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AWS Projects Completed During the Summer

Recent Computing Resource Enhancements in the Lane Department

The Summer of 2014 has seen  LCSEE Systems accomplish several projects to improve the computing experience in the  Lane Department by utilizing  Amazon Web Services (AWS), a mature, popular cloud computing platform. Following the cloud computing model, Amazon hosts data centers Systems uses to provide web applications and shell environments, obviating the need for physical infrastructure maintenance such as deploying power and air conditioning solutions. In this article the enhancements applied by LCSEE Systems to departmental computing resources are described. These are improved monitoring of computing resources, a web-based system for submitting graduate tuition waivers, and a powerful environment for students enrolled in the computer science course “File and Data Structures” (CS 210).

Improved Computing Resource Monitoring

Students and faculty in the Lane Department rely on services provided by LCSEESystems. Departmental printers are available for printing coursework and research material, computer labs provide environments for completing course assignments, and data storage is available via LCSEE Systems servers. Technicians perform daily checks to ensure that the infrastructure implementing these services operates properly and record check results to aid maintenance.

Over the summer, a website was developed and deployed using AWS which enablesLCSEE technicians to easily schedule infrastructure checks and record results. The website was created to replace a previous site, updating the design to improve usability and implementation to utilize modern web development techniques. The previous site lacked a professional look and feel. The main issue, however, was ease of maintenance. Several sections of the previous site’s code were duplicated unnecessarily, making updates tedious. For example, adding a new entry to the list of monitored computers required editing multiple source code files, and adding new procedures required creating database tables in addition to editing source files.

The new site addresses these issues. Site customization is now much easier, for example, new computers to monitor are added directly through the site. Implementation is now performed using the web development framework  Ruby on Rails and the  AWS mySQL relational database service (RDS). Ruby on Rails facilitates the use of widely-deployed and tested tools such as  Twitter Bootstrap for interface layout. Data backup and software updates for MySQL RDS are performed by Amazon, reducing maintenance overhead for Systems.

Graduate Tuition Waiver Submission

Graduate teaching and research assistants often apply for tuition waivers to reduce their cost of attendance. LCSEE Systems has created a web application to improve the efficiency of the waiver application process. Under the previous model, a faculty coordinator sends waiver application forms to graduate students via e-mail, which the students complete and return. The coordinator personally checks all forms for mistakes by hand and requests updated forms from each student until all mistakes are fixed. In addition, locating a particular student’s form requires the coordinator to inspect each individually. No efficient search mechanism exists under this model.

Under the new model, the waiver application process is simplified using the Graduate Funding Web Application created using Ruby on Rails by LCSEE Systems. The student logs in to the web application using their  MyID credentials and complete the form electronically. When the student attempts to submit their waiver, the web application automatically checks for mistakes and requests that the student apply corrections immediately, alleviating much of the burden placed on the faculty coordinator. The web application also provides an administrative interface which displays all applicants in a neatly ordered list, and functionality enabling searching for forms by criteria such as name, email, date submitted, and semester. Search functionality makes locating a particular student in case of issues easier and more manageable. The list of applicants can also be exported to a spreadsheet, which can be viewed without logging in to the web application.

Enhanced Computing Environment for CS 210

The computing environment for the course  File and Data Structures (CS 210) has also been moved to the cloud via AWS. In this course students develop proficiency programming in Java and creating relational databases with minimal functions. The version control system Subversion (SVN) is used by students to store and track changes made to code developed in the course. The SVN repositories are viewable from the web, and use the student’s MyID credentials for access. This authentication mechanism is implemented such that login requests made by students to their SVNrepositories are forwarded to the LCSEE Systems LDAP directory, which then forwards the request to the university-wide authentication system. The course instructor creates content that is put on the Play website, and LCSEE Systems installs the software for the instructor that make this possible.

Stay tuned for more info about enhancements being made to improve your experience as a member of the Lane Department!

Contributors: Terry Ferrett, Kyle Frank, Jeremy McNemar, Marc Seery