Current status of Maths computing facilities...

May 25th: Latest news all systems & services operating normally

One unfortunate conseqeunce of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be the huge increase in cyber attacks. It's not clear why this is so but several external-facing systems in Maths and webservers we host on behalf of external mathematical organisations have at times sustained heavy attacks. These attacks use faked source IP addresses which can also change very rapidly, meaning the culprits simply cannot be nailed down and identified. Work is in progress to semi-automate a counter-attack solution for webservers but fully-automated mitigation is not yet possible since decisions (guesses actually, in some cases) need to be taken by a human as to whether the source IP address is that of a genuine visitor to a website or whether it is an attacker.

During a visit to college on Sunday May 17th, cfm-ic1 was re-connected to the college network, the SDLT 320 backup tape drive was replaced and the issue affecting ma-backup2 was resolved. Another 8 kW UPS unit was installed and the new GPU server, nvidia4, is up and running and is available for use now.

As we begin week 10 of remote working at the College, we're happy to report very few problems have arisen with Maths research IT services & systems. The new 8 x GPU server is now in place and ready for use,, another large compute server for the Stats section, is now in use and a pair of new servers that will soon host all of the London Mathematical Society's websites and online services went 'live' some weeks ago ready for the web developers to begin work on new sites. Several compute servers have had operating system upgrades and some minor repairs were carried out onsite on May 17th.

Research IT services fully operational during the college shutdown

Maths research IT systems and services are currently operating as normal and will remain fully available along with the usual levels of support for users even though College is now closed to all from Wednesday March 18th onwards. The global Covid-19 infection is a very fluid and fast-moving situation so if necessary, this status page will be updated several times a day with emerging news and developments.

By its very nature, research IT is well-suited to remote working due to its client-server model; research users are familiar with the idea of working for years on end with unseen systems they may have never seen (the server), interacting with them from their own PC, laptop, tablet or even a smartphone (the client). So a wholesale switch in the College's modus operandi to remote working will not come as a shock to these users, for whom it will be business as usual as far as computing is concerned.

The College - and in particular ICT - will do everything it can to support remote working. Maths users have a variety of methods they can use to work remotely:

  • if you wish to access a Windows computer remotely you can use the college's Remote Desktop Gateway - see the ICT documentation for more details

  • you also can use the college VPN service which is a more flexible option for research users since it's not limited to accessing just Windows PCs. Using the MS PPTP protocol, it is well-supported by remote systems running Windows, Linux and Android but is no longer supported by Mac OS X. It's also supported by UNIXes such as Solaris, FreeBSD & OpenBSD (if you would like ready-to-use configuration files to access Imperial's VPN service from a system running FreeBSD, let me know).

  • use one of the Maths ssh gateways - this is probably the best option for most Maths Linux and UNIX research users since all of the generally accessible Maths home directory, file and data storage servers are mounted directly on the gateways. So you can log into one of these via ssh and access your data and better still, you can transfer files into & out of the various storage servers using scp or sftp without having to log into specific clusters or compute servers. For security reasons, these gateways use a non-standard access port so ask me for information about this if you don't already know what this is (it won't be stated here for obvious reasons!).

  • use the college's ssh gateway service - you'll need to sign up with the ICT Service Desk beforehand to use this service and more information can be found at the bottom of the ICT Remote Access page. To be frank, this service is of limited use to Maths research users since there is no access to Maths home directory, file and data storage servers, X-Windows forwarding is disabled (so GUI programs cannot be run remotely) and there is very limited local storage on this service. You can however make onward ssh connections to Maths systems from this gateway.

Some bespoke remote access solutions are available for specialist applications - these are not publicly advertised for security reasons but if you require a specialist remote access solution that is not available for general use, please enquire.

May 21st: known issues

Current known problems are listed below:

March 20th: legacy known issues

As always, hardware faults can occur when systems that have been powered on for years are first powered off and then back on again a short while later and the following equipment were casualties of the scheduled power-downs on March 3rd and 11th:

  • archimedes: this compute system is awaiting repair after two disks failed following the March 3rd power-down

  • fira: this elderly workstation in the Stats Linux cluster is also awaiting disk replacement but since the new madul, midal and model large compute servers which were introduced last month effectively supercede it, repair of this seldom-used system is not a high priority

Andy Thomas

Research Computing Manager,
Department of Mathematics

last updated: 25.5.2020