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Friday, July 19, 2013

Clients v. customers | services v. products

Seth Godin has another excellent post.  This one notes the distinction between customers (who decide whether or not to buy your product) and clients (who pay you to make things for them).
Seth Godin
In the context of ICPSR I think we have a product we call "ICPSR membership."  Customers buy it (or not), and if they do, they receive a reasonably well defined set of services, largely centered around the ability to access high quality datasets and documentation.  We have many hundreds of customers for this product.  I think our Summer Program is also a product, and that too has may hundreds of customers.

We also have a smaller number, perhaps a dozen or so, of clients.  In the best case we have a handful of clients who all pay us to perform a similar set of tasks for them: curate their datasets and documentation, preserve the curated artifacts, and publish the content on a specially "skinned" version of the ICPSR web site for all the world to see.  Adding more clients who want us to do this kind of work benefits all of the other clients, and, often, our customers too.

And like any organization which draws much of its revenue from contract work for clients, we also have those that push us in new, different directions, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.  The trick, of course, is not too try to head off in too many different directions at once.  And to favor those clients who pull us in better, not worse, directions.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ICPSR Web Availability - 2012-2013

Here are the final numbers for ICPSR's web site availability over our last fiscal year:

Click to embiggen
The year did not start off so well, and we reached the nadir quickly.  August 2012 was our worst period of availability in a very bad year for us overall.  January, March, and June 2012 also had very poor numbers.

The main antagonist we faced was a new and unusual problem with our Oracle database server.  For many years we would export the content for backup purposes each evening, and it worked well for a decade.  However, suddenly in 2012 we began to experience an outage just AFTER each export.  Despite intensive analysis by ourselves and local Oracle exports, we never could isolate the root cause of failure.

We eventually "solved" the problem by exporting our database only once per week v. once per day.  That left us more exposed to loss, of course, but it seemed to limit the outages to once per week v. once per day.

We then replaced the hardware with a new machine with a bit more processor and memory, but with blindingly fast solid-state drives. With the new machine deployed we returned to our daily export schedule, and the machine -- and our web availability -- have been in pretty good shape ever since. The machine went into service in April 2012, and the chart above makes it clear that life has been a little less hectic for our on-call engineer since then.