As I've mentioned, there is a major budget shortfall coming real soon. In the past two weeks various entities have gone before the Board of Trustees discussing the effects of budget cuts on their units. The documents submitted can be found here
. The Vice Provost of Information and Telecommunication, my grand-boss, also had a presentation. Which you can view here
. The especially nosy can even listen to the presentation here
, the 12:45 file and starts about a minute-plus in.
There were some interesting bits in the presentation:
"In 2007, our central IT staff (excluding SciTech & Secretarial) totaled 73 persons. The average for our peer group (with greater than 10,000 student FTE) was 81 people. While a difference of 8 FTE may not seem great, it has a significant impact on our ability to support our users. This is compounded if we consider that student FTE grew a cumulative 16% in the past decade; faculty and staff FTE grew at a cumulative 14% while ITS staff declined 3% "
So, our supported environment grew, and we lost people. Right. Moving on...
"Similarly the budget numbers reveal the same trend. Western's 2007 operating budget for ITS was 6.65 million. The average for our peer institutions (with greater than 10,000 student FTE) was 8.17 million. Total budgets including recharge and student technology fees were 7.8 million for Western and 10.3 million for our peer group."
And we're under-resourced compared to our peer institutions. Right.
This can be spun a couple of ways. The spin being given right now, when we're being faced with a major budget cut, is that we're already running a very efficient operation, and cutting now would seriously affect provided services. A couple years ago when times were more flush, the spin was that we're under resourced compared to our peer institutions, and this is harming service robustness.
Both, as it happens, are true. We are running a very lean organization that gets a lot done for the dollars being spent on it. At the same time, the very same shoe-string attitude has overlooked certain business continuity concerns that worry those of us who will have to rebuild everything in the case of a major disaster. Like the facilities budget, we also run a 'deferred maintenance' list of things we'd like to fix now but aren't critical enough to warrant emergency spending. Since every dollar is a dear dollar, major purchases such as disk arrays or tape libraries have to last a long, long time. We still have some HP ML530 servers in service, and that is a 9 year old server (old enough that HP lists Banyan Vines drivers
for the server).
This is continually vexing to vendors who cold-call me. Even in more flush times, anything that costs more than $3000 required pushing to get, and anything that cost over $20,000 was pretty much out of the question. Storage arrays that even on academic discount cost north of $80,000 require exceptional financing and can take several years to get approved. In budget constrained times such as these, anything that costs over $1000 has to go before a budget review process.
It is continually aggravating to work in an organization as under resourced as we are. Our disaster recovery infrastructure is questionable, and business-continuity is a luxury we just plain can't afford. Two years ago there was a push for some business continuity, but it ran smack into the shoe-string. The MSA1500 that I've railed about so long
was purchased as a BC device, but it is fundamentally unsuited to the task. Getting data onto it was a mish-mash of open source and hand-coded rigging. We've since abandoned that approach as it looks like 2012 may be the earliest we can afford to think about it again.
As a co-worker once ranted, "They expect enterprise level service for a small-business budget."
You'd think this would be the gold plated opening for open source software. It hasn't been. Our problem isn't so much software as it is hardware. If we can GET the hardware for business continuity, it'll probably be open source software that actually handles the data replication. Replacing Blackboard with Moodle will require new hardware, since we will have to dual-stack for two years in order to handle grade challenges for classes taught on Blackboard. Moodle would also require an additional FTE due to the amount of customizations required to make it as Blackboard-like as possible. And these are only two examples.
It was very encouraging to see that the top level of our organization (that Vice Provost) is very aware of the problem.