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Word Nerd

City's tech guy deserves medal and a vacation

The "nerd" in my column name is not simply there for the rhyme.

I have many years of training in computers, both formal and informal. I refuse to call myself an expert, but I know more about computers than many and I understand some of the complex aspects of computing and networking.

So I was more than a little surprised when I did a story about the city offering online bill pay through its website and learned that the city has only one information technology person employed.

A computer system is about as complicated as it is large, and the city's system is good-sized. It includes the website, financial software, police network and other systems.

A computer system that size needs a minimum of three full-time employees to manage it, more if you want reasonable response times to requests when something breaks down.

With one person managing it, I'm stunned the city's computer network is even running. The city must have employed a supertech to keep it going this long.

To make this situation more understandable, I'm going to use a metaphor that doesn't quite work, but may be close enough.

A network is like a farm. The network administrator (farmer) installs (plants) the computers (seeds) in the network and the users work on the computers (growth). The computers need certain care, like maintaining software (watering), installing new software (fertilizing) and correcting problems that crop up (weeding).

A small farm only needs a single farmer to do the work, but when you extend the network, or have multiple networks, the farmer can't do all the weeding himself (and there's a LOT of weeding to do with computers).

Also, because this particular farm is in the middle of many others, there is outside danger as well. Several plots over, there's a farmer who is raising rabbits just to break into your garden and eat your veggies. In computer terms, there's a guy out there writing computer viruses and trying to break into your system.

Our bold and lonely farmer has to deal with those threats as well, making sure the fence around each farm is secure and nothing has burrowed under.

We have just one farmer working all the networks in the City of Sunnyside. In a word, that's insane.

Fortunately, it seems the city is working on a solution. Instead of hiring more people to help with the system, a time-consuming and often expensive solution, the city is considering entering into an agreement with Yakima County. The agreement would fold the city into a larger system, providing a number of benefits, including on-call staff to help if there's a disaster.

But my techie heart cannot believe we've had only one person dealing with all the problems inherent in a computer network for several years.

The city's tech guy deserves a medal. And, once the city has a sane tech support system in place, a restful vacation.

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