Life is a Mystery

15 April 2004

Considering Computer Support

Ralph Quarles (IU) and I found each other at the reception. Ralph has offered to help us evaluate our computer support and seek an appropriate model for future support. He noted that he is ready for some ongoing contact with his colleagues at other CIC institutions. The Library IT Directors have that kind of forum in the CIC, but staff at his level, those actually running technology support operations, really don’t have many opportunities to reach out to each other. I wonder if we should plan a day or two of professional “shoot the breeze” time at Minnesota for all the folks in these positions? We could do it as part of our investigative effort. This could both help this cohort build connections to one another and serve as a font of wisdom and warning for our own planning effort.

We ask our technology staff to do the seeming impossible. Our staff is not nearly large enough to manage the kind of deployment we’ve got around the Libraries. How can only six staff manage 600 machines? On the other hand, could it be a failure of imagination? When I arrived at the U the first significant decision I made was to kill our attempt to use Sun Ray “appliance” computers to replace public workstations in the Libraries. We had good reasons for that decision, but the fundamental problem was staring us in the face then and remains at the core of our troubles in ITS: we cannot support a deployment of 600 Windows workstations with so few staff. Why can’t we change the rules? At MIT I watched an organization deploy and maintain thousands of workstations with fewer staff than we have available to us.

I believe we need to think outside the box, it may not be Sun Ray, but we must recognize our situation (a budget even more limited than it was in 2001) and devise creative solutions to meet our needs within those bounds. I am certain this means compromises, but not necessarily the ones that run our staff ragged without the reward of a computing infrastructure they can take pride in, tell the world about, and share with our community.

My frustration with our current situation expresses itself as a frustration with ugly machinery, and I do believe that computers should be in the process of fading out of sight, but that’s a red herring. My real frustration is that I’ve allowed our expectations to be diminished by accepting the limits we’ve imposed on ourselves. I wonder if we shouldn’t get the CIC equivalents of Directors of ITS together to share their frustrations and triumphs. We could certainly use some inspiration and, who knows, we might even be able to do something inspiring ourselves!

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /