CELS Systems March/April Newsletter
As one can surmise by the title, as well as for anyone who cares to check the history of these things, my aspirations of a monthly newsletter have evolved into “Every other month isn’t too bad, right?” Polite readers will refrain from pointing out it’s already May.
Perhaps, with all the happenings this newsletter is going to go into, a monthly cadence will once again be attainable. Read on for the latest in CELS Systems staffing updates, prepping for summer students, new options for picking up and dropping off equipment, getting help, Slack updates, and the ever-present push to retire the Legacy environment.
I am beside myself with joy making these announcements. Literally, if you looked at me, you’d see another me sitting there giving two enthusiastic thumbs up and grinning like a kid who got everything he wanted for Christmas. Then you’d see me get annoyed because that dude’s way too happy and is likely up to something. But that’s between me and myself.
We’ve got two new additions to the leadership of the CELS Systems team. For the first time in a long while, we’re going to be able to divvy up the oversight of the major thrusts of our efforts into more focused areas. So let’s meet the new team members and what they’ll be working on! We’ll go in alphabetical order.
First, let me introduce Anthony Avarca. That name may be familiar to many of you, since Anthony’s been at Argonne for some time. He’s coming to us from NST, where he’s had a long history of spearheading projects, running IT services, and fostering application development. He’s got a strong interest in helping us move to the next level in supporting CELS research and helping us integrate and collaborate with the other divisions and directorates at Argonne.
Anthony’s going to be leading effort in our Research Computing (RC) team, which focuses on the General Computing Environment (GCE), AI/ML Testbeds, Experimental Systems, and Researcher Support. I’ve worked with Anthony many times in the past and am delighted he’s decided to join us. Please join me in welcoming him to the best danged directorate at Argonne!
Next up, meet Mark Fahey. Yeah, that guy! Mark’s coming from serving as ALCF’s Operations director and is going to help us in our HPC and Institutional Computing (HPIC) efforts. Mark’s going to helm the LCRC operations team and well as oversee the Argonne Biomedical Learning Enclave (ABLE) and future projects in the area of Argonne institutional computing. He’s also going to be working on a number of special projects in CELS related to the future of HPC at Argonne.
I can’t believe I get to steal two talents like this in the same month, we are incredibly fortunate! Mark already knows how awesome CELS is, but please let him know all the same by giving him a warm welcome!
The three of us, and the amazing team that supports us (and you), are going to start making real progress on our goals, and I couldn’t be more excited!
A less enthusiastic staffing update
Rob Tovar, who’s been with us since the fall of 2019, will be leaving us at the end of this week to take on a new role elsewhere. Rob was a big help over the past 2.5 years, and I’m going to miss his helpfulness, friendly disposition, and broad contributions to the team. He’s also one of the people who gets my weird sense of humor. I’m sad for our loss, but I’m genuinely happy for Rob since this sounds like a great opportunity for him. Please join me in congratulating him on his next step in his life and career!
Summer is closer than it feels like (aka 45F and rain? In May?)
We’ve got students coming onsite for the first time in a while. If you’re a sponsor of an incoming student, and you haven’t already done so, you’ll want to visit this form and let us know your needs for your arriving students. It’s been a while since we’ve had people on-site for the summer, and the landscape of who’ll be on-site vs. remote is constantly changing, so this will help us make sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row. We’re putting in lots of extra effort to make sure people arrive to a setup where they can dig right in and get going.
In the past, it’s not been uncommon that students would bring and use their own laptops, which is just dandy, and we’ll do our best to make sure we can provide keyboards and monitors for those who need them, but please be understanding that the technology supply chain is quite stressed right now and we may not be able to be as responsive as we have been in the past due to limited stocks. Things are looking tight, but doable. We’re trying to reserve the oldest equipment for last deployment, in case people change their minds about what they need we can redeploy to other folks coming in.
Any linux workstations we deploy this summer will be GCE workstations running Ubuntu 22.04! Brand spanking new, still has that new linux-distribution smell without the tacky pine tree hanging from it. Unless there is a specific or exceptional need, we will not be setting up Legacy accounts for students. At this point, anyone specifically needing a Legacy account would need it for Jira or very specific subversion (svn) users. Otherwise, everyone should be able to get by with a GCE account or an application-specific account. We do not have a GCE svn implementation, as our plans remain to retire that unless there’s a specific need that git.cels.anl.gov doesn’t provide, but more on that in the last section.
Self Service Equipment Pick up and Drop off
It’s been some time since CELS Systems has maintained a physical “help desk”, and now in our hybrid work environment it’s even more of a challenge to find someone at their desk to pick up or drop off equipment. As much as we love to see and interact with you, we needed to come up with a solution that was as convenient as possible for picking up and dropping off equipment, but also a secure enough method we felt confident that expensive equipment wasn’t going to get misplaced or walk away.
So we’ve now got a self-service pick-up and drop-off area in building 240. As was the case in the before times, we have the self service area for dongles, cables, etc., except it’s newly expanded with a bigger variety (and we’re checking stock daily). We’ll obviously do our best to keep it stocked, but you can help by letting us know if you take the last of something or if you can’t find a particular thing you’re looking for. The self service area is in the grey cabinet right outside room 2110 (far west side of the second floor of building 240).
And now, on the table next to that area, we’ve got two (very soon to be four) programmable safes, each capable of holding a laptop and accessories. If you’ve ever stayed at a hotel and used their safe, it’s the exact same process. We’ve put instructions on the safe, but in case you find it helpful, here’s the brief rundown.
Should you be dropping something off, bring it by and put it into one of the safes. If the door is unlocked, it’s available. Just drop it in the safe, hold the door closed, enter the locking code of your choosing (I like badge number, personally), then send us an email to [email protected] letting us know which safe, which code, and what you dropped off.
Similarly, if we have something for you to pick up, rather than try to find a time we’re both available, we’ll let you know which safe and which code, and you can come pick it up at your leisure. If you have a lockable office you’d like things left in, we’ll of course continue to do that. But this is a nice option for people who don’t have that option.
I’m optimistic this will prove to be a convenience for all, especially given our limited on-site staffing.
With this influx of students, and with the impending short-staffed nature of my team, it’s worth reminding everyone that as noted above, we don’t have a physical “help desk”. If you or your students wander down to where our desks are expecting support, that may not be a successful journey since our on-site staffing was already quite skeletal and is now further reduced with Rob’s departure. The absolute best way to get support from us is to send us an email to [email protected] or give us a call at 630-252-6813 (leave a voicemail, we do get those). You can raise us in Slack on the #cels-systems-helpdesk channel as well, but remember that’s not tracked and is more for “I need interactive troubleshooting right now.” A surprising number of issues can be taken care of remotely via a Slack/Teams/Zoom session, so don’t be shy about reaching out that way. We operated for 2 years with practically no face-to-face interaction and can keep doing so for so many things! Everyone who knows me knows I’m a “Silver Linings” kinda guy, and the past two years certainly demonstrated our ability to be surprisingly effective remotely.
Slack and Multi Factor Auth (MFA)
As part of improving our security posture, we’re going to need to turn on and enforce Multi Factor Authentication for Slack. It’s already available and you’re free to do it as soon as you want, but we’ll be making it mandatory effective June 1, 2022. You can use pretty much any of the MFA tools you already use, including text messages, Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, Authy, 1Password, etc. The announcement will be sent out on Slack as well, along with links to what you need to do to make that happen. I’ve been using this setup for years now (we’ve required it for admins for quite some time), and it’s really not very intrusive. The only times I need to renew are when I move to a new installation or browser.
Legacy Retirement updates
We’re down to the bare minimum of user-facing Legacy services. Filesystem access (via login.mcs.anl.gov), Jira (soon to be migrated), Confluence (migrations in progress, get your site moved now!), subversion (svn.mcs.anl.gov, svn.alcf.anl.gov, repocafe.cels.anl.gov), and a handful of other services that are fairly niche where we’ll work with the owners on moving things off. See our guide on migrating here.
This is great progress, and we’ll soon be at the point where everything will again be under the same login info, with the added bonus of that one account being the one you use for everything else at Argonne. We’ve got a list of URLs and Websites you’ve requested to be preserved as part of the migration, and when we’re actually ready to start decommissioning the host serving https://www.mcs.anl.gov we’ll work with the anyone who hasn’t reached out yet.
Because much of the infrastructure running the Legacy system is already end of life, we’re still targeting end of calendar year as a hard end of life date. I sent out some aspirational dates in the last newsletter, some of which have already slipped, but I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get things merged into one happy environment full of daffodils and ponies in the same larger timeframe.
And that’s it for this one. Targeting beginning of June for the May newsletter, where I will again figure out who’s a polite reader. Thanks for everything, and here’s to a fabulous summer!