How many people to admin a Cyrus system?

Andrew Morgan morgan at
Thu Nov 8 18:40:03 EST 2007

On Thu, 8 Nov 2007, Gary Mills wrote:

> We have a moderate-sized Cyrus system for 30,000 students and 3000
> employees.  It's a critical service in the sense that thousands of
> people depend on it.  It has excellent performance, lots of capacity,
> and plans for expansion.  I'm the only one familiar enough with Cyrus
> and sendmail to maintain it, although this is not normally full time.
> I'm also the one who tracks down hard problems in Unix and does
> development in a number of other areas.  Other than our data
> management person, who supplies the LUNs for the e-mail store, I'm the
> one who manages the system.
> I'm also going to be 65 in two days, although I plan to stay around
> for a year or so.  My director will be replacing me, but I assume this
> will be with an entry-level person who will not have the ability to
> maintain the Cyrus system, at least initially.  Other people in my
> group do not have the skills or the available time to administer this
> system.  I'm trying to convince him to hire somebody with development
> and programming experience, but without much success so far.  How many
> and what sort of people does it take to maintain a system such as
> this?  I need a good argument for hiring a replacement for me.

I am the sole person responsible for the Cyrus installation at Oregon 
State University.  Our Cyrus system is similar in size, although most of 
our employees use the Exchange email system.  Operating, monitoring, and 
maintaining Cyrus takes very little of my time on a day-to-day basis. 
Cyrus has been very reliable for us.

However, when it is time to perform a major upgrade of the operating 
system, Cyrus software, or the underlying hardware (servers or SAN), then 
you definately want someone involved that understands all the intricacies. 
In that situation (which is inevitable), you'll really want a person with 
excellent system administration, development, and programming skills.  At 
OSU, my job classification is "Operating Systems/Network Analyst", which 
pretty much sums it up.

I am not a DBA, but I think the position is fairly similar.  You want 
someone with an extensive background that understands how all the pieces 
fit together.  If someone can't solve I/O bottlenecks and understand how 
to properly size and design a complex system like Cyrus, then they will 
fail when you need them the most.

Email is a critical service for most organizations.  I wouldn't fill the 
position with an entry-level candidate.

> My director seems interested in outsourcing our e-mail system, judging
> by the number of articles on outsourcing that he sends to me.  Google
> and Zimbra with a commercial contractor are the latest two.  Replacing
> a perfectly functioning e-mail system seems ludicrous to me, as does
> subjecting our users to a migration for no reason.  I assume at least
> that he wants vendors to quote on a replacement system.  Perhaps once
> he sees the cost, he will change his mind.  I suppose it depends on
> whether the quote includes the real cost.  Does anyone here have
> experience in this area?  I know that CMU and other universities want
> to maintain their own e-mail systems.  What's the justification in
> these cases?

We had some overtures from Google and Microsoft to outsource our email 
system.  Unless you can save a lot of money by outsourcing email, I don't 
know why anyone would pursue this option.  I don't have the numbers on 
hand, but we wouldn't save much money by outsourcing email, even if it was 
free.  Also, there are several downsides (which were mentioned in another 
response) related to security, support, and the customer experience.

I can understand why a small organization would outsource email, but 
30,000 accounts is not small by any measure.  A 30,000 employee 
corporation is huge!


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