A new Virtual DICE for 2019-20

A new version of Virtual DICE is out – in fact, two new versions! They have the software for the 2019-20 session. Virtual DICE is the lightweight DICE-like virtual machine which you can install and run on your own computer. Here’s how to get it.

We release a new version of Virtual DICE twice a year. This time we’ve made two versions called little and large. Software on Virtual DICE explains why.

If you have an earlier version of Virtual DICE you should upgrade to the new version. To do that, make backup copies of whatever files you want to keep (for example, copy them to your AFS home directory – and here’s how to access AFS from Virtual DICE) then shut down and delete your Virtual DICE version, then install the new version instead.

To find out more read the Virtual DICE help pages.

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OpenVPN configuration files

The new OpenVPN configuration files which we have been beta-testing for the last month or so have now gone live, and our computing.help pages have been updated.

These configuration files are intended to have essentially the same effect as the previous ones.  The only difference is that some configuration statements have been updated in line with the syntax expected by newer OpenVPN versions.  If the configuration files you currently use work then there is no particular reason to install the new ones immediately, other than that IPv6 is now enabled through the tunnel. However, you may want to do so anyway, in case an upgrade to your machine results in the old ones no longer being accepted and you lose OpenVPN access at an inconvenient time.

We have changed the naming of the new files, partly so that the intended behaviour is clearer, and partly so that the new ones can be installed alongside the old ones.  The new structure is explained in the README that goes with the configuration files.

We have also introduced the ability to have a separate “/ovpn” secondary identity, for those users who find it uncomfortable having their mobile devices remembering their DICE password.  This identity provides OpenVPN access only; it does not allow access to any other Informatics services.  If you would like to make use of this feature, please contact us through the support form in the usual way.

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New staff SSH server

On Monday 19th August we will replace the SSH server named “hare” which hosts staff.ssh.inf.ed.ac.uk with a machine named “steen”.

All that will happen is that at about 08:00 on Monday we will change the DNS alias to point to the new machine. This change can take some time to propagate so we will not switch off access to hare immediately. It will be left running as normal until 12:00 Thursday 22nd August. This should allow sufficient time for users logged in to finish their existing sessions and move to the new server.

The IP address for the service will change from to, your SSH client may warn you about this change and request verification. For reference the new SHA256 host key fingerprints are:

  • RSA – cqH2kywjHDWJewMQaBXniSV8xGrtV1OXaPSogosr7TQ
  • ECDSA – V2YL0nw9fq3S3GCVLjwEAlFB0Pu7FwzXwX2fvshdLRc
  • ED25519 – r4skp8Z9lDdW7cHqzq5/z5ewFVbVV+eFsN7CUG47YGY

More information regarding the SSH service can be found on our help pages. If you encounter any problems accessing the SSH service please contact us via the Support Form.

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OpenVPN beta-testers wanted

Several people have opened support tickets recently asking about warning messages being produced by OpenVPN when connecting to Informatics.  The reason for these warnings has been that the configuration syntax has gradually changed over time to accommodate new features, and the form we have in our configuration files is now deprecated and will be removed in new versions.

We have, therefore, been revising our configuration files to take account of these changes, and the new versions are now available for beta-testing.  If you would like to do so you can download them from here, or by AFS from /afs/inf.ed.ac.uk/group/inf-unit/OpenVPN/NewConfig/.  Please select the versions appropriate for the platform you are using.  For iOS (and perhaps also Android) a simple alternative approach is to email the configuration files to yourself as attachments, though you may have to adjust the MIME type to have your mail client recognise them as OpenVPN configuration files.

The format of the files’ names has been changed slightly to make it clearer what each file actually does. It’s now


where “routes” is one of “EdLAN” (which sends EdLAN addresses through the tunnel), “InfNets” (which sends a selection of Informatics addresses through the tunnel) or “AllNets” (which sends everything through the tunnel), and “site” is one of “Forum” or “AT”.  (There are two additional sites, “DR” or “DEV”, which are for test and development of the service only.  Please just ignore these.)  This also allows the new files to be installed alongside the old one, to simplify testing.

All feedback welcome.  Please send your comments using the support form in the usual way.

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Forum server rooms power work July 2019 – affected services

As previously advised, the new Forum server room UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) will be connected to the server rooms on Saturday the 20th of July. This will necessitate the powering down of all machines in the Forum server rooms, and therefore the loss of the Informatics services provided by those machines.

It is probably safest to assume that all services will be affected all day Saturday, but some AFS file space and some other services should remain available. Below is a list of services that will definitely be unavailable, and some which should remain working (by virtue of being housed in either Appleton Tower or KB). A service not listed below does not mean it definitely will or will not be available!

The self-managed server rooms will lose power at 7:30am, moving onto the main server rooms about 11am (though machines will be shutdown from 10am). Services will be brought back online once the power work is complete. There may be false starts and extra reboots as machines install updates. We’d hope all will be restored by 6pm.

List of services that will definitely be unavailable:


  • pp.inf.ed.ac.uk – password changes will not be possible
  • half of xrdp.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • staff.xrdp.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • staff.ssh.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • staff.compute.inf.ed.ac.uk – shutdown on Friday
  • student.login.inf.ed.ac.uk – shutdown on Friday
  • cabin.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • rbs.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • gitlab.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • git.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • gerrit.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • media.aiai.ed.ac.uk
  • cvs.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • svn.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • ifile.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • admin.smb.inf.ed.ac.uk

File servers:

  • gresley, huldra, kraken, peppercorn, riddles

Use “fs whereis <path>” to see if a particular “path” is on a particular server. eg:
> fs whereis ~neilb
File /afs/inf.ed.ac.uk/user/n/neilb is on host kraken.inf.ed.ac.uk

So my home directory would be unavailable during the power work.

Web sites:

  • aim.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • blog.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • calvin.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • datascience.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • edinburghnlp.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • ltg.ed.ac.uk
  • networks.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • pushing-boundaries-pd.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • scirocco-project-msa.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • sweb.inf
  • ultrax-speech.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • wifiknots.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • wiki.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • windydev.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • wp.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • wcms.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • pbf2013.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.anc.ed.ac.uk
  • www.cisa.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.classic-project.org
  • www.emime.org
  • www.hcrc.ed.ac.uk
  • www.ilcc.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.mngu0.org
  • www.ultrax-speech.org
  • www.cstr.ed.ac.uk
  • www.dice.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.icsa.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.ipab.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.lfcs.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.info.ed.ac.uk
  • www.lfcs.ed.ac.uk
  • www.aiai.ed.ac.uk
  • www.asdtech.ed.ac.uk
  • www.cogiscied.ac.uk
  • www.dai.ed.ac.uk
  • www.dcs.ed.ac.uk
  • www.eie-invest.com
  • www.informatics-ventures.com
  • www.pushing-boundaries-pd-fringe-groups.inf.ed.ac.uk

Other websites that serve data from affected AFS serves will also be down.

List of notable services that should remain up:

  • printing
  • mail.inf.ed.ac.uk (lists and forwarding to staffmail/Office 365)
  • ssh.inf.ed.ac.uk aka student.ssh.inf.ed.ac.uk (though if your home directory is affected, this will be of little use)
  • web.inf.ed.ac.uk
  • www.inf.ed.ac.uk (though in readonly mode, publishing will stop working around 9am)
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SL7.6 Upgrade for desktop machines

The 6th minor update for ScientificLinux 7 (which is based on RHEL7) is now ready for deployment to the Informatics DICE office and student lab machines. A minor update like this provides us with the opportunity to update important software and fix any bugs which are not security issues (we apply security updates as soon as they are available) in a controlled manner.

Along with the general updates for this platform upgrade we are pleased to announce that our python 3 environment has been updated to version 3.6.8 which includes the full “scientific python” stack of scipy, numpy, matplotlib, ipython, pandas, etc. We have attempted to provide the most commonly required modules for Python 3.6, if there are any additional modules you require for teaching next year please let us know as soon as possible.

We plan to make this change on the evening of next Monday (17th June). To complete the upgrade a reboot is required, that will happen overnight for the student lab machines. For all other DICE office desktops a delayed reboot has been scheduled, the
delay will be 5 days. Although the reboots are delayed, it would be greatly appreciated if people could manually reboot their machines at their earliest convenience; the delayed reboot would then be cancelled.

SL7.6 was released on 3rd December 2018 and since then it has been thoroughly tested in our DICE environment so we are confident that this update will not cause any issues for users.

Full details of the package updates are available on the LCFG wiki. For further, in depth information, there are also release notes from ScientificLinux and Redhat.

If you have any questions or problems with the upgrade please contact our User Support team using the support form.

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Forum server room UPS upgrade programme

Earlier this year, we mentioned that we intended to replace the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system which supplies power to all of the server rooms located in the Informatics Forum – see our blog post Forum server room UPS from January 24, 2019.

Since then, we’ve been doing lots of preparation, and we are now about to commence the actual replacement programme. The new UPS we’ve chosen will be able to sustain a power load of 200kW – more-or-less twice the load which the existing UPS can supply – and it will also be far more resilient than the existing system. We currently expect the new UPS will be fully in operation by Wednesday July 24, 2019 but, between then and now, there is a great deal of electrical infrastructure work to be completed, and some of that work will cause unavoidable disruption.

Some key events (and dates/times) for your attention are as follows:

  1. Isolation of the building-wide Forum UPS: Tuesday 28th May, 2019; 7:00am

    Explanation: As well as the UPS which supplies our server rooms, the Informatics Forum also has a completely separate UPS system which currently supplies all offices, and all IT closets. As part of the current programme, that UPS system will be decommissioned and permanently removed. Arranging that will require a brief (we expect no more than five minutes) power cut to all Forum offices and all IT closets at 7:00am on Tuesday 28th May, 2019.

  2. Load-shedding from the Forum server rooms: Thursday 20th June, 2019 – Monday 22nd July, 2019

    Explanation: During the replacement of the server room UPS, we will need to operate our server rooms for the above four week period using only one-half of the existing UPS system. In order to make that feasible, we will need to reduce the combined power load currently being used by all of the servers located in the Informatics Forum by about 20%.

  3. Shutdown of Forum server rooms: Saturday 20th July, 2019; all day

    Explanation: In order to bring the new server room UPS fully into service, we will need a total shutdown of all Forum server rooms on the Saturday 20th July, 2019.

We’ll be in touch with owners of self-managed servers regarding items 2 and 3 closer to the date. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about this work, please submit a support ticket in the usual way.

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No new local blogs on blogs.inf or wp.inf

With the introduction of the University’s centrally provided blogging service (blogs.ed.ac.uk), no new blogs will be created on the Informatics blog.inf.ed.ac.uk and wp.inf.ed.ac.uk services.

The central service is based on a current version of WordPress, and has a selection of modern themes, and plugins, including an EdGEL one to match the University’s branding.

Using the central service, and phasing out the use of our blogging services, will save us duplicating effort to make sure the services are GDPR and accessibility compliant, as well as the regular WordPress updates.

Neil – Services Unit

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Upgrade of rack power bars in Forum self-managed server room IF-B.Z14

We are about to upgrade all rack power bars in the Informatics Forum self-managed server room IF-B.Z14. We will be replacing the existing metered power bars (APC models AP7853 and AP8853) with switched versions (APC model AP8953).

The new power bars will allow us fine-grained control of individual power outlets; they’ll also help us prevent power surges (which have in the past tripped circuit breakers in our distribution boards) should the incoming power supply fail and then recover for any reason.

If all servers in all racks in IF-B.Z14 had dual power supplies, we could do this work with no interruption to any users of those servers. However as things stand, only Rack 3 is fully populated by such servers: all other racks contain machines which have single supplies only. So arranging the power bar replacements on those racks will inevitably mean that machines will temporarily lose power.

We will start the replacement next week (i.e. week commencing 18th Feb 2019) and will replace both power bars on Rack 3. As mentioned above: this should not cause any interruptions for users of servers in that rack.

Provided that these initial replacements go to plan, we will then be in touch with users involved (via the selfmanaged-sr mailing list – see http://computing.help.inf.ed.ac.uk/smserver-rooms) to schedule downtime for the seven other racks in the room. We would like to get this work completely finished in as short a time as possible.

Thanks in advance for your patience and cooperation.

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Forum server room UPS

Last weekend (Saturday 19.1.19), the UPS system which supplies power to the various server rooms located in the Informatics Forum developed a fault which meant that one half of the pair of units which comprise the UPS went off-line. As a result, the other half of the pair became overloaded: we now have so many machines installed in the Forum server rooms that we are really at the limit of what the UPS is designed to cope with.

In order to deal with the overloading, we have since shut down various machines, and we have also moved some machines to different electrical phases: the idea is to try to have the overall load balanced as well as we can between the three electrical phases in use. Owners of self-managed machines, as well as owners of machines which the computing staff manage on their behalf, have been helpful to us in this overall effort – for which, many thanks.

An engineer has attended and identified a fault in the rectifier of the failed UPS. Unfortunately, there are currently insufficient spare parts locally, so parts are coming from abroad and the current estimate is that the repair will be made on Monday or Tuesday next week (i.e. 28.1.19 or 29.1.19.) We will keep people involved of progress via postings to the various relevant mailing lists.

To the general issue of the overloading of the Forum server room UPS system: our current UPS system is old, and is now insufficiently powerful for the collection of machines which we have installed. To that end, we are in the process of organizing a complete replacement of the UPS system which will be specified to allow us plenty of spare power capacity for future growth. Getting this system installed and commissioned will take significant time and effort (as well as money of course), and the installation of the new system will necessarily involve some downtime of all of our server rooms. But the final system should provide us with a much more reliable and future-proof solution.

Our current expectation is that the new UPS system will be operational before the end of July of the current year, 2019. Until the new system does become operational, we will be keeping a close eye on the overall power consumption of our server rooms, and might need to do further rebalancing across phases in order to try to maintain a reliable service. In any event, we will keep you informed of progress.

Thanks for your patience and cooperation during the current power supply problems.

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