Excerpted from September 1991 UCS budget planning document.

Distributed Computing, Centralization/Decentralization, and Information Policy

Distributed computing and "open systems" are among some of the most controversial and misunderstood contemporary technologies. Part of the problem is that many technologists use (and misuse) the same terms to signify different things, and have parochial attitudes towards what they should mean. "Distributed computing" can mean distributing the processing power, the data, the management, or the control. The difference between distributing processing power and distributing the management of the technology is enormous.

Emerging desktop and LAN server technology (hardware and software) have made possible the distribution of computing power to the individual worker. Low cost storage devices have made it conceivable to distribute data as well. While it is possible to substantially improve the productivity of the end user, there is also a risk that if this distribution of resources is not properly managed, cost will increase, productivity decline, and chaos ensue.

There are several good reasons to distribute computing:

It's not all good news, however. Despite potential to exploit low-cost hardware, the costs can actually increase (because of resource duplication), and the decision-making process can be impaired. An incompatible variety of solutions may result. There is a downside risk to distributed computing:

There is a solution to these conflicting needs. It involves the central coordination of computing activities and assuring that the "corporate data" is centrally managed from a technologies viewpoint, locally managed from an application viewpoint. Operational managers must be able to manage their units, and University executives must be able to manage the University.

Central support of distributed micros, workstations, and LANs is necessary to avoid having to duplicate support resources throughout the campus. Distributed support (e.g. "technical coordinators") can be used to provide informed and responsive local support while leveraging the skills of the centralized expertise. A thorough discussion is beyond the scope of this budget document, but it is a very important budget issue...

"Open Access" and Campus-Wide Information Systems (CWIS)

We feel that the future of University information systems involves allowing "open access" to administrative data. Administrative systems must evolve from being just for administrators to being for our customers. Student information and accounting systems must serve students, for example. Not all the software we will need to accomplish this goal exists today, but we must start positioning ourselves to implement such systems. It will be necessary to remain competitive.

Our InfoCat CWIS pilot project is an example of how valuable these systems can be. With virtually no investment, just a redirection of effort, we have already dramatically increased the availability of timely and accurate information. With some creative energy, this system could serve as a valuable recruitment tool.

Administrative Application Needs

[snip, available but 1991 needs are just not that germain]

Campus-Wide Standards

UVM has gotten into the habit of fostering an environment where everyone is allowed to make their own technology decisions. While this clearly has some advantages, there is a need to establish "standard supported solutions" (e.g. Novell servers). This need not restrict a user's choice of solutions, but many users want the comfort, consistency, and economies related to standard solutions. The University will save time and money in the long run.

Training and Retraining

We can spend as much time and money as we want on new computers, information systems, and networks, but if we do not provide the related training, it will have been largely wasted. Our success depends on people understanding what tools are available to them and how to use them effectively. And when they don't work (or the are counter-intuitive), prompt local support should be available. Currently the central staff providing that support is over-extended.

Help Desk &endash; Who are you going to call?

As the community of computer and network users continues to grow, the requirement for a centralized "help desk" becomes more and more apparent. More often than not the user does not know who to call, because the user does not know where the fault is or who might be able to help. We have observed that, in general, clients will call the person who helped them last time. This can result in an inefficient use of staff expertise (for example, Lynne Meeks still gets regular pleas for help from people with word-processing problems). Currently UCS uses our computer operations staff as a "help desk". While the computer operators are not experts in applications, systems, and networking they have a modicum of knowledge in most major areas, and they are currently the most available (though accommodating budget reductions made reducing weekend coverage necessary). The computer operators are frequently aware of major problems, can help isolate problems, occasionally solve problems and, if not, can pass them along to the appropriate staff. It is not an ideal situation: the computer operators have many other duties, and constant telephone interruptions can diminish their productivity and lead to errors. Also operators will occasionally misdirect a call &endash; especially when the client has also misdiagnosed the source of the problem. Operators are trained to be courteous, but constant interruptions can cause anyone to become irritable.

On the other hand, setting up a dedicated help desk, though desirable, is costly. Not having a help desk can be even more expensive, however, because of the following inefficiencies:

Other Universities we have talked to have help-desk staffs of from two to ten people. We know it is unlikely that we could add new positions at this time, but as the University plans and reorganizes, we must consider the need for a centralized help facility. We think this could be made possible through reallocation of existing resources. As we fill vacancies and reorganize in Computing, we plan to redefine at least one position to start such a service. It is also our intent to supplement full-time staff with student employees. We will strive to build a rudimentary "help desk" resource by reallocation and without additional general funds.

Office space &endash; continues to be in short supply. We have carved smaller offices to allow positions to be filled. The ACS conference room has been sacrificed for an office and a server room (UCS meetings must occasionally be held in the 113 hallway). Office space for some operations and technical support personnel whose responsibilities require regular presence in the computer room and the AIS office area are located on the wrong floor. This compromises the productivity and effectiveness of these staff members.

Note: four UCS positions are currently under recruitment but only three offices are available.


Computer Room and Tape/Paper Storage Space &endash; also continues to be a problem. Some computer room space gains have been made by replacing old equipment with more space efficient (and typically more expensive) versions. While we had at one time looked into expanding the computer room, we no longer feel that this is a pressing need.


We have lost our paper storage room so we now keep limited stock in the Micro-computer Services Depot. Because this area has an intrusion alarm (which must be disarmed), second and third shift trips for paper stock are time-consuming. Because of the storage limits, we are more likely to exhaust our supply of custom forms on an untimely basis, resulting in occasional delays in critical applications.


Microcomputer Services

As noted last year, there is demand for the "Depot" becoming more of a computer store that could provide both hardware and software presales support. We have made some progress: we have applied for and have been granted "Campus Technology Center" status, we are investigating computerized options for point-of-sale automation; we have added student software "consultants" to help customers. However, we do not currently have the point-of-sale capabilities or staffing necessary to administer the software and other related sales. For that reason, software sales (except for that bundled with the required microcomputers) are still being handled by the Bookstore. We (and at least some of our customers) think that the University would be better served by making this service available through Microcomputer Services.

We have eliminated one of last year's barriers to implementing such a service: Mass Mailing has been removed from the Depot. Not only was this service inconsistent with the Depot's mission, but it also was taking time away from micro computing service and sapping financial resources necessary to implement an expanded microcomputer facility. We expect to be able to offer additional services in the coming year.

We are also working with the Instrumentation and Modeling Facility (IMF) in order to explore a combined service or, minimally, to coordinate some of our more similar service offerings so as to present a single electronic repair "face". Currently both units have missions outside the computer repair area that tie us into other campus organizations. Neither unit is inclined to abandon those ties, but we do feel we can offer a better, perhaps more cost efficient, service by working together.