Sunday, February 24, 2013

Commodies are not free

Computer infrastructure used in universities is not part of a market, let alone of a "transparent market" in which everyone has a clear view on what alternatives exist and what their relative merits and costs are.

Nobody in a university research group finds it strange to pay for pens and paper.
Nobody in a research group finds it strange to pay for state-of-the art lab equipment.

But very often computer services have been offered for free. Like water, and electricity, they have been discounted into general costs of running the university.

This situation is unsustainable in a world in which life-science research becomes driven by big data. And it also becomes unsustainable in a world where large storage and computer infrastructure suitable for routine jobs can be rented commercially.

The sustainable way to the future is to properly budget for data handling and storage. Budgeting for computing needs means people are required to balance cost and value, like with every other aspect of a research project.

Photo: CC-BY-SA-NC on Flickr by John Flinchbaugh