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Computer Committee Suggests Lower Rates

By Mark W. Oberle

A committee appointed by President Pusey last Spring has proposed several financial guidelines for the Harvard Computing Center that might result in lower rates for the University's computer users.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Computing Services, headed by Neil C. Churchill, professor of Business Administration, also concluded that computer use at the University was "unplanned and ill-coordinated," and recommended the establishment of two new supervisory agencies to guide future computer policies.

"At the moment, we have no real outside way of evaluating a computer proposal," said Richard G. Leahy, assistant dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for Resources and Planning and a member of the committee.

In a Loop

"The Computing Center is caught in a loop: having to argue its own case, but being the only one capable of technically assessing it." he added.

The Committee proposed that a separate Office of Information Technology plan for University computer needs and receive suggestions and complaints about the Computing Center and other facilities.

The proposed Office would also distribute "seed money" for experimenting with computer applications, especially in teaching.

The report- which relied heavily on a study by the management consulting firm of Arthur D. Little, Inc.- also suggested the creation of a Dean's Committee for Information Technology to establish computer policies.

The committee would, for example, supervise the acquisition and financing of computers that are used in more than one department. (Some 15 small and medium sized computers are now scattered in various departments outside the Computing Center).

Closed Circuit

The proposed Dean's Committee would also establish closed circuit television policies. Since the University's cable television network was installed three years ago, only WGBH and a handful of professors have regularly used the system.

While these administrative changes could be made in the next few months, the Ad Hoc Committee's financial proposals might require lengthy renegotiations of government contracts before they could take effect.

These reforms aim to reduce Computing Center deficits, like last year's $534,565 loss, by:

Installing a system of 5-year budget planning:

Assessing most unexpected expenses to the various faculties according to their total expenditures on computer use; and,

Developing a system of forward contracting by which users who make firm commitments for future computing service would be rewarded by lower prices.

Several different "forward contracting" schemes are under consideration, but they all aim at stabilizing the Computing Center's income.

With over half of Harvard's current $4 million computer budget paid for by the federal government, fluctuations in federal research spending could severally affect the Computing Center's budget. Under current accounting procedures, "the University is taking all the risk," Leahy said.

In future negotiations with federal auditors, Harvard will urge the government to pay for a fixed percentage of any one computer's costs in exchange for a fixed percentage of the computer's capacity. Under this forward contracting scheme, the government's share would be based on the computer's use by federally sponsored researchers.

The University would then pay for the remaining block of computing services. But within that block, the Computing Center could establish different rates for different users, with students probably receiving the lowest rate schedule.

"What we would like to do is make batch processing free to all students just as the House consoles are now," Leahy said.

Paying for a percentage of a computer's capacity, as opposed to paying an hourly rate for processing a specific job, would encourage any one customer to use as much of his quota as possible. Since a computer's expenses are relatively fixed no matter how much use is made of the machine, the average charge for any particular job would drop as use increased, Leahy said.

Computers that now stand idle for several hours a day would tend to be utilized more.

However, the Bureau of the Budget has insisted in the past that government-sponsored projects be charged no more for a computer service than any other user.

The Harvard proposal may not meet BOB's requirements.

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