What Do You Want From A Network File System?

We’ve been using OpenAFS as the School’s network file system (i.e. the thing that lets you access your DICE home directory and research group space on pretty much any machine from pretty much anywhere in the world) for the best part of 15 years. That’s a awfully long time in the fast moving world of computing and so one of the development projects I have on my plate at the moment is to look into whether OpenAFS is still the most appropriate fit to the School’s needs.

From my ivory tower, I can draw up a long list of filesystem features and capabilities which I think might be desirable but at the end of the day, what’s useful and what’s unnecessary can only be determined by you, the end user.

So please take a few moments to let me know what you think about the existing School network filesystem. Tell me about what you like about it, what you dislike about it and missing features you would like to see in a replacement. There’s no guarantee that any requests can be met but at least they can be taken into account. You can make your opinions heard by leaving a comment after this article or emailing me at

cms @ inf.ed.ac.uk

Remember, it’s the School’s network file system I’m interested in, your DICE home directory and research group space stored on the School’s file servers and accessed via a pathname beginning /afs/inf.ed.ac.uk/…. I’m not concerned at the moment with any centrally provided file space or data stored on self-managed machines.

I look forward to hearing from you!


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Virtual DICE has been updated

We’ve updated Virtual DICE! Both “little” and “large” VMs have been updated.
There are two changes compared to last month’s release:

  1. VirtualBox Guest Additions has been updated to a much newer version, so the Virtual DICE VM should now be better integrated with the rest of your computer environment. For example, the focus will be more likely to follow the mouse – the VM should no longer capture your mouse and keyboard by default.
  2. DICE changes since September are included in the latest Virtual DICE releases.

You can find out more at:

If you have any problems with the new version please contact us using the computing support form. Thanks.

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macOS Catalina

We advise waiting a while before updating your Mac to the new macOS version, Catalina, for two reasons: firstly it has bugs, which Apple is steadily fixing; secondly it introduces a security system which is causing problems for software which hasn’t been adapted to deal with it. At the time of writing, VirtualBox is an example. For more details, and some helpful links, see our computing.help page on macOS releases.

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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.

Posted in News, Service Update, system event | 2 Comments