Rethinking groupware

In August of 2010, we introduced our groupware solution for D-PHYS. In the last 11 years the system has served the Department well, but we believe now would be a good time to think about the future of groupware at D-PHYS. Here’s an incomplete list of things we noticed over the years:

  • the groupware system seems to get used almost exclusively as a calendar
  • for distributed calendars, the world and people’s expectations have changed
  • file and sync formats have come and gone
  • 17 people will have 634 completely orthogonal and incompatible use cases for calendars
  • the product that won our evaluation round in 2010 is not necessarily the best system for 2021

We have sampled the market and test-installed several candidates, but since our humble ISG-internal calendar only covers one very specific use case, we strongly encourage you to give us your feedback so that the next D-PHYS calendar solution will suit you well. In particular, we’re interested in learning

  • are you using any other egroupware module(s) aside from the calendar? If you don’t tell us about it now, a potential replacement may not have this functionality!
  • what’s your current calendar use case? Just a personal calendar? A group calendar? In which configuration?
  • what’s your desired calendar use case? This might be the most interesting thing to learn…
  • which sync protocols/devices are you using?
  • what other software/products/services have you been/are you using?

If you would like to help make sure the next evolution in distributed D-PHYS calendars is a success, please join our Matrix room and participate! Thanks a lot.

D-PHYS network migrations

Several network migrations will take place over the next months that will have an impact on the design and inner workings of the ethernet network at D-PHYS. Even though all hosts will be affected at a technical level, we believe that most changes will not require any involvement from your side. By the end of the year this should further increase the fault-tolerance of the cabled network infrastructure and enhance the security of the bulk of the computers at D-PHYS.

Network segmentation

The central Informatikdienste are splitting several networks into smaller chunks to increase the overall stability and fault-tolerance. Unfortunately the details are flagged as confidential, prohibiting us from exposing the precise structure of this segmentation. The main repercussion is that our D-PHYS networks will no longer be able to span across all current buildings at once. So depending on the building, we will have to introduce new subnets and assign new IP addresses to the computers inside.

NAT network

Motivated by the above-mentioned segmentation as well as security considerations, we are planning to migrate a large number of hosts to a NAT network. This means that the computer will only get an ETH-internal IP address and will no longer be directly reachable from outside of ETH. From inside ETH or VPN, all communication with that computer remains unaffected. However, while the host can still communicate with all of the internet, it will no longer be exposed to direct attacks from the outside. We believe that this is a very sensible default for most computers and laptops. Of course it will still be possible to assign a public IP to selected hosts in order to provide a specific service to the outside. The new NAT network also provides DynDNS with sentname.dhcp-int.phys.ethz.ch hostnames and full IPv6 connectivity. So if you rely on DNS entries for dynamic IP addresses, make sure to use the domain dhcp.phys.ethz.ch for public subnets and dhcp-int.phys.ethz.ch for internal subnets.

DHCP migration

Right now, some of our networks are serviced by our own D-PHYS DHCP servers, while others use the DHCP servers of central IT services. We are now consolidating all networks and migrating the remaining ones step-by-step to the DHCP servers of Informatikdienste. This change is mostly technical and should remain unnoticed by most users.

For further details and up-to-date information please refer to our readme page.

New Microsoft Licensing terms

Last year, the license agreement between ETH and Microsoft has changed. There are some new terms and conditions which are important if you use a Microsoft product from the ETH IT Shop.

If your hardware came with Windows preinstalled from the hardware vendor, you have your own license for MS Office, or you are using non-Microsoft products like Libre Office, then you are not affected by this new license agreement. No further action is needed in this case.

However, if you use any of the following software products from the ETH IT Shop you have to take action:

  • Windows 10 Education
  • Windows 10 LTSC
  • MS Office XXXX (for example MS Office 2016)
  • Microsoft 365
  • Microsoft Teams
  • ETH Exchange Mail (mail.ethz.ch)

either on a managed Windows workstation from ISG or a self-managed workstation or notebook.

In this case you need to request access for a free Microsoft Cloud Subscription in the IT Shop. See here for instructions. If you already use MS 365 or MS Teams, maybe you already have the Cloud Subscription and no additional step is necessary. This can also be verified in the IT Shop. Remember that you need renew the subscription every year.

The new Microsoft license agreement allows only 1 MS Office XXXX (for example MS Office 2016 or Office 2019) installation per user. If you need installations on multiple computers for example in labs, use MS 365 instead.

Note that you will have to take action if you’re affected. You cannot sit this one out. The Informatikdienste license team will be coerced by Microsoft to enforce license compliance, and they will contact you if you don’t get your Cloud Subscription.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us in our Matrix chat #D-PHYS ISG Helpdesk or by email isg@phys.ethz.ch

Thank you for your attention, and kind regards.

Web services downtime

Update 07:00 All web services are back online.

Tomorrow Wednesday 2021-01-20 starting at 06:00 we will upgrade the server hardware hosting most of our web services. We expect them to be back by 08:00 at the latest.

Affected web services

The following services are unavailable during the downtime:

Our Debian, Ubuntu and Raspbian mirror as well as Grafana, InfluxDB and Webmail will not be affected.

We will not be able to send any status updates via our news blog or via our Matrix news and status rooms.

2020 in review – Corona edition

oh boy, what a year.

This post is meant to give you a short overview of what has been accomplished in D-PHYS IT by ISG this year. We’ve been hard at work to further improve and extend our services for you, our customers. Some highlights of 2020:

  • Home office: on March 12, due to rapidly rising Covid-19 numbers, ISG was sent to work from home, along with most of the department. While we had somewhat anticipated this step and were prepared for it, the first two weeks were very busy because we had to assist a lot of people who weren’t. In the end I believe we got everyone set up and we have been fully operational from home with only occasional individual visits to the office since then.
  • Matrix/Element/Riot: one of the most pressing issues with everyone working from home was an efficient and versatile tool for team communication. We had started internal tests of our Matrix chat system in late 2019, but then intensified our efforts in February and were able to release the system for general D-PHYS availability in home office week (HOW) 2. During the course of 2020, we continually kept working on the system and added new exciting features.
    We also run a Jitsi instance for privacy-aware video conferencing.
  • New laptop backup: our traditional BackupPC backup system for laptops and lab computers relies on each backup client to be reachable in the D-PHYS network, which obviously didn’t work any longer in the home office regime. In HOW 17, we released a new backup system for laptops that works from any internet connection worldwide. Unfortunately, only very few of you have signed up for the service so far. Please make sure you have a backup of your laptop!
  • Ansible deployment: more servers and finally also the managed Linux workstations have been added to our ansible configuration management, allowing for completely automated installation of our systems.
  • Network migration: the extensive Hönggerberg network reorganization we reported two years ago hasn’t seen much progress by Informatikdienste, but we have been working on our side to make the first steps. In early 2020 we migrated the dhcp.phys DNS service from our servers to ID’s as a prerequisite for the eventual Gebäudezonen split.
  • Storage: in 2020 the disk space occupied by data and backup grew from 2.7 PiB to 3.2 PiB, continuing the obvious trend of ever-growing data. We have now also started the process of phasing out the oldest disk backends in order to replace them with fewer, bigger disks.
  • Software licenses: in the past 12 months, both Adobe and Microsoft decided to switch to a new license system in which each installation requires a license tied to a personal user account. In future, we can’t create or extend your Adobe or Microsoft licenses for you, no matter how often you ask us to. You have to do it yourself, according to our instructions for Adobe and Microsoft (you might also want to think about switching to less oppressive software alternatives).
  • Outages: apart from two pre-announced storage migration windows (one of which took a bit longer than expected), 4 h of mail server hardware issues and some short-term network interruptions, our systems have been very stable in 2020. We are aware of the fact that wifi is quite often an issue, and we’re trying to convince Informatikdienste to take it seriously.
  • OS upgrades: The Windows team was active migrating the Windows 2016 servers to 2019 while on the Linux side the first workstations were upgraded to Ubuntu 20.04 and most servers are now running Debian buster.
  • Software upgrades: mostly incremental upgrades in our Windows and Linux software list this year.
  • UCC: in February, the old non-VoIP phones in HPT, HPF and HPK were replaced by shiny new ones, just a few weeks before we were all sent home…
  • ISG staff changes: Patrick Schmid left us at the end of 2019 and was replaced by Maciej Bonin in February. Christian Schneider was replaced by Stephan Müller in September. And finally, Sukash Sugumaran superseded Janosch Bühler as our apprentice.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my whole team for their hard and dedicated work all year long.

Happy Holidays and see you in 2021!

Hardware maintenance of storage front-end server igp-data.

 Update 00:30:

All shares coming back online now. My sincerest apologies for the delay. And good night to all.

Update 22:40: We have run into hardware problems with one of the backends. The shares remain offline as we continue to diagnose it. A further update will be posted as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, 02 XII 2020, between 18:00 and 20:00, access to
igp-data shares will be interrupted for scheduled maintenance.
The shares need to be taken entirely offline for a network upgrade.
At the same time we will be adding more space to the underlying SAN.
This affects all shares on the igp-data storage gateway (ggl, pf and gsg).

Thank you for your patience, and kindest regards.

Update on Matrix (chat)

Since our launch of Matrix at the D-PHYS in March a few things have changed.

Important changes

  • The subdomain of the D-PHYS hosted Riot Element Web App changed and is now at element.phys.ethz.ch. If you still use the old subdomain riot.phys.ethz.ch, please move over to the new domain and verify your new session. We will start redirecting the domain in 2021. If you have no other way of getting access to your encryption keys, you could lose access to your encrypted messages
  • New documentation is available at readme.phys.ethz.ch/chat

Other changes

  • Federation with other Matrix instances at ETH and the rest of the Matrix network, giving us access to bridged networks like IRC, Slack, etc. as well
  • We now auto-invite new users to two more ISG moderated rooms (News/Status). Opt-out by leaving if you do not wish to receive updates from us (discouraged!). All existing members of the D-PHYS Lobby have been joined last night
  • End to end encryption support (enabled by default). Element Web does not provide a search function in encrypted rooms as that would be a security issue, use the Desktop App instead
  • Secure key backup method has been set to show one option only (‘Security Passphrase’) to new users, which will still provide the secondary recovery method using a ‘Security Key’
  • We opened up public rooms and room aliases for everyone. Publish your room in the public room directory to be discoverable by others on the Matrix network
  • We enabled quota of 2 GiB (initial) quota per user for media (uploads) to protect from accidental or abusive over-usage
  • Bots for gitlab, reminders, RSS feeds and more
  • Bridges for webhooks and Slack
  • Integrations (widgets)
  • Import of the Slack workspace history of 3 groups at the D-PHYS
  • An Element Web instance with experimental (Labs) features like tags
  • A tag manager to organize many rooms in large accounts
  • Jitsi video conferencing and screen sharing solution (still experimental but used by ISG on a daily basis)
  • URL redirecting service to invite people via websites or email

Lookout

  • We will focus on improving performance and less on features
  • Stabilizing 1:1 calls and video (TURN server) and Jitsi (group calls)

For help and discussion about Matrix and Element join #matrix:phys.ethz.ch

new ISG staff member

It is my pleasure to welcome Stephan Müller into our group. He joins us to replace Christian Schneider in the Linux team.

Welcome Stephan!

Hardware failure on mail server

Update 09:45: the mail server could be recovered. It’ll take some time for all queued incoming mail to be delivered.

Early this morning, a RAID controller in the D-PHYS mail server died. We’re trying to get replacement parts later today. In the meantime, there’s no access to email.
We apologize for the inconvenience.

Hardware maintenance of storage front-end servers.

Update 23:50: we ran into severe problems and the migration took longer than expected. Everything is back online now. Sorry we’re late.


Planned maintenance will be taking place on all shared-storage front-end servers on Thursday, August 6th, starting at 17:00. The service will be down for approximately 2-3 hours. This post will be updated as soon as work is completed, were we to finish earlier than expected. We will be upgrading the network switch and replacing hardware in several machines.

All group shares will be affected, i.e. group-data, IPA, IGP and Galaxy. Only the home and backup servers will be accessible during this time.

For emergency cases, there will be read-only access to last night’s backup as described here.