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L. Solomon



The ABCD Committee is an informal association of system managers, program- mers, researchers, students, administrators, and faculty at Harvard University and its affiliated institutions in the Boston area. Formed in November, 1985, with just seven people, the group has grown into an organization of over 1000 members. This organization has opened pathways of communication between many segments of the university community that have never before been breached. The group's primary objective is to promote communication over a broad range of computer related topics and issues.


Broken down into small working groups, the ABCD Committee has helped the University computer community:


The ABCD Committee is comprised of various subsidiary working groups, each tackling different facets of computing at Harvard. The umbrella ABCD meetings provide a forum where each working group summarizes its monthly activities. This structure effi- ciently serves those who desire an overview of all computer related activity on campus.

Below is a brief description of some of the major working groups within the ABCD Committee.

  1. DEC Working Group
    When the ABCD Committee was founded, most of its activities revolved around DEC equipment. Since that time, other platforms have gained a strong foothold at Har- vard. Still active, members of the DEC Working Group have organized a university-wide software distribution system for DEC products, offer a CD-ROM replication service, and serves as a model for the formation of other platform-oriented groups.

  2. SUN Working Group
    The SUN W.G. organized a SUN software distribution agreement that now covers over 900 machines. Financial arrangements are made through the Central Administrations University Information Systems (UIS) group. This program, open to the entire Harvard community including the affiliates, provides SUN software at substantially reduced rates. To date, this program has saved the university community over $2.25 million dollars in license fees, and on the order of $1 million per year on maintenance and documentation.

    Several years ago, the Harvard Management Company subscribed over one hun- dred SUN workstations to this program. This is proof positive of how a program that was primarily created for the science community can have a significant, positive impact for the campus at large.

  3. Network Working Group
    This long standing group was formed before the university installed its fiber-optic backbone. The core personnel involved in the formation of this group were instrumental in the initial design and implementation of the subsequent High Speed Data Network (HSDN). The Network Working Group now meets on a bi-monthly basis and continues to offer valuable advice and counsel to both FAS Computer Services and UIS.

  4. Security Working Group
    The Security Working Group was born as a subcommittee to the Network group and has now become a separate entity. The Security Group discusses holes and fix imple- mentations, sends out the CERT advisories, and keeps an up-to-date e-mail list of system managers responsible for reacting to security threats. This group meets monthly and occa- sionally co-sponsors joint meetings with other groups.

  5. Site Licensing Working Group
    This group gathers information pertaining to licenses already in existence at the University; evaluates the level of interest in any particular new product; and develops standard procedures towards the implementation of existing and future licenses. This group successfully helped negotiate site or bulk license agreements for S++, Maple, SAS for SUN, SAS for PC's, SYSTAT, AVS, Microsoft, Apple, WordPerfect, Autodesk, Lo- tus, Mathworks, and Netware software products (to name but a few). A past chair of this group estimated that during its first year alone, over $100,000 was saved in license fees. Since then, the yearly savings have increased dramatically.

  6. Information Technology in Healthcare Working Group
    This group was formed in order to better focus the sharing of computer technology in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) and to provide a forum for the discussion of computer related applications specific to this constituency. It also offers the possibility of significantly improving communications between the LMA and the main Cambridge campus. The group meets monthly in the Countway Library and addresses a broad range of technical topics.

  7. Silicon Graphics Working Group
    November, 1991 saw the birth of the Silicon Graphics Working Group, a product of the proliferation of SGI graphics workstations. There are now several hundred sites on campus. The SGI group has been actively involved in the site licensing of SGI software and currently meets via e-mail.

  8. Multimedia and Visualization Working Group
    This group meets alternately in Cambridge and the Medical Area and concerns itself with issues ranging from astronomical imaging, to modeling of the atmosphere, to image processing on high energy physics experiments, to computer animation. Since 1995, this group has sponsored a highly successful Digital Video and Multimedia Fair held in May, at the Kennedy School of Government. In 1997, the event grew into an all-day affair.

  9. Technology in Education Working Group
    Initially chaired by a system manager (and graduate student) at Harvard's Graduate School of Education (GSE), this group focuses on how computing, multimedia, and video technologies are best incorporated into the learning and teaching environments, especially at Harvard. The group attempts to provide strong links between educational and computer professionals. The group is currently co-chaired by personnel at the Kennedy School and the GSE.

  10. Microcomputer Working Group
    This group focuses on inter-operability issues, network compatibilities, integration of cross applications, the study of emerging technologies, and the evaluation of products and vendors. This group currently meets via e-mail.

  11. Library Working Group
    Meeting monthly, the Library Working Group investigates the growing role technology plays in a system that has been historically dominated by card catalogs. Access to electronic databases and the cataloging of electronic images are two of the many issues typically discussed in this venue.

  12. MGH Area Working Group
    Since 1995, this association has met to specifically addresses the needs of computer professionals in the MGH area. It currently meets alternatively at the main campus and at the Charlestown Navy Yard facility on a bi-monthly basis.

  13. WWW Working Group
    The WWW W.G. meets monthly and discusses new Web tools and implementations, hosts presentations pertaining to the emerging Web technology, provides a forum to discuss in-house Web page development matters, and investigates Web-related security issues.

  14. Relational Database Management Working Group
    The growing interest and use of RDBM technology in a wide variety of applications ranging such as financial, medical imaging, and museum cataloging, led to this group’s formation. The RDBM W.G. investigates currently available technologies and tries to assess what product(s) might be universally useful. It also investigates new ways this technology can be incorporated into campus systems.

  15. LAN Working Group
    The LAN W.G. looks globally at current LAN technologies and tries to assess the trade-offs between them. This group currently meets via e-mail.

  16. NT Working Group
    When NT became a widely used OS employed on a variety of platforms, this group was formed to discuss OS issues such as configuration, system glitches and patches, etc. This group meets monthly.

  17. Oracle Working Group
    Because the Harvard investment in Oracle products is substantial, this group was formed to help disseminate information pertaining to this suite of products. It also functions as an in-house “help” system.

  18. Novell Working Group
    Netware has been used as a networking tool for a number of years. This group meet monthly to help communicate new product information and discuss solutions to system problems.


Most of the Working Group meetings are held on a regular, published schedule as does the umbrella ABCD Committee. These meetings are open to all members of the greater Harvard community and are all chaired by volunteers.


Although it is difficult to calculate the overall dollar savings due to the pooling of resources, considering the sum spent on hardware and software per year, the yearly savings-to-date due to the Committee's major programs runs into the millions per year. In addition, various licensing programs have saved huge amounts in up front costs. More importantly, the ABCD Committee provides the connections that enable the Harvard community to best utilize its hardware and software expertise.

The ABCD Committee is the only University-wide computer group that has been able to routinely exert influence across departmental, faculty, and institutional lines, to the benefit of all. The lines of communication opened by the Committee have greatly increased the efficiency of the implementation of computer resources. The Committee has provided a forum that offers centralized services an efficient vehicle for the quick dissemination of information. The ABCD Committee offers the possibility of developing closer working relationships between scientific and administrative users of computer technology. Many facets of the university are represented, such as Harvard University, the Smithsonian As- trophysical Observatory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospi- tal, Children's Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital, New England Deaconess Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, McLean Hospital, Shriner's Burns Institute, Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Harvard Management Company, the Judge Baker Guidance Center, and Harvard Risk Management.

L. Solomon,

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