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Computer Services for Students? 88

FreeCycles asks: "I'm one of the staffers of an all-volunteer university group that provides free shell, mail, and web accounts to students, faculty, and staff. Thanks to the generous donation of a certain famous server manufacturer, we suddenly now have more processing power and storage than we need to sustain our current offerings, and we are trying to figure out what else we could offer the university community. Since many Slashdot readers are current or former university students, what do you wish your university provided to you?"
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Computer Services for Students?

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  • IMAP mail. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:07PM (#16522503) Homepage
    IMAP mail, instead of POP3 access.
    • My department(Student Government) could really use a dev area for website ideas. I would LOVE a VPS type setup that the tech commission could play around with.

      Our current portal system doesn't allow any sort of database interface so I've been limited to .shtml as far as dynamic content goes. Now I have a Senator asking for a forum and without a database that can't happen. I'm going to have to use my commercial servers to host our entire site pretty soon with all the upgrades it needs. And I can imagine th

  • Remote folders (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Com2Kid ( 142006 ) <> on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:08PM (#16522509) Homepage Journal
    Really well done remote folders are a blessing. Make them usable both with SFTP (for the Unix folk) and whatever folder sharing system is best for Windows that works over the internet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ttldkns ( 737309 )
      oh yeah, tell me about it.

      My university (University of Leicester, has just starting allowing remote access to files using webDAV. Internet explorer supports it so windows supports it, theres especially good apple support for it and KDE and Gnome have good support too.

      you can check out their support page on it here: []
    • This would be especially nice as, at my university, the intranet is not accessible from off-campus, and I live off-campus, so I'm pretty much stuck with either a flash drive or gmail for file transfers. In case you were wondering, I don't own a printer. I really wish my university offered off- or on-campus print queuing to a print shop, with batch jobs done every night after the shop closes so that I could pick up my paper in the morning. Of course this would be unfeasable unless you actually were my univer
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )
        I really wish my university offered off- or on-campus print queuing to a print shop

        Really? The Good Old Days really *were* good, I guess.

        If you make that suggestion, maybe the Uni will see it as a new revenue stream and implement it.

    • On that note, see if AFS [] is workable. It's not perfect*, but it does have good clients for Windows, Mac, and *nix [], the ability to work from anywhere on the Internet, decent speeds on the local network, a fancy ACL system, and some amount of encryption.

      *I've had problems recently when putting my laptop to sleep on one subnet, waking it up in another subnet (new IP), and trying to save a file that's already open.... but that's admittedly not a common situation. It works as well as a slightly-laggy local disk
  • Project Tools for group projects
    Forums for classes
    Something like [] for answers to questions

    Just my 2 cents for things I'd like to see us implement.

  • Reliable service (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goofyheadedpunk ( 807517 ) <(goofyheadedpunk) (at) (> on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:14PM (#16522595)
    Nifty bells and whistles are great, but it does suck to read "Oh, sorry. The network will be up in a little bit." or "CMail is down now. Come back soon." every couple of days. Make it stable, then add stuff. (But I'm sure you already knew that, the fine sys admin that you seem to be.)

    Also, you could ask the students and staff what they want. One of those vote and, potentially, win an iPod -- or some such other electronic gadget -- things often has a pretty high turn out. If that doesn't work, hell, you store their mail. Just parse that for ideas!
    • by davecb ( 6526 ) *

      Good point, but build the intelligence at the network layer wherever you can, so that if smtp server 26 goes down, no-one will even notice (;-))

      -dave (my sysadmin once said "clusters are less reliable than uniprocessors") c-b

  • Random suggestions. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:15PM (#16522599) Homepage
    Bigger disk quotas are always appreciated.

    More web environments would be nice (PHP, Perl, Ruby on Rails).

    MySQL backends for said web pages.

    Bulk up on the software available from the shell.

    Publicly accessible CVS/SVN repositories. As in, users can host their projects there, and grant others rights to check out and maybe even commit.


    • P.S.: For e-mail, add spam filtering and virus detection.
  • Alumni accounts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:15PM (#16522601)
    Subject says it all
    • by rk ( 6314 ) *

      Some places you have to be very careful with this because the upstream network provider's agreement may not allow it. That was the case at my University back in the day.

    • Note that "alumni account" does not necessarily mean "accounts are not deactivated upon graduation/leaving". It can also mean keeping just e-mail, file/web space, and shell, with no rights to run software packages. It can also mean just e-mail forwarding from the old e-mail address and website redirecting from the old web page.
  • Access to php with either mysql or postgresql backend to play around with.
    • by takeya ( 825259 )
      my school offers PHP on their webhosting but I agree some SQL would be marvelous to have.

      And I get 300MB for all files incl. email.
  • by delirium of disorder ( 701392 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:16PM (#16522617) Homepage Journal
    Free shell, mail, and web accounts are already a good deal. Can shell users install and run graphical applications (VNC or X11 over ssh)? If not, that's something you could do with your extra resources. You could run a tor entry node to let users anonymously route their Internet traffic. You could run any number of distributed computing clients. You set up some kind of virtualization and let users have root accounts on their own virtual machine, perhaps after making them sign yet another usage agreement. You could also give me an account. I'm sure I can find a use for some extra computing power!
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )
      When it comes to anonymous. How about a essay and report writing pool, where students with economic advantages can exchange with students who have scholarly advantages, after all according to the RIAA and the MPAA it is not plagiarism when they are an employee being paid to do the work (when your paying for the work, the work belongs to you) ;-).
  • And though it's probably less popular, Sobby, the server half of Gobby [].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    subversion, wiki's, and project management tools. Things that help groups of students work together. remote storage is really nice too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Project Management/Collaboration tools are one of the most useful service available at my University. Another possible option is remote GUI apps (here we have CITRIX and can run common office apps, by this may be too expensive to license). X11 forwarding with access to a word processing app, presentation app, an advanced math application (i'm thinking of software we have available like MatLab, but anything that can solve complicated math), and a spreadsheet app would probably be one of the most cost effecti
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by iny0urbrain ( 965352 )
      Agreed on the project management tools. Wikis are an amazing tool for collaboration. I work in IT at a college, and I've got the student Help Desk staff developing an internal knowledge wiki. I couldn't recommend a wiki service more. I'm also amazed that nobody has suggested a blogging service yet. Having available to students and faculty would be great!
  • Offerings... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NMThor ( 949485 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:24PM (#16522717)
    From my experience, the email and web hosting are two most important offerings. Email: I echo offering IMAP access (encrypted, of course) as well as POP3 access. When you say "Web Access", do you mean to the email? That's important.

    Ask students for other ideas. I get the feeling that many students (esp. those in non-technical fields) may not want or need much more than that. That's from my POV as an engineer having worked with many non-techies in the past. Besides the email access, the most popular use of IT services was for checking grades, registering for classes, etc., which is now all done eletronically.

    Also, check out other university web sites for information and what they offer.

    Good luck!
    • I'd add in Jabber. Make it use the same log-in details as the mail (same address, same password), and make sure the MSN/AIM transports work (and others if your user community have a big user community). If you've still got cycles to burn, then run a web-based interface (ideally completely server-side, no Java) so people can IM from behind firewalls.
  • so no to more disk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 )
    Students will just fill it up with pr0n, warez and mp3s. Trust me. Besides any kid nowadays will have a portable device of some sort.

    How about a cluster, to let some kids do cluster programming, or an app design class for clusters?

    (insert Beowulf joke here)
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      depends how much they get now. At my school we get 20 megs. 20 MEGS! WTF? +5 insightful please. :) (interesting would do)
    • I could have used some extra cycles for a render farm. As it was, I was using three or four of the lab's machines at night with the 3d MAX distributed computing client. Worked like a charm, but only if you wanted to be around at 4am.

      I don't know if this school has an architecture or fine arts department, but they could get some use out of it. How about a film school for video editing & converting?
  • Math Programs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KingEomer ( 795285 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:27PM (#16522759) Homepage
    Add some CPU and memory instensive programs like Matlab or Maple. They can be quite handy in math courses, and especially with AI.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Good idea, but Octave might be a better choice than Matlab if you're deploying this software to everybody. No reason to spend the $$$ on Matlab licenses for students that won't use them.

      Though, perhaps the Uni in question already has a licensing deal with the Matlab folks.

      At the U I went to; there were X Matlab user licenses available, but the number of students was far greater than X, so unless you needed Matlab for coursework, you didn't get it on your account.
    • Maxima (Score:2, Interesting)

      by r_jensen11 ( 598210 )
      Use Maxima. It's comparable to Matlab and Maple, but opensourced. Granted, yes, you're with a University, so you probably have some money, but jumping through the hoops can be a pain in the ass when you want money.
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:31PM (#16522811)
    Run a game server!
  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:34PM (#16522843) Homepage
    Give everyone a gigabyte or more of online storage space. Provide multiple ways to access it. That should include ssh, webdav over SSL (very important IMO), and possibly crappy-old FTP though I'd personally try to avoid providing any non-secure protocols. Then provide simple instructions on how to use it, probbably primarily through webdav. Windows has built-in support for webdav since Win98, though I think 98 doesn't support HTTPS. You also might consider setting up SAMBA or NFS, though that's a bit more tricky to operate over a WAN.
  • A jabber server (Score:2, Interesting)

    by black_rob ( 1016231 )
    When I was in college, they had just started to give each student an email address. I can't say that at the time I appreciated or used it, no one I knew did either, but in hindsight a university run instant messaging service would have been super convenient for keeping in touch with other people in the same class. So instead of spending a half hour trying to figure out what a particularly poorly worded assignment meant, you could just ask.
  • by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:37PM (#16522875) Journal
    There are some good suggestions above. The one thing I'd say is make sure what you offer is always compatible with various OSes and web browsers. I want to bang my head when I come across a web-based service at a University that says it will only run on IE (and harder when I tell Safari to pretend it's IE, and the page works perfectly).

    Also, I thought web space was standard but I guess not. It certainly was at my undergrad and even where I got my Master's (which is not a techie school like ugrad was). But I get here for my PhD - a top ten research university - and I find that students no longer get web space. Because the damn undergrads are all on myspace now or whatever. I have some workarounds via my department, but unfortunately my only option for a full website seems to be serving it on my office iMac, with an ungodly long URL.

    • by hatrisc ( 555862 )
      I have some workarounds via my department, but unfortunately my only option for a full website seems to be serving it on my office iMac, with an ungodly long URL.

      ever consider using dynamic dns such as something from the free side of dyndns []?
      • by pueywei ( 658832 )
        My university offers static ips with user configurable hostnames. So I could have Pretty sweet. I would suggest SFTP support. PHP/perl script support? Ruby on rails? :D
    • if you're serving off of your mac, then get your own domain, and allow your mac to serve that domain.

      You can then cname .. ->

      When you leave the university then you can then just copy the files off of my-Imac, and install them on a proper shared hosting server or set up your own colo'ed machine, or whatever suits your fancy.

      I have some workarounds via my department, but unfortunately my only option for a full website seems to be serving it o

  • subj (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:40PM (#16522911) Homepage Journal
    I'd say dedicate at least 1% of avalible CPU to something like Folding@Home. Set aside 10% for mathmatica use by the physics department (someday something will happen, and you'll be glad you have friends in high places), and the rest for x11/web/email etc.
    Or you could provide email forwarding for life for university alumni. That'd be fucking HUGE.
  • by BeeBeard ( 999187 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:50PM (#16523085)
    Soooooo expensive if you're paying for it yourself!
    • I'm pretty sure that any faculty that actually needs Lexis or Westlaw already provides it to their students for free.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gameforge ( 965493 )
        Correct. I go to a state college and have free access to all that stuff for as long as I'm a student and for one year after graduating, all tied into our library's website.

        Since I'm in school now and I believe our school campus [] is a great example of a modern, online campus with a very pleasing computing experience, I'll throw in some ideas:

        - First make sure the obvious stuff is covered. Do your computer science students have computers to work on? Are there other classes which could benefit from computer
  • MIT SIPB (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zackbass ( 457384 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:04PM (#16523227)
    I'd check out what SIPB (Student Information Processing Board) has done for the MIT community. They've been around almost forever and have done a lot of great of things over the years. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I ran across that site today while in the SIPB room, seems to be last year's webpage (which is still probably enough for the submitter). SIPB's current page is [].

      In particular, scripts [] is a webserver that allows CGIs in several popular languages and SQL databases, has auto-installers for software like MediaWiki, and depends on quite a few hacks running on SELinux to make the site secure between users (I've heard that even if you get Apache to run arbitrary code you gai
  • Human factor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScaryFroMan ( 901163 ) <> on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:06PM (#16523251)
    Better pay for student tech employees, so that they can help you better. Can't dismiss the human factor.

    Of course, I'm a student tech employee, but that's beside the point.

    • by Taevin ( 850923 ) *
      No kidding. When I worked as the tech for my university's primary computer lab, I got paid less than my first job - a retail job. To add insult to injury, the students that worked at the front desk made the same as I and most of the time they didn't even do their one job: make sure people coming into the lab signed in.

      Oh well, at least I got more out of the experience than they did... right? ;)
  • At my university, computing services provide VPN access into the university network. Not only is this pretty damn useful for accessing the university services (such as the file storage they supply as an SMB share), it is also pretty good when surfing the internet from insecure wireless access points -- such as those in the local Starbucks -- as you can tunnel all your web traffic through it. Make it fast and with enough bandwidth, and those students with laptops will be thankful.

    Oh, and if you have enough HDD space... a bigger disk quota is always handy. And contrary to what others have said, students with any sense will not fill it with porn and warez. Trust me, nobody wants the embarrassment of getting caught.
  • I am a network tech at a librayr and Some of these might work for you . 1. Each student gets enough webspace so that they can use it to maybe backup reports and other files on it. 2. make sure you have enough programs that students might not normally have. like photoshop and programs like that. also email and general server stuf can take up more rescources then you think :)
    • use the extra power to make your network stabe. University networks can have huge flucuations in usage. You might need that extra pwoer a year or two down the road. say if the university accepts more students then they normally do one year. You can never really have extra power. It will be used at some point.
  • MySQL (Score:2, Informative)

    by IAmAI ( 961807 )
    I'm provided with PHP, but I would like a MySQL server database for my website.
  • My university uses a calendar system by Oracle and it's a real pain in the ass. The only way to have it sync with 3rd party applications is to use Oracle's plugin for Office. Calendar systems are something that most people don't use (mostly students), but to people that do use them (think faculty and organized students,) they are indispensable. Have it be based on something that can be used by Outlook iCal, and Sunbird. Also make sure that it can be used as a module through Internet Explorer, Firefox, S
  • As someone else mentioned, if you allow people to run graphical applications, VNC is a boon. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to do work (particularly GUI development, where a console is not an option!) in a program like Matlab over an SSH X11 forward. VNC does appear to be faster, at least in these circumstances.
  • Less course-work Masters degrees.
  • Plymouth State University, Plymouth NH

    Gives me the standard webct, webmail both through the school portal and horde, a personal website on the domain, FreeBSD shell access, McAfee antivirus (which kindly blocks all IRC for me :( ...), FTP access to my personal files, and a few other features I'm sure I haven't found (just found about shell when I saw this and tried it). I even installed Bitchx so now I can chat!

    Pretty standard offering I suspect.
  • I am a current student, but I wish I could keep my e-mail address after graduation so I don't have to lose contact with anyone still e-mailing me.
    • 1. Get another e-mail address 2. Use it instead of the university one 3. When people mail you at the university account, point them to the address created in step 1 I'll leave out the profit joke, but you get the drift. Personally I'm not sure where I stand on letting alumni keep their addies. It means people 10 years from now are going to be getting addresses like
      • Or sanely allocate addresses.
      • Your logic is flawed.

        Get another e-mail address instead of the university one? What is the point then of even having a university e-mail address?

        No, what would should be done is to have e-mail addresses in the form of last_name + first initial + random two digit number @ year_graduated (like 06 for 2006) +
        • If you're going to put the graduation year as a subdomain, why the hell make people use a specific username like that? Just let them pick their own username for pete's sake. One major problem with assigned usernames that whoever decides these things doesn't seem to think about is that female students (particularly grad students) tend to get married and often change their names, leaving them with email addresses that no longer make any sense if they're based on the last name.
          • That isn't the point though. You cannot change your regular e-mail address when you change your name that easily either.
            • But if your email address doesn't include your last name (as mine doesn't unless the school has silly required emails like that) then it isn't an issue. There's no good reason to force an email address upon someone.
              • I'm saying it should be an option to let graduating students keep their school e-mail address so post-schooling purposes. In other words, so others can keep in contact with you, and you can keep in contact with others, without the hassle of switching to another e-mail address. Forwarding purposes only, meaning the e-mail address is simply used for forwarding stuff it has sent to it.
                • Yes, and I agree with that. I was just saying that if you include the class year in the subdomain as you suggested (which is a good idea), then there's no reason to tell students what to use as their username. (Actually, I don't think there's any reason to ever, but your solution bypasses the problem of multiple people years apart taking the same username by making the subdomains unique.) I was just pointing out that your suggested email format specified a username based on real name that isn't necessary. A

  • Until you figure out which nice-to-have services you want to provide students, give back by dedicating some of the unused server resources to research projects. [] comes to mind. I'm sure others will be able to suggest a long list of great organizations that need help!
  • by munpfazy ( 694689 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:36PM (#16524583)
    Certainly scientific and numerical computing packages are nice - but unless you already have a deal with the vendors trying to negotiate cheap licenses can be complicated.

    A free (if resource intensive) option that I'd love to see on our university system would be the possibility of running a virtualized private host, eg. with User Mode Linux, Vserver, or even just BSD jails.

    That way those who want to do so could mess around with anything they desire without much risk to the host. Give people the freedom to mess with things, and chances are some of them will find interesting things to do.

    Having root access on a dedicated server is really nice, and it can be difficult for the average university student to manage on their own. (Sure, dynamic host name forwarding and so on have made running a server from home fairly cheap, but for many students living in a tiny room with only a laptop it isn't really feasible to run your own machine without first having a good reason for it.)

    Of course capping network access, disk space, cpu time, etc are all perfectly reasonable things to do in such a situation - and it might be a good idea to regularly scan for things like badly configured mail servers. You'd have to think carefully about how to assign either IPs or NAT port forwarding, but assuming only a few hundreds of students take you up on it, it shouldn't be impossible to come up with something both useful and unlikely to piss off the university brass.

    Setting it up as an opt-in service would probably cut down on administrative headaches. Only the few percent of students who would take advantage of the service would be likely to ask for it.

    Finally, one other random idea: set up a couple of individual machines for non-grant-funded personal computation projects. Let students apply for time, perhaps with mini-proposals conducted through some existing undergrad research program. There are probably plenty of senior thesis projects that could make good use of even modest computational resources.
  • by AlXtreme ( 223728 ) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:50PM (#16524695) Homepage Journal
    Comments about game servers? Larger disk quotas? Email accounts?! What in deity's name is slashdot becoming?

    Over here at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam we have 'computation servers'. Any CS/AI student can log in and use the 4-way SMP machines for their studies (and let me say that this is a real help when running CPU-intensive algorithms that otherwise would take weeks to complete). Bigger iron like the old DAS cluster [] with it's 200 nodes is used for parallel-programming, distributed systems courses and more serious applications.

    If you don't know what to do with it, hand it to graduate students that need the cycles.

  • by voot ( 609611 )
    vpns - a lot more then what your proably willing to offer, but it is a good way to get administration practice and it lets people try all aspects of having a server. but i am sure if you some how managed to do this you would be reimaging a lot
  • Network Drives. Anything I have on my university network drive I can access from anywhere that has an internet connection. It isn't much (just a couple hundred MB), but is often just as easy as using a USB drive. It's accessable through ftp and Net Storage, Novell's online client, and also through Novell's desktop client (although this last method is not endorsed by the IT staff, and therefore receives no support when things go bad). A number of applications are hosted on other drives as well, accessabl
  • Why not provide the school with there own online broadcasts or video broadcasts?

    I am sure the schools/colleges run clubs who will enjoy having there own ways of giving out information and radio is one of them.
  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Saturday October 21, 2006 @12:43AM (#16525733)
    If you don't have any use for it, let the CS majors use it. They NEED those cycles and storage. The students-at-large probably don't. They can get all those services for free from some other website.

    Why try to re-invent the wheel (and then have to *support* that wheel)?

    What I'm saying is, make all the stuff you currently have work better, maybe add a feature that people have been asking about, but don't bother with stuff that you don't need.
  • In my University, we have an IT degree course where one of the units is on Computer Operating Systems (naturally) and while we have a superb internet connection, excellent PCs...a generally good setup, all the PCs are purely Windows machines so the majority of us haven't even SEEN a linux/OS X/unix interface let alone used one. Apparently these guys have some kind of contract with an IT firm locally or something, or maybe they fear the anticipated maintenance costs of hundreds of PCs...I don't know. I don't
  • How about some LTSP servers for use by the campus accomodated students? These hard up students may not be able to afford all the office productivity softwares they require and a machine to run it on. At least this way students can have old computers donated to them and still access the web, office productivity software and email. Add a network printer /scanner per accomodation block and they have all they will need for everyday use.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant