From Cluster to Cloud to Appliance

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From Cluster to Cloud to Appliance

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Title: From Cluster to Cloud to Appliance
Author: Malan, David J.
Citation: Malan, David J. 2013. From cluster to cloud to appliance. 18th Annual ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, July 1–3, 2013, Canterbury, England, UK.
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Abstract: We propose a client-side virtual machine (VM) as an alternative to on-campus clusters and off-campus clouds as a development environment for students in introductory courses. In Fall 2011, we deployed the CS50 Appliance, our own such VM, to 600 students on campus and, in Fall 2012, to 700 students on campus and 140,000 students online. We present in this work the results of that two-year experiment. The appliance itself is available as open source for others to adapt or adopt. Not only did the appliance enable us to provide students with simpler tools, among them a graphical editor without any latency, it also enabled us to provide more sophisticated tools too, including a web server and database server. Moreover, the appliance ensured that the course's workload no longer required constant Internet access, particularly of students abroad. And the appliance alleviated load on the course's servers, with execution of students' programs now distributed across students' own CPUs. Without the appliance (or more costly clusters or clouds), we certainly could not have accommodated as many as 140,000 students. But some students' laptops, particularly netbooks, struggled under the appliance's weight. Even though designed to be lean, the appliance, like any VM, still consumes resources, particularly RAM. And unforeseen technical difficulties arose in both years, most, but not all, of which we redressed with mid-semester updates and documentation. Overall we have judged our deployment of an appliance a success, superior to past years' clusters and clouds. And we continue to refine the appliance for Fall 2013.
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