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.

New backup service (beta)

TL;DR we have a new backup solution mainly for laptops that frequently leave campus and are looking for testers.

Among the many things we had to learn during the Corona-induced home office stint, one particularly interesting one was: which of our services do work from outside the ETH network, and which do not. I’d like to believe we fared rather well in general, but one glaring counter-example is our BackupPC service for lab and laptop computers. It relies on the client machine having a .dhcp.phys.ethz.ch host name, which only works on wired campus connections. We understand this meant missing backups for those of you who had to take machines off-campus.

In order to be prepared for a second wave, we’ve partnered up with our colleagues of isginf to provide a lab/laptop backup system that works with whatever network connection you have available. It’s based on the tried and tested Open Source restic backup solution that runs on Windows, Linux and macOS clients.

At the current stage we’re looking for early beta testers. Since lab computers are typically still in the lab and continue to work fine with BackupPC, laptop users are currently most interesting for us. So if you’d like to test out our road-warrior compatible backup solution, please get in touch. Be aware that this service still has some rough edges, but we’ll walk you through all necessary steps and the backup runs themselves have been working fine for weeks now.

Group-data server hardware maintenance.

Update 18:15 group-data is back!

Planned maintenance will be taking place on our group-data.phys.ethz.ch server on Friday, June 19, starting at 17:00. The service will be down for approximately 2 hours. We will be replacing the network interface card to improve service stability.

All group shares will be affected except IPA, IGP and Galaxy.

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

New D-PHYS collaboration/chat service (Slack replacement)

Now that we’re all forced to work from home, one of the biggest challenges is effective communication. Some of you might have heard about Slack, a popular proprietary collaboration/chat solution for group communication. At ISG, we have worked on a D-PHYS-hosted alternative for quite some time, and have now redoubled all efforts to get it out to you as soon as possible. Today we’re launching our Matrix homeserver and Element chat client to all D-PHYS employees and students. In contrast to Slack, which is a proprietary communication silo that holds your chat history hostage, Matrix is an open source project that publishes the Matrix open standard for secure, decentralized, real-time communication (chat, VoIP, AR/VR, IoT). All parts of your communication (chats, uploaded documents etc) will be hosted at D-PHYS allowing data self-sovereignty (making it compatible with ETH regulations).

If you’re interested to use this service to communicate and collaborate in your group or with us, please see this readme page.

Please note that we’re starting with a basic set of functionality (group and direct chats, image upload). Internally we’ve already tested features like video calling and custom bots which will be rolled out incrementally in the coming weeks.

Informatikdienste will soon announce the availability of Microsoft Teams, which tries to achieve the same goal but which we neither recommend nor support in D-PHYS.

Corona and ISG

ISG is working from home. We will not be able to pick up the phone. If you have any helpdesk request, please use isg@phys.ethz.ch

As ETH and D-PHYS are working hard on every level to prepare for all conceivable situations related to Covid-19, also here at ISG we are trying to deal with the situation as it evolves. Some information from our side:

  • we’re currently dealing with a great number of requests. Please bear with us if reaction time is somewhat longer than usual
  • please always send requests to isg@phys.ethz.ch and not to individual people (fun fact: this also applies in non-Corona times!)
  • we have created a readme page that helps you prepare for home office
  • there is a D-PHYS internal wiki for easy sharing of information
  • please don’t take your managed Windows or Linux workstation home. It won’t work.
  • if you feel that you need some IT assistance or major changes to your setup, please get in touch with us at an early stage
  • we have taken precautions to be able to maintain D-PHYS IT Services and ISG Helpdesk even if we were being requested to stay home

new ISG staff member

It is my pleasure to welcome Maciej Bonin into our group. He joins us to replace Patrick Schmid in the Linux team.

Welcome Maciej!

Migration of Dynamic DNS

Some of you make use of our DynDNS infrastructure that automatically assigns hostnames to computers with a dynamic IP address. This feature enables you to connect to your computer using its sent hostname, followed by the dhcp.phys.ethz.ch domain (eg example.dhcp.phys.ethz.ch) instead of the ever-changing dynamic IP address.

Thursday morning

Jan 30 2020 between 9:00 and 11:00

we will be migrating our DynDNS service to the servers of central Informatikdienste. As a consequence the resolution of example.dhcp.phys.ethz.ch to its dynamic IP address may not always work during that time. The global phys.ethz.ch and ethz.ch domains are not affected. Therefore the bulk of our users will not even notice the migration.

Update: Informatikdienste have postponed the migration from 23rd to 30th January.

2019 in review

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 2019:

  • Ansible deployment: while we had already started to deploy servers using ansible as early as 2015, it was in 2019 that we consolidated and migrated almost all server configuration to this system and now have a common base for the D-PHYS server infrastructure.
  • Storage server separation: in the past years a constant growth in both volume and bandwidth of our SAN storage system caused occasional performance issues for some users. To alleviate this, we split our single SAN frontend file server into 4 individual machines (D-PHYS general, IPA, IGP and galaxy) in order to distribute the load.
  • New web server: at the end of 2018 we purchased a new D-PHYS web server to replace the previous 10-year-old system. In 2019 we devised a completely new and upgraded web server setup on this new machine and migrated all D-PHYS hosted web shares to the new system. If you are the owner of one of our web shares, please make sure to read the updated documentation for things that have changed.
  • Network migration: the extensive Hönggerberg network reorganization we reported last year is even more complex than we initially thought, so there’s no end-user-tangible progress this year – which doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
  • Storage: in 2019 the disk space occupied by data and backup grew from 2.1 PiB to 2.7 PiB, continuing the obvious trend of ever-growing data. The end of 2019 also saw a substantial expansion of the available disk capacity.
  • Clusters: we inherited two HPC clusters from CSCS that we’re now running locally.
  • InfluxDB / Grafana: we included this popular time-series database / visualization combination into our service catalog.
  • Outages: apart from a pre-announced migration window and some short-term network interruptions, our systems have been very stable in 2019.
  • OS upgrades: The Windows team was active in getting rid of the remaining Windows 7 machines and upgrading Windows 10 to the 1809 build, while on the Linux side workstations were upgraded to Ubuntu 18.04 and a first batch of servers to Debian buster.
  • Software upgrades: the FileMaker server has been upgraded.
  • UCC: the UCC project of Informatikdienste was stopped due to nonfulfillment of the technical requirements and all deployed services and devices have been rolled back. The whole project will be reevaluated from scratch.
  • IT security: we participate in and support the ETH-wide IT security initiative.

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 2020!