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Fri, 10 Aug 2007

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One size does not fit all


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I know that we need to come to a specific decision (regarding computer purchases) but I feel it is better to fix policy before making a decision rather than tailor policy to later justify the decision. Hence this long e-mail.

As you know the Computer Committee (CC) has been entrusted by the Director with the task of overseeing the management of the IMSc Computer Network. In particular, this includes the purchase of computer hardware as required for individual use --- i.e. personal computers (PC).

We now have about 200 or so users at IMSc. Their skill sets and requirements vary:

minimal
Use the computer to create documents, read and send e-mail and browse the internet.
maximal
Develop programmes, do computation, create and view multimedia, graphics, web pages, etc. etc. etc.

and the whole range in between.

This means, in particular, that "one size does not fit all".

We need to have a policy to make PC purchases in a way that is satisfactory for diverse needs. Here are some possible solutions:

  1. We buy the maximum of all requirements. Such a computer will obviously be satisfactory for all tasks. The negative aspects are economical and ecological.

  2. We buy the maximum of all except the exceptional requirements. Exceptional requirements must be met by separate projects. There are negative economical and ecological aspects which are still high but not as high as (1). The CC has the non-trivial task of determining what constitutes "exceptional requirements" as this decision will determine the negative impact. Such a decision could also have a social cost.

  3. The CC decides how many computers of each type are needed and distributes them according to its own estimate of what each person needs. If the computer committee has estimated well, then there are few negative economical and ecological aspects but there is a high social cost since people are likely to baulk at this measurement of their needs. Moreover, the CC's task is horrendously difficult.

  4. Each individual user is asked to estimate their requirement (as per the enclosed notice). The committee just buys what each person needs. Requirements that go outside the CC's budget for PC purchase must be obtained via projects.

The IMSc Administration seems to favour (2) which is also the current practice.

I am not very happy with this. Unless we have a user survey (2) becomes close to (3). To avoid this we tend to go towards (1). Having a user survey is almost the same as (4).

As far as I am concerned (1) and (3) are completely unacceptable.

Clearly, I am strongly in favour of (4) and I think that it is time that we switch to it.


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