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The Athena Release

The Athena Release integrates MIT-developed services, as well as third party software and services into the Ubuntu Linux operating system.  This is accomplished through the Debathena project, a joint effort between the Student Information Processing Board (SIPB) and IS&T. While the Debathena project supports all operating systems using the Debian package format, IS&T selected Ubuntu Linux as the operating system of choice for the public Athena environment.

Lifecycle

The lifecycle of the Athena Release is built around the school year. The beginning of a new term is the time to introduce user-visible changes. During the term it's important to keep things as stable as possible. What engineers might classify as bug fixes, customers might perceive as disruptive breakage. For example, class notes explaining how to use software might require an update. Therefore testing and roll-out of large scope, user-visible changes happens over the summer. Smaller scope changes are tested and rolled-out over IAP.

In general, new hardware is purchased throughout the year, but recommended models do not change during the academic year (subject to vendor availability).

Change management

Change management follows the following principles in order of decreasing priority:

  1. Minimize disruption to the customers.
  2. Keep systems secure.
  3. Keep in sync with security fixes and bug fixes from the operating system.
  4. Minimize overall cost to MIT.
  5. Provide bug fixes to existing services.
  6. Provide enhancements or new functionality.

Considerable thought goes into minimizing disruption, but security fixes after often quite time sensitive.  For this reason, we have chosen to take updates shortly after their release.  These updates are tested by the operating system vendor before being released, and we do additional testing as soon as we receive them.  In the unlikely event that an updated package removes or alters existing functionality, we will come up with a workaround as soon as possible.  

In the case of software packages that we maintain, we can exercise more control over the update process.  Security fixes will always be released as soon as possible, but changes which significantly alter functionality may be deferred until the end of t

During the term, from Drop Date to the end of exams, we prefer to make no changes whatsoever. During that time we would consider introducing a change only in cases of a severe bug affecting many users, or an actively exploited security vulnerability.

The Ubuntu release cycle

New versions of Ubuntu Linux are released twice a year, in April and October.  Pre-release versions are available several months ahead of time, and by the time a version is actually released, we have already made significant progress towards integrating it into the Athena release.  Once significant testing has been completed, the new version will be deployed to the public clusters 2-3 months after its release.  The October version is usually deployed during IAP, and the April version is usually deployed over the summer.  

Security updates and bugfixes are available from Ubuntu for 18 months after the release date, which gives us ample time to ensure that an upgrade path is available.

The Athena source tree

The source code is available in the Subversion version control system.  For information on accessing the repository or viewing it online, visit Debathena Development.

Useful email lists

Post to:

Subscribe to: release-announce to receive announcements about new releases whether they be major or minor

Read archives of: release-team team discussion list