August 30, 2005

Dynamic new computer environment plugs into StFX

St. Francis Xavier University - Communications Dep writes "Dynamic new computer environment plugs into StFX

A possible first for OpenSource on an enterprise-wide scale

ANTIGONISH, NS --- It’s a revolutionary step forward for StFX and some faculty members say it will open doors for students that even they can not anticipate.

StFX technical minds have been working non-stop and plugging in to produce a new computing environment that will exceed faculty and student expectations. “As far as we know it will make StFX the first educational institution in Canada to encompass OpenSource software for desktop computing on an enterprise-wide scale,” says Duncan Macpherson, StFX Chief Technology Officer.

The WebFX OpenSource initiative is an alternative to the WebFX Classic (Microsoft Windows) environment that has been the standard for the past eight years. WebFX OpenSource will offer three essential components to the growth of StFX’s technology. It will fit into the existing Microsoft environment and offer many new programs for course work and for research study. After hours, WebFX OpenSource will act as a high performance computer (HPC), offering students and faculty access to some of the most powerful computing resources available in Atlantic Canada. The WebFX OpenSource GRID will capture overnight idle resources on the 350 WebFX OpenSource Computer Lab machines. The team will harness its power between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily, more than doubling the High Performance Computing resources currently available at StFX.

But maybe the most ingenious part of this new state-of-the-art teaching and research tool is that its capital cost was zero dollars. “This was a major initiative we knew we could pull off with no capital cost to the university” says Duncan Macpherson, Chief Technology Officer.
Macpherson, who spearheaded the project, says the configuration is "pure" OpenSource - all of the software is covered by OpenSource licenses and was downloaded free from the Internet. TSG employees Aaron MacDonald, John DeLorey, Mike Fox, and Lori Flynn were major players in achieving the successful configuration and integration.

WebFX OpenSource will soon be installed on 350 desktop computers in computer labs, classrooms, and faculty offices throughout the campus. The configuration includes Linux, OpenOffice, Mozilla Web Browser, and many other applications.

This new initiative responds directly to the needs and desires of the science faculty. But now faculty members in other departments are finding WebFX OpenSource programs to be useful tools. Recently the TSG team held a surprise showing of WebFX OpenSource to faculty. ‘Their reaction was overwhelming,” says Macpherson.

“I was completely floored today by your (WebFX) OpenSource initiative. It was fantastic. It provides a valuable resource for all students at StFX to learn a new operating environment, and develop marketable, high-tech computer skills. Your efforts ... have been superb and I strongly support and endorse the StFX OpenSource initiative,” stated physics professor Rob Wickham in an email to Macpherson. “It is imperative for a university to foster an intellectual environment at all levels, hence the introduction of OpenSource, particularly Linux, as an alternative operating system on all computers at StFX is a timely advance,” stated Dean of Science Bill Marshall in an email to Macpherson.

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A Photo and cutline of the OpenSource team is available for download: http://www.stfx.ca/people/cmcinnes/

Contact:
Cindy McInnes, StFX Communications
(902) 867-5114 cmcinnes@stfx.ca
  communications@stfx.ca
Releases are available at: http://www.stfx.ca/media/"

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