Summary: This document describes the current status of OIT's Distributed Computing Support (DCS) services, and summarizes planned changes. The changes are in response to the evolving needs of the campus, and are designed to improve the overall quality of the service. Among other things, a new price structure is planned where fees will be more closely related to the actual staff time required for each type of service.
DCS has served the campus for over 10 years, providing professional Unix services within limited campus support resources. Thousands of Unix users would not have had support without DCS. DCS has transparently recruited, trained, and maintained a capable support staff despite significant turbulence in the computer professional marketplace. Currently, DCSs major clients are Physical Sciences and the School of Engineering. DCS also supports workgroups in the Administration, Biological Sciences, the College of Medicine, Social Sciences, Humanities, and elsewhere on campus. A total of over 260 computing servers and systems used by over 4,500 end-users, are under DCS care. (This does not include the systems supported by DCS-assisted local staff).
As support demands continue to grow and evolve, it is important to review DCS support structure and issues to determine adjustments required. OIT has studied the situation and discussed options with representative DCS clients . The enclosed plans are the result of this study.
DCS supports 260 computing systems and servers utilized by over 4,500 users, day-in and day-out. The majority of the service works well; changes made to improve the service should be done carefully to preserve existing benefits. The issues needing to be addressed are discussed below.
Faculty clients are not typically aware of the amount of time spent on "infrastructure;" these behind-the-scenes activities distract staff from being more communicative and responsive to direct faculty requests. The end-result is that faculty sometimes do not feel they are "getting their money's worth" out of DCS services despite staff spending long hours juggling client requests along with back-room needs.
At the same time, a large amount of world wide attention is being paid to the development and dissemination of flaws in computing operating systems that allow unauthorized access. This requires the allocation of a significant amount of DCS and other computing support staff resources to keeping operating systems updated with the latest vendor security patches.
Another example of less visible demands is the Year 2000 problem. DCS has been tracking the developments in each vendor's support of Y2K compliant operating systems. Y2K patches and new versions of each vendor's operating system are periodically released and must be tested. During the year 1999, over 120 systems require operating system upgrades to ensure they will properly function as the year changes to 2000.
The overall result is an increasing amount of infrastructure to support behind the scenes. This burden is largely invisible to clients, who become aware of it only when there are problems from the lack of sufficient preventative attention. Staff are very concerned about it, as they are fully aware of the potential negative impact of not maintaining infrastructure and security. This makes staff less responsive to client requests, even though they have clients' best interests in mind.
It has been a challenge to meet client needs with fixed staffing levels, and there is no mechanism in place to ensure that staff are added when workload increases. Because staff positions are only partially paid for out of contract revenue (about 40%), adding new contracts does not in itself provide enough money to hire more staff.
Some clients are increasingly aware of their dependence on DCSLIB, and are asking that the DCSLIB subset they use be installed locally. This could make their systems more reliable when there are network or DCSLIB problems, but will increase the cost of supporting software installations. If local-access is done properly, the increased costs can hopefully be kept to a minimum.
OIT plans to take the following actions in response to the issues summarized above. These actions should ensure that DCS continues to meet client needs as they grow and evolve, while at the same time maintaining manageable staff workloads:
The new contract scheme will support two models: a) local support staff with central services from DCS (Cooperative support) or b) local and central support from DCS at three levels (Personal Workstation, Server, and Tailored). Dropping the DCSLIB charge will reduce the total fee required for systems under cooperative support, facilitating the local support model. The Personal Workstation fee will be slightly less to reflect the reduced demands placed on DCS, but the other support level fees will be increased to more completely pay for DCS staff time directly associated with end-user systems. This will allow OIT to add DCS staff as client demands increase. Central funding will be used to cover the costs of infrastructure support, where the workload does not grow as quickly as additional client systems are added.
An additional goal will be to move some clients currently on High support, and/or clusters of clients on Regular support, to the new Tailored support level. As these contracts are to be based on full cost recovery of staff time, they will be a much more practical way to meet client expectations than continuing to rely solely on the fixed-price contract structure. Further, unique client needs, such as application and nonstandard operating system support, will be more easily addressed.
The new fees described in the next section are for the 1999/2000 fiscal year. DCS and its clients will need to gain experience with the proposed service structure during 1999/2000 and review rates for 2000/2001. Some feel the new Personal Workstation support configuration will reduce the DCS staff workload required to support those systems, and this price can be reduced further. It is not clear how many of the clients currently on Regular support will be able to move to this support level, and there are other uncertainties as we review contracts that should move to the new Tailored support level. Lastly, the new prices assume that additional funding can be provided from the campus -- if this funding is not available, rates will need to be higher than currently proposed.
- Designed to provide backroom-only, system support when there is a qualified local supporter responsible for meeting end-user and other primary needs.
- Cost: $30/month per system (Cooperative support in the current scheme costs $45/month, including the $15 for DCSLIB)
- Central services facilitate a quality, efficient, and secure campus-wide environment, without every research group or department duplicating efforts.
- Services include security maintenance, patches, and access to DCS-supported development and administration tools.
- A very specific set of backroom-only services are included, NO END-USER SERVICES.
- One contact and a backup -- expected to be local support staff.
Personal Workstation Support
- Designed to provide support for both the system and principal user of a desktop workstation that does not run any significant network services other than TELNET, FTP, or their encrypted equivalents.
- These systems run on standard hardware and use standard software configurations.
- Cost: $70/month, $30/month per additional contact (DCS regular-support in the current scheme costs $75 per month including DCSLIB)
- One contact and a backup -- can be end-users.
- This is for a private, end-user system, or one shared by a small number of people (1 - 3). Multi-user systems and servers should be placed under Server Support (see below).
- A list of included services will be provided, with only limited flexibility for nonstandard requests due to the lower revenue provided from this service.
- Provides support for multi-user systems and systems used as Web, E-mail, or NFS/File servers.
- Also covers systems with nonstandard hardware and software configurations that require greater amounts of staff support attention.
- Cost: $125/month, $30/month per additional contact (in the current scheme, DCS regular support costs $75 per month, and high-support costs $135 per month, including DCSLIB).
- Two contacts and a backup -- can be end-users.
- A general list of included services is provided as a guideline, but support staff will attempt to fill reasonable requests as time permits. Staff will have greater flexibility at this support level than at the lower levels.
- Designed to provide a high-quality support service tailored to meet client needs, and taking advantage of the staff expertise available in DCS.
- Cost: based on the level of staffing required as jointly determined by the client, DCS Manager, and DCS staff member(s) involved. Contracts are a minimum of a year in length.
- Advance discussions between DCS and Tailored Support clients allow the determination of needs and staffing levels. Client commitments to staffing levels allow DCS to maintain sufficient staff for proper service.
- The number of contacts, which can be end-users, is set by discussion.
- Tailored support contracts typically involve the same sorts of support as DCS provides its other clients, but "more of it". This is the support level to be used for large installations (in terms of complexity, user demands, etc.) The goal is to meet the specific support needs of the client, including (potentially) nonstandard Operating Systems, programming, and application needs. The exact services provided under a Tailored support contract is subject to DCS' determination of its ability to provide them.
- The current "Low" support contract level would be phased out in favor of cooperative (where there is a local supporter to provide the proper level of assistance and maintenance) or Personal Workstation support (where DCS staff provide support)
- During the phase-out period the current rate will be raised from $45/month (with DCSLIB) to $60/month.
- The current $40/month fee for "High" (daily) and "Standard" (twice a week) backups will be reduced to $20/month, plus $3/month (High) or $2/month (Standard) for each Gigabyte of disk space being saved.
- The previous "Low Backup" option of $20/mo plus $1/GB will be discontinued.
In addition to making more staff time available by adding two new staff, there are several other steps DCS will take to improve responsiveness:
Call Tracking: DCS will improve its call tracking procedures to ensure that priorities are adhered to group-wide. For example, high-priority requests will be handled even if the primary support staff assigned to the client is unavailable. This is similar to the way urgent requests are handled now. A DCS staff member will monitor the DCS@UCI.EDU service address to ensure staff are located to field high-priority requests.
Group Telephone Line: DCS is reestablishing a method of contacting DCS "staff on-duty" on the telephone, using a DCS group telephone line (824-8383). The group telephone line will be manned during normal business hours. Currently, DCS clients must call the staff member assigned to them, who may be unavailable. Clients can call the general OIT help desk to report urgent matters, but this is less effective than contacting DCS directly.
Responsiveness Policy: A new "responsiveness policy" is being implemented with a goal of 2 business hour response to all requests to the group telephone line (824-8383), and 1 business day response for E-mail requests to the DCS@UCI.EDU group E-mail address. Where as staff may be unable to drop what they are doing and handle new requests immediately, they will touch base to determine the urgency of requests, and give clients some idea of when requests will be handled. An additional goal will be to handle simple questions without delay.
Behind-the-scenes Efforts: DCS will continue its efforts to share information about what goes on in the background by providing documentation, arranging presentations, and providing opportunities for Question and Answer sessions. Although clients are often too busy to learn the full story of system support demands, they must be generally aware of the work done on their behalf so they can support the associated costs.
Client Survey: We would appreciate it if you could take a moment to let us know how we are doing. Your comments are important to us, Thank You.