Keep Your Local Service

rouchda at vms1.bham.ac.uk rouchda at vms1.bham.ac.uk
Fri Sep 3 13:56:56 EST 1993

Hi Barr,
	From Reinhard's excellent discussion you may well realize
that your best option is to prevent your computer service
from being shut down, any other option is likely to be second best.

A well run local service integrated with national facilities can
offer unbeatable computational support, as has been argued previously [1].

Thus you may like to mobilize political support at your institution
to prevent closure of your service.  Take your case to the
relevant professors and get them onside.  Get the user molecular
biologists together and make a joint front to support
your computer service. 


Your service is only running at a loss in the narrowest
of cost-accounting terms.  A service with a seamless
comprehensive package at its core is the most efficient to both run,
and support the research of your institution.  Efficiency falls by
the wayside if you and other molecular biologists have to assemble 
bits and pieces to do it yourselves.

The major benefit and cost in running a local service is in support,
both for software maintenance and front-line user-support personnel.
Both software and hardware can now be obtained at fractional costs of 
peoples' salaries, as befits the crucial importance of support personnel in
the provision of efficient computing services.  I assume that you are 
in danger of losing your support personnel, as well as the software.

Thus your arguments can include:

	(1) On-site computing support is necessary.
	facilities for computational molecular biology are essential
	for research at your institution, if it is to compete well 
	internationally.  The best support for research is provided 
	with a local service, that is integrated with national 
	facilities [1].  So you need a local service.  The main reason 
	for this is that optimal front-line user-support requires a 
	local on-site component.

	(2) Time is money. 
	Expert computer support staff in doing their 
	job save research staff much invaluable time.  Imagine the
	alternative to your efficient local service of putting
	together bits and pieces yourselves:  

	experienced users - 
	would lose significant amounts of paid research time 
	*each* time a different piece of software was set up, in; 

		(i) finding the software, 

		(ii) installing it, 

		(iii) learning how to use it: in contrast, with the
		GCG package each program works in a similar way
		so most learning time occurs with the first one or two
		programs you use, proficiency with these cuts learning
		time for *all* other programs in the package,

		(iv) explaining	to novices how to use it, 

		(v) writing software to put input data in the right format. 

	Moreover, a molecular biologist may not be able to carry out 
	computer support tasks very efficiently, compared to trained
	support staff.

	Much user expertize resides in molecular biologists
	who are on short-term contracts.  Thus existing expertize
	is quickly lost as contracts expire, and new staff
	must learn how to do things.  Thus labs would continually
	be losing time for staff to learn computing support,
	thereby increasing the inefficiency of doing it yourself.

	novice users-
	could be lucky to find an experienced user to help them. 
	They may well be left floundering without any proper
	front-line user-support, and so not perform their research
	as well as they should, and as well as the institution needs.

	(3) People must perform the job they are paid to do. 
	This puts point (2) from another angle, in terms of
	efficient management of research and computing support;

		(i) it is generally not optimal for research staff 
		untrained in computer support to attempt their own computer 
		support.  The staff of the computer service are best placed 
		to efficiently perform their tasks, as they are trained to do 
		that, just as the molecular biologist is best placed to 
		perform research. 
		(ii) it is difficult to provide efficient management
		of resources if people are performimg jobs they are not
		meant to.  Good computer support requires a considerably
		different management regime from scientific research.
		So, an attempt to manage computer support by research
		management, i.e. if molecular biologists perform this
		task, may well be inefficient, for example resulting 
		in suboptimal planning, provision of resources,  
		support staff training, and user training.

	(4) Money is money.
	Rich labs can set up their own in-lab facility (though
	this may also be a second best option in the absence of
	a local site-wide service [1]), but what of the rest of the 
	institution?  As Reinhard said, they may still need to purchase 
	commercial software for their PCs and Macs, and pay for hardware
	upgrades to run the software.  Less well-endowed labs
	may lose out, again deleteriously affecting the status of the 
	institution as a whole.  

	Also, as Reinhard says, remote services may still have to
	be paid for, but even if they they are cheap you will not
	be able to get optimal user support, which requires an
	on-site element [1].

In conclusion:

	Beat the cost-accountants at their own game, and keep 
	your local computing service.



[1]	D. Rouch & T. Littlejohn (1993)
	What Makes a Successful Biocomputing Service, Binary 5: 50-53
	also, Bio-soft (March, 1993)

Duncan Rouch
Molecular Biology Computing User Group, Birmingham, UK.
SEQNET/CCP11 User Documentation Group, UK.

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