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Athena, IS will merge staffs

By Jeremy Hylton

Plans for the merger of Information Systems (IS) and Project Athena service delivery systems were revealed last Tuesday.

While the reorganization will eliminate 20 jobs, day-to-day use of the Athena network should not be affected, according to Professor of Electrical Engineering James D. Bruce ScD '60, vice president for Information Systems.

"The goal is . . . for people who come back next September to use Athena not to see any change in the service delivered," Bruce said.

The merger affects Athena, IS, and the Network Services of IS. Two existing divisions of IS

will be restructured, and an academic computing service will be created.

Staff will be cut by 20, to 125, as a result of the merger. All employees of IS and Athena affected by the merger must apply for positions in the new infrastructure.

"A group that worked on designing the structure is going to meet [from Monday to Wednesday] to finalize who will have a position and who unfortunately we will have to lay off," Bruce explained.

Employment decisions will be made public by Feb. 22. Employees who are laid off will continue at their current positions until June 30. The Institute will provide career counseling and support, assistance in job placement and "the necessary flexibility to conduct [job searches]," Bruce said.

No date has been set for the restructuring to begin. "We're still discussing what the process is going to look like," Bruce said.

Minor transitions, where employees will have similar positions in the new structure, will be made early, Bruce said.

Users should not notice change

The effects of the transition should not be apparent to Athena users, Bruce said. But the budget for fiscal year 1992 will "include essentially no budget" for new or replacement hardware.

"We made the decision that in order to make this work, we were going to have to go one year without new hardware in any of the clusters," Bruce said. Two years from now, the Institute will begin to replace equipment in existing clusters on a four-year schedule.

Bruce is currently negotiating a hardware maintenance program for campus clusters. Replacements for broken and worn-out equipment should continue as normal, he said.

Athena clusters in living groups may be the hardest hit by the funding changes. "It costs us substantially more to maintain machines in the living group than it does in a large simple cluster," Bruce said.

"There has not been a lot of discussion about the five clusters that are out in the living groups. We anticipate that we will support the existing clusters during the coming year," he continued.

The possibility of bringing dormitories and on-campus living groups into the campus network has been under discussion for over a year now, Bruce said. Such a connection would allow students with personal computers to connect directly to campus computer systems. But he worried that the use of many different kinds of computers would lead to software compatibility problems.

"At the same time we looked at doing the on-campus groups, we raised the question what do you do about the off-campus independent living groups," Bruce said. Alternatives for connecting them to a campus network are "very expensive," according to Bruce.

Academic computing

office to be created

In addition to the merging of Athena and IS, the Institute is creating an Office for Academic Computing Services. The director of this office, who has not been named yet, will report both to Bruce and to Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

The group will "provide the primary support to the faculty, the people who are doing the development of courseware," Bruce said, referring to software that is used in Institute classes.

Information Services will be merged with the consulting, documentation and training section of Athena to create Computing Support Services. This department will provide training and support for Athena workstations, as well as machines from the Microcomputer Center and older machines.

The Athena sections for systems software and application development will be combined with the existing Network Services. The new group, Distributed Computing and Network Services, will develop Athena systems software and manage existing clusters.

The Administrative Systems Development and Telecommunications Systems divisions of IS will not be changed. The Systems and Operations division will remain largely unchanged, but "services in support of academic computing get moved into a different department," Bruce explained.

DEC, IBM funds run out

The merger of Athena and IS comes as grants from IBM and Digital Equipment Corp. expire at the end of June. The grants provided $6.6 million in funding, hardware and support over the last few years.

The Institute will provide $3.7 million in continuing support for the Athena network in fiscal year 1992, in addition to the IS budget. The Institute budgeted $2.4 million for Athena this year.

Future plans for Athena's research and development branch, including the visual courseware development group, have yet to be decided. The Institute will be working to develop new research initiatives and find outside sponsorship for them.

"In the next several months, we're going to be gearing up to develop our formal initiatives," Wrighton said. "It's in these months that the advanced research activities of Athena will draw to a close."