[hcs-d] Summer Development Projects (and a virtual meeting tonight!)

Joshua Kroll jkroll at hcs.harvard.edu
Tue Jul 1 13:56:41 EDT 2008

The HCS Systems team has been working hard this summer. Thanks to
generous grants from FAS IT and the UC, we've purchased over $20,000
of new hardware which we anticipate setting up in the coming few
weeks. This hardware will allow us to greatly increase the
capabilities of some of the services we offer (for example, we'll be
offering very large quotas soon). Also, the extra computing power will
allow us to take on new and exciting projects over the coming year.

As part of this effort, we've also been working to revamp almost
everything running as a part of HCS, from the way our office is put
together (we have a development cluster now) to the way users control
their accounts (web-based access, including web-based e-mail, is
coming this fall).

Because of all of this, there is, as you might imagine, a lot of
development work to do. Some of this involves designing web interfaces
and other user interfaces. Other work involves infrastructure and in
particular security infrastructure. Still more involves low level
analysis of filesystems and kernels. Each area presents its own
challenges and rewards. If you're interested in doing development,
whether you're a beginner or an expert and whether you're interested
in HTML/CSS/AJAX or in writing verified web servers in Haskell*,
there's something for you. You can even define your own project if you
can come up with something you think is interesting and that we might
find useful.

*(we're not actually doing this, but it would be cool if people who
like to reason about software correctness worked on security with us).

The great advantage to working on a development project for HCS is
that your work WILL get used. In fact, it will be deployed on our
systems, which support nearly 1000 accounts and nearly 3500 mailing
lists, before the end of the summer. There's no better way to have an
impact on the Harvard community. Plus, you'll learn just how much
engineering goes into building a system that needs to be robust,
available, and scalable.

If you're interested in working on a project with us, we're having a
virtual meeting tonight at 8:30 EDT/5:30 PDT. You can send me an
e-mail and I'll send you the logistical details (which will vary
depending on the total number of participants). The agenda currently
is focused on Mailman, the software which runs our mailing lists. It

  * A discussion of Vivek's new Mailman UI (which looks awesome)
  * Reorganizing the Mailman configuration pages
  * Developing something to support automated list configuration with
    sensible defaults
  * Determining the best way to cache things like list-owner and the
    list of all mailing lists so that we can improve performance and
    reliability and integrate Mailman with our new account control
    panel and other features.
  * Discussing how feasible it is to get any of this adopted by the
    Mailman developers upstream, and how to maintain a patch if it is
  * The architecture of our new authentication system using a single
    sign-on server, certificates, and Kerberos. In specific, we'll
    discuss the work Grant has done and hopefully conclude that the
    architecture is sensible and scalable to things beyond what we've
    already built.

Plus, you can learn about the other development projects we have going
on and you'll get to see some of the neat features we've built before
they become generally available. We'd love to have as many people on
our team as possible and we value the contributions of anyone from an
absolute beginner on up. Feel free to join us!

Again, the meeting is at 8:30 EDT today, Tuesday July 1. We'll meet
again later in the summer and there's plenty to work on, so even if
you can't make it tonight you can e-mail me to get involved or just
find out more.

As always, ideas or suggestions (whether related to systems or not)
are highly encouraged.


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