The editors have received a number of inquires resulting from the piece on automation options for smaller libraries published in LSN Vol. III, No. 11 (November 1983). Many of the questions relate to the costs of integrated multi-function, multi—user microcomputer-based systems offered by the turnkey vendors. These systems will be the subject of detailed future study by the editors. This brief discussion on costing has been developed to offer some background as it relates to integrated, multi-user, multi-function micro-based library systems.
Probably because the profits realized from the sale of microcomputer-based systems are significantly lower than those from the more common mini-based systems, vendors do not appear to have sufficient resources available to invest in helping potential customers clarify their system requirements to the extent that is common in the mini-based market. On-site demonstrations are usually limited only to the most serious of prospects. Therefore it is essential that a library clarify and define its exact requirements before approaching potential vendors.
Post-sale support is also more limited with these lower-cost micro-based systems. Fewer days of profiling and training are offered as part of the system price. Additional days, if available, are charged at a rate of $390 or more per day plus expenses.
There are a number of vendors who are capable of responding to requests for microcomputer-based integrated automated library systems. These include AdLib (Advanced Library Concepts), CTI (Computer Technology Inc.), Dynix and, possibly, OCLC. CLSI also promotes an integrated, multi-user, multi-function micro-based system but the system does not usually fall within the price range in which smaller libraries are seeking to meet their needs.
The available micro-based integrated library systems fall into one of two quite distinct categories. Those offered by AdLib, CTI and Dynix are mounted on “true” multi-function, multitasking microcomputers. Currently, this type of system will support up to a total of some eight peripheral devices--terminals, dial access ports, or printers. Exact prices are dependent on the number of terminals required and the functions for which the software is purchased. The lowest price for a system capable of handling all automated functions and supporting up to four peripheral devices appears to be in the region of $50,000. This price will vary depending on the nature of the peripheral mix selected by the library. One of these systems configured to accommodate the maximum number of peripherals and functions could cost up to $90,000 or $100,000.
The second type of so-called microcomputer-based system is actually configured around a stripped down minicomputer which retains the architecture of the larger machine. The DEC PDP 11/23-based system offered by CLSI falls into this category. While this system is capable of supporting a larger number of peripheral devices—up to a total of 14—the starting price is higher as the central processing unit and disk drives are more expensive and the software more sophisticated. Prices for systems with eight peripherals tend to start at $90,000 and go to $130,000 and more. It is not usually practicable to configure a system on a stripped down mini with fewer than eight terminals and printers, etc., as the true micro-based options tend to fill this niche. The larger systems based on stripped minis become non— competitive in price when compared with true minicomputer—based configurations.
Another difficulty in positing costs in the absence of exact specifications lies in the way in which vendors bid their prices. Some separate out hardware and software costs item by item; others do not. Pricing policies and presentations also change as vendors seek to adopt a more favorable stance in the increasingly competitive market. This is particularly the case in the micro— based system market where vendors realize a lower profit on hardware components and currently have less prospect of making up additional revenue at a later date by selling their clients additional hardware.
A final element of uncertainty is the entry of OCLC into the market. OCLC is presently developing a series of small systems options and is expected to introduce them at the American Library Association Conference in Dallas. While the processor may be the relatively powerful Data General S/120, the price will be kept down by limiting disk storage, limiting the Meditech license for the MIIS/MUMPS system software to 6 ports, offering only a standard profile, and keeping down the cost of selling. Systems may be priced as low as those available currently from AdLib, CTI, and Dynix. The lower end of the market may, therefore, become increasingly competitive.