Synchrotron fires up greenfield IT

When complete next year, Australia's first synchrotron will be a marvel of world-leading technology and will have a fresh slate of IT systems unencumbered with legacy integration challenges.

The Australian Synchrotron Project is housed within a purpose-built facility in the grounds of Melbournne's Monash University. The synchrotron will allow scientists from numerous disciplines to explore the nature of matter by firing beams of energy into various particles.

Matthew Tuffin, IT manager for the synchrotron facility's construction phase, told Computerworld a greenfield site may sound like a dream, but it's "not as easy as you think".

"I come from mining background and dealing with old infrastructure, you know have to deal with it or replace it. In a greenfield site you have to design everything from scratch and one or more people may not have the skills required," Tuffin said, adding that if you discover at the last minute a cable's needed , there's no accumulated stock to fall back on.

"When you first get into a facility you can choose the technology you want at the time and nine times out of 10 you make the right decisions," Tuffin said. When that stage is completed and it's a matter of keeping things going, then you can decide to replace or keep old things running, he said.

While agreeing that IT systems will degrade over time and become harder to manage, Tuffin said managers are far less likely in the future to have legacy integration issues using today's technology to set up a greenfield site.

With about 60 full-time staff and 30 subcontractors working on the implementation phase of the synchrotron, Tuffin has deployed Windows 2003 servers, Windows XP desktops and Linux servers for development and beam control.

"We have a number of different areas and the office is fairly simple - Windows 2003 server with Active Directory, but most important is the development environment which is predominantly run on Linux," he said.

For the network 16 Cisco 3750 series switches were installed with a 6509 core switch for the VLANs.

"It's all gigabit Ethernet, a nice thing to have straight up for every single port in the office," Tuffin said, adding there are no plans for 10Gb Ethernet, but the installed cabling supports it. "We have a gigabit link to AARNet which is quite nice."

One emerging technology Tuffin decided not to deploy is VoIP, opting instead for an Ericsson PABX.

"We already had copper cabling in the building," he said. "The PABX is not IP-enabled, but we can do it later at minimal cost."

The decision not to deploy VoIP was made two years ago, and Tuffin said he is sceptical about the technology from reading about it in the media and "not being involved in an installation".

"I didn't feel the cost [savings] and quality is there," he said. "We are a project team and don't need best technology all the time, but it's a future possibility. Reading about it in IT literature, a lot of people say VoIP for office environments is just not there [yet]."

The project team is "well on track" to complete the synchrotron by March next year when the facility will be handed over to either ANSTO or an equivalent research institution.

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