IUBio

XXXX Software Cost

Reinhard Doelz doelz at comp.bioz.unibas.ch
Tue Aug 23 12:17:44 EST 1994


FORSDYKE at QUCDN.QueensU.CA wrote:
:          An annual subscription to the on-line service run by XXXX
: Inc., cost about $XXX in 1993. 
...
:          Question. Has anyone any ideas on how to make XXX more
: reasonable? I suspect if they returned to the old system they would get more
: small users, many of whom might eventually become big users. Obviously, they
: have gone into the economics of the matter, but could their economic 
: perspective have been a little short-sighted?

I shouldn't step into this but I am currently in the position to reevaluate 
what a 'reasonable' service is, and what its real cost are, on a national 
basis, if provided by an academic site.
 
Disregarding the size of the country which is certainly an important figure,
a service running in 1990 which was possible with SFr. xxxx per site is now 
SFr. xxxxx on average - i.e. a (at least) tenfold increase. Staff requirements 
grew at least fivefold but only if you look at it from the view of 1990 - no 
GOPHER, WWW, and other client software to care about. More staff is needed
to cope with and teach on new technology. Old environments start failing -
development cost is huge as staff members to be hired need to be educated 
first as this field is quite specific with very little output in terms 
of graduate sutents or similarily qualified young people. User demands 
increased substantially, both in challenge and CPU. Not to talk about 
patience (Mine decreased, at least). 

Small sites have and will increasingly have the problem of the critical mass. 
An ultracentrifuge for a group of 5? A fully-fledged oligo production, 
DNA sequenator, amino acid analyzer, mass-spec aa sequenator, for a research
unit counting 50 heads? A sequence analysis computer site with 3-5 staff 
persons doing nothing but care of data and software for a 500-person building?

The largest problem with whatever you call a 'biocomputing service' is that
the _generation_ of data and service cost much more than the usage itself. 
To give you a trivial example, a new DNA database is 250 MB of data, but a 
search of yours is, even with large output, rarely beyond 25 kb. Now you 
certainly don't want to search both GENBANK and EMBL and whatever other DNA 
sequence database is out there, as you claim yourself to be a reasonable 
researcher, you work effective by buying in the service at a data center 
which gets you all those databases merged in non-redundant collections. 
This is the same effort for you as to search a single database, but the 
poor provider has an increased effort which you need to account for- staff, 
CPU resources, disk resources, bandwith of the network link, etc etc. Not 
to count that everything were at best offered twice at least in order to 
allow continued service despite failures happening possibly more frequently 
than you are aware of. 

My point is that I don't want to comment that  XXX is offering service at 
$xx and claim it were too expensive, but the same argument _you_ are giving 
above to claim that XXX is too expensive is also issued at _any_ site 
offering these services as it comes to (in these days, unavoidable) budget 
revisions - why is all so expensive, or, as we are (I at least am) in 
academia, why is this maintenance person crying so loud for more money, as 
they did have enough money in the past, and increased 5% already three 
years ago? 

In contrast to academia, commercial services _do_ pay their staff members 
for a given working time and do not expect that the staff stays 80 hours
a week anyway. So, more staff raises cost, as does more equipment, office
space, and all follow-up cost happen to be worth. The only reason that 
academia can do it cheaper is that they don't bilance cost in a way that 
industry does. Still, subtracting zz% of revenue of any given fee you are
charged might still leave a number which is substantially higher than the 
fee used for internal accounting purposes at academic sites. I would like 
to refuse to comment on the quoted numbers as it might well be that these 
are not expected to be made public. I would argue that we should avoid 
posting pricing information like this on public networks - it might raise 
very bad blood and a good relation to industry is worth considering.   

Let me conclude saying that the biggest problem we have as service provider 
(speaking personally on the facility I happen to manage here at Basel)
is to convince consumers that it is much more expensive to provide a 
given software/data environment than commonly accepted. Surely we can 
reduce cost by taking (a) 'free' databases from any ftp site, (b) public
domain software - 'free' as well and (c) computers from a central depart-
ment of whatever (infomatics?) where we don't pay investment, updates, and 
licenses for. I don't argue that this is all bad, but it is certainly less 
'free' than you expect. 

Regards
Reinhard 

(This answer was worth $65 as counted from the time to think, type and 
send it. :-) If I were working in a commercial environment, it were 
+50% as this is written at non-office hours. :-)  :-)  If I were in a 
real commercial environment, I would neither read news nor have the 
time to write such a followup. 8-O   )

The statements issued in this post are personal opinions of mine and do 
not necessarily reflect those of my employer. 

  
-- 
  +---------------------------+-------------------------------------------+
  |    Dr. Reinhard Doelz     | Tel. x41 61 2672247    Fax x41 61 2672078 |
  |      Biocomputing         | electronic Mail       doelz at urz.unibas.ch |
  |Biozentrum der Universitaet+-------------------------------------------+




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