silicone hydrogel contact lenses, which allow the eye to breathe more than conventional contact lenses allow.

Link of the day

Stratford Summer Music

When and where

Library hours extended for exam season, through August 16: Dana Porter Library, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; Davis Centre library, 24 hours a day except Sundays 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.

'Early researcher awards' announcement by Ontario government representative, 10 a.m., CEIT building foyer, by invitation.

Blood donor clinic Monday-Thursday (10:00 to 3:00) and Friday (9:00 to 2:00), Student Life Centre multipurpose room, appointments phone 1-888-236-6283.

Reuse Fair sponsored by UW Sustainability Project, Wednesday 10:00 to 3:00, Student Life Centre: drop off unwanted items at free pickup and swap tables for clothing, books, CDs, games, sports equipment, etc.

Systems design engineering student exhibition on product design, Wednesday 10:00 to 2:00, Davis Centre room 1301.

Music student recitals Wednesday 12:30, Conrad Grebel UC chapel.

Waterloo Public Interest Research Group presents Marc Xuereb, Waterloo Region Public Health, “Toward a Healthy Food System in Waterloo Region” Wednesday 5:30 p.m., lower atrium, Student Life Centre.

University Choir spring concert Wednesday 8 p.m., The Cedars, 543 Beechwood Drive, tickets $10 (students $8) at door.

Rogers Cup men’s tennis tournament at York University, UW Alumni Night this Thursday, details available online.

The New Quarterly “One Book” bus tour: “Follow the trail of local eating,” Saturday 8:45 to 5:00, tickets $70, information ext. 28290.

Engineering Jazz Band concert Saturday 7:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre (note date changed from Tuesday).

Greg Frewin Magic Show Sunday, July 27, 12:30 and 3:30, Humanities Theatre.

PhD oral defences

Computer science. Troy Vasiga, “Error Detection in Number-Theoretic and Algebraic Algorithms.” Supervisor, Jeffrey Shallit. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Wednesday, July 30, 10:00 a.m., Davis Centre room 2314.

Electrical and computer engineering. Maryam Moradi, “Vertical Thin Film Transistor for Large Area Electronics.” Supervisors, Arokia Nathan and Sherman X. Shen. On display in the faculty of engineering, PHY 3004. Oral defence Friday, August 1, 2:00 p.m., CEIT room 3142.

Computer science. Gulay Unel, “Deciding Second-order Logics Using Database Evaluation Techniques.” Supervisor, David Toman. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Tuesday, August 5, 1:00 p.m., Davis Centre room 1331.

Statistics and actuarial science. Runhuan Feng, “A General Approach in Ruin Theory with Applications in Credit Risk Analysis.” Supervisors, Jun Cai and Gord Willmot. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Tuesday, August 5, 2:00 p.m., Math and Computer room 6027.

Computer science. Xinyi Dong, “A Hybrid Model for Object-Oriented Software Maintenance.” Supervisor, Mike Godfrey. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Thursday, August 7, 2:00 p.m., Davis Centre room 1331.

Friday's Daily Bulletin