My Little Corner of the Net

Say Goodnight Gracie

A pretty major event occurred at RIT on Monday, but hardly anyone probably noticed. It wasn’t marked by any sort of fanfare or celebration, just a simple email that popped up on my screen saying “Mike Young has completed a PCR.” And with that the “Grace” web server was retired.

Anyone who’s spent any time on the RIT campus knows Grace. Over the years the venerable Digital Unix cluster has served many purposes. For many years it was one of two main email servers for the campus. It also handled file sharing. But most people know it as the web server.

In actuality, is nothing more than a shell server. All it handles—and all it ever handled—are shell connections (telnet and later SSH) and file transfers (FTP, SCP, SFTP, etc.). It is but one small piece of the whole OSF environment but, as the most people’s primary gateway to the other OSF services, it is the best known.

The OSF environment was a powerhouse in its day, but with the acquisition of DEC by Compaq and the discontinuation of Digital Unix it eventually became a dinosaur. Like so many enterprise systems, though, moving on was difficult to do, so “Grace” kept chugging even though she couldn’t support anything newer than Apache 1.x and PHP 3.

Grace was the server through which I published my first website. I still remember going to the ISC (now ITS) HelpDesk, then in building 10, to request a Grace account. Once I got it, I had to sit down with the Unix tutorial the HelpDesk provided and Harley Hahn’s Student Guide To Unix before I could figure out how to use it because I had no clue about Unix and vi had me stumpped, but I persevered and, thanks to Grace, became pretty proficient with Unix in the process.

About two years ago, after a wait of what seemed like forever, a new web environment was brought online. The new environment, running on Solaris, is much more modern and can scale to the institutes needs much better. The new environment also replaces the illogical department-number-based URL structure of “Grace” with a more meaningful hierarchical structure that makes URLs easier to share and remember. During the transition, sites not yet migrated to the new environment were proxied through it to ase-web, the “Grace” web server. Last Friday I had the honor of disabling the last remaining proxy and making way for the event that happened on Monday.

On Friday the Grace shell server gets switched off and we officially close another chapter on computing history at RIT. Then we party!

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