[CSG Spring 2010] Staffing for Research Computing

Greg Anderson from Chicago is talking about funding staff for research computing.

Most people in the room raise their hand when asked if they dedicate staff to research computing on campus.

At Illinois they have 175 people in NCSA, but it doesn’t report to CIO.

Shel notes that employees have gotten stretched into doing lots of other things besides just providing research support. They’re trying to rein that back in in their career classification structures by requiring people to classify themselves. Now there’s 300 generalists classified as such.

At Princeton they’ve started a group of scientific sysadmins. The central folks are starting to help with technical supervision, creating some coherence across units. At Berkeley the central organization buys some time from some of the technical groups to make sure that they’re available to work with the central organization. Groups don’t get any design or consultation help unless they agree to put their computers in the data center.

At Columbia they have a central IT employee who works in the new center for (social sciences?) research computing – it’s a new model.

Greg asks how people know what the ratio of staff to research computing support should be and how do they make the case?

Shel asks whether anybody has surveyed grad students and postdocs about the sysadmin work they’re pressed into doing. He thinks that they’re seeing that work as more tangential to their research than they did a few years back.

Dave Lambert is talking about how the skill set for sysadmin has gotten sufficiently complex that the grad student or postdoc can’t hope to be successful at it. He cites the example of finding lots of insecure Oracle databases in research groups.

Klara asks why we always put funding at the start of the discussion of research support? Dave says it’s because of the funding model for research at our institutions. The domain scientists see any investment in this space by NSF as competing directly with the research funding. We need to think about how we build the political process to help lead on these issues.


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