Computer Systems Lab
Connecting & Supporting the Computer Sciences Department
Information for New Computer Sciences Faculty

Information for New Computer Sciences Faculty (Summer 2024)

Welcome! The purpose of this page is to introduce the Computer Systems Lab (CSL) and provide some information that we hope will be useful to new Computer Sciences faculty in the next few months. Please send any question to

Introduction to the CSL

The Computer Systems Lab is the computing facility for the CS department and CDIS. Unlike many departments, we support all aspects of computing in the department: instructional, research and administrative uses. We think that this is one of our strengths: everyone in the department has access to a wide variety of computing resources. Very little software is restricted to a specific segment of the department. Most likely the software that is in your research environment is the same software that is available to students, and vice versa.

By leveraging computer support for a large number of users, we are able to provide first-class support at a reasonable cost.

The CSL carries out the policies set by the department faculty and the facilities committee.

CSL Staff

The CSL has eight full-time staff, and 10-12 undergraduate students working 10-30 hours/week, doing a variety of support tasks. For the current staff list and primary duties, see the CSL Staff page.

Facilities and Services

Information on our most commonly requested services is available at the CSL Services tab on this website. A quick summary of the services and facilities that may be of immediate interest to new faculty:

Operating Systems

  • Ubuntu 22.04 LTS available on CSL managed desktops and servers. We will be deploying Ubuntu 24.04 during Summer 2024.

  • Windows 11 is available for CSL managed desktops and laptops. We provide Windows servers for the Windows infrastructure, and can provide dedicated Windows servers if needed for research projects.

  • Apple macOS is not currently supported by the CSL for general purpose use.

  • Arrangements can be made for other operating systems as needed by research projects

Laptops and Tablets

Laptops and tablets are by their very nature personal, and most faculty and research assistants do not want or expect their laptop to be managed by the CSL. For self-managed laptops, we will assist either the purchase, inventory, warranty support, aquiring software, and some troubleshooting.

The CSL manages Windows laptops for administrative and student services staff, and can also provide that service for others if requested.

The CSL manages Ubuntu Linux on laptops for some CSL staff and others who request that service.

Please see below about purchasing laptops, tablets and other IT purchases.

Web Sites and applicatoin hosting

We have several options to host web-based applications for research, instructiona and service, and for your CS professional web site, and web sites for your research. Please contact us to discuss the best options for your needs.

File Systems, Storage and Data Backup

All Linux workstations and servers use AFS for a site-wide file system. In order to meet the specific needs of research projects, we also support NFS, SMB and SAN-attached storage on a case-by-case basis.

Windows workstations and servers use a Windows file server as the primary file system, with access to AFS for convenience.

Research projects may use additional storage space (AFS, NFS, SMB, or SAN-attached) or storage offerings from the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology. Unless a project has specific very large storage needs that would incur significant additional cost, there is no charge for CSL provided research storage. If your storage would incur significant costs, we will work with you on a cost-effective solution.

All home directories and project space are included in daily backups for disaster recovery purposes, except for some very large static data sets that are specifically excluded at the request of the research project.

Servers and Virutal Machines

In addition to servers for the CSL infrastructure, we configure, purchase and maintain servers for research projects, and a VMware cloud. There is no charge for typical virtual servers. If your project has specific computing needs that are not met by desktop workstations, please contact the lab and we will work with you to meet your needs.

Cloud computing

UW-Madison has contracts with AWS, Google Compute Engine and Azure for cloud computing. If you need to use cloud computing or cloud services for your research or teaching, please contact the lab and we will assist you with the provisioning.

Cloud AI services

All three contracted cloud vendors have AI offerings. The AI models and offerings are rapidly changings, so we don’t have a current list. If you are interested in using any cloud AI services, please contact us and we will work with you on your options and configuring accounts.

Cloud Software Services

We can facilitiate the purchase and use of additional cloud-based service. Each is somewhat unique in that we have to assess the risk and the license terms, and determine the payment mechanism. Please consult the CSL before signing up for any online services for your work.

Purchasing Computer Equipment, Software, Supplies and Services

The CSL handles all computer-related purchases (office supplies and travel are handled by the Department business office).

CSL staff will assist and coordinate any computer-related purchase made with UW funds. We are bound by the UW purchasing rules.

  • Most purchases are less than $5,000 and can be handled by us as a “best judgement” order. However, we are still required to use UW vendors when possible. Note that both Apple and Dell purchases must be made through the contracted UW puchasing channel, which may differ from their retail offerings.
  • Licensed software and cloud services – even if free – require consideration of the legal term and conditions, and data security. Please contact the lab before you start using any software or cloud services not already licensed by the UW.
  • Any purchase over $5,000 requires a purchase order. It typically takes two weeks for a purchase order to be issued, but can be longer if the offices that need to approve the order are busy, or if there are complications with the purchase. The most common complication is purchasing specialized items that have only one vendor, which requires justification.

Before you decide to purchase anything, we’d like to help you make the best choice:

  • If you have specific needs, then you usually know what you want. If it is in any way a computer, we’d like to review your purchase to make sure we can support it.
  • If you have general needs, we’ll work with you to get what you want/need. We try very hard to standardize on a certain model of computers and standard components for each round of computer buys, so that we can more effectively support the computers.
  • We will do the shopping for the best price, take care of the paperwork, and keep an eye on the order
  • When the items arrive, we inventory them, install/configure as needed, and arrange for pick-up or delivery to your office.

Another factor is that we (and everyone else in the University) are very busy in the first few weeks of the semester.

Getting your first computer

We can either order a laptop for you now, or lend you a Dell laptop or desktop computer if you need one until you purchase a work computer.

Your CS account and Email

Your CS account is used for access to CSL facilities and resources, and is the basis of your CS email address. It is separate from your campus NetID.

All CS account have an associate CS email address. You will have a choice of maintaining separate office365 accounts for your WiscMail and CS email, or combining them. We can change the setup if you find that your initial choice is not what you want to use.

Communicating with the Lab

We are using a request-tracking system. To initiate a request, question or problem report, send email to Please include as much information as possible. Once your mail to lab has been received, it is assigned a number, which is added to the Subject: line in square brackets, and an acknowledgement is sent to you. For example:

Subject: Re: [CSL #12345] new faculty

Please save the acknowledgement mail. For any future email on the same issue, please reply to the acknowledgement mail, or to the email from CSL staff, and please keep the CSL # in the subject line (in square brackets), and remember to Cc: lab on your mail. This is the only way we keep related messages together.

If you have an issue you would like to discuss that can not be solved via email, please send mail to lab describing the issue and requesting a meeting. We’ll research the issue and make sure that the appropriate staff person meets with you.

Additional Information/Questions

If you have any questions, or need additional information, please send mail to