Non-standard Configuration

Why do we charge for non-standard configurations?

August, 2007

Setting up computers is a time-consuming process, even when standardizing on a few supported models. Every brand and every model within a brand uses different components which in turn require specific software (drivers) to work in our campus environment. Installing all the drivers, our campus supported software, and configuring the system by hand can take 3-4 hours each (this does not include the time to transfer data from old systems to new). We typically image 500 new machines for the campus each year, and “re-image” another 250 or so.  This works out to over 56 weeks of full-time work, which in turn equates to hiring 2-3 students solely dedicated to the imaging of machines. It also leaves the process susceptible to non-uniform installations, which are more difficult to support, maintain, and secure. Setting machines up by hand is expensive, thoroughly impractical, and fraught with support and security issues.

In an effort to provide uniform and timely set-up services, we create a campus standard “image” that can be copied to computers. This image includes the campus supported software and all the proper security configurations to keep your computer safe and highly supportable. We can image several supported machines at a time on our specialized secure network, which also ensures that there are no security compromises while set-up is in process. The machines that leave our shop are all configured uniformly, making them more secure, and easier to support for the help desk when issues arise.

Imaging saves a lot of time overall, even though we still must maintain software and updates, we are only doing so once. When we image a supported machine, it is almost as simple as booting to a special cd, the imaging starts, and typically is completed within about 15 minutes.  Our technicians then have plenty of time to work directly with you to move your data over from the old machine, and configure the new system to work the way you need it to.

Imaging an unsupported system requires a lot of extra work as well.  We have to pull the hard drive out of the nonstandard system, install it in a supported system it, and run the image process in a monitored fashion to watch for complications. Once completed, we need to then take the hard drive out and reinstall it back into the nonstandard system.  At this point, we must set-up the machine on the networks in a standalone fashion to determine what hardware drivers we need to reinstall for the specific system (often times have to use another computer to search for them on vendor sites).  It is not uncommon to have conflicts between unknown hardware and campus standard software and configuration, and troubleshooting these issues typically comes into play as well.

By purchasing IT Support Services supported computers, you are purchasing well known, well tested systems that our technicians have been trained to support. We have strong working relationships with our vendors and receive excellent support from them. We have built efficient processes and procured tools that allows us the ability to uniformly and quickly set-up and configure secure systems for use all across campus. These processes and tools allow us to make maximum use of shrinking resources, and effectively minimize support costs to the campus.

What if the standard system won’t meet my needs?

Our standard system is designed to meet the needs of a majority of our campus faculty and staff. However, we recognize there are instances where a person needs more computational power than what our standard system offers. You can generally purchase any system that meets your needs (we suggest you consult with us first to confirm that) with the understanding that because non-standard equipment increases our support costs, you or your department will be responsible for all support charges incurred for that machine, including initial set-up.

But I can go to Best Buy and buy $500 machines! 

Often, departments look to purchase a greater number of “cheap” computers, assuming that $500 computers or laptops from the local “big box” store should be just fine. Doing so will certainly get more machines in the hands of more people—so that is a good thing, yes? On the surface it may appear so, but the overall support issues and associated costs demonstrate that it’s not a good thing.

The machines are indeed inexpensive, and for a reason—they are manufactured with non-standard or retail grade components which are not designed for heavy use in a networked environment.  From the start, these machines will cost that department more—an additional $90-$135 or more each for set-up. Any time User Services needs to provide support, a time and materials charge will apply, and the time to support an unknown machine typically is 2-3 times that as a supported machine.

Not only does the cost come in a monetary price, but also in terms of productivity loss. It will take longer to research and procure any replacement parts for non-supported machines, so the user will be out of service for a longer period of time. IT Support Services provides support to supported equipment and software first—users will likely experience a delay to service unsupported equipment, which ultimately impacts the ability of faculty and staff to deliver services to our student population.

Beyond the department, the University as a whole pays a lost productivity price since non-supported machines require more time from IT Support Services staff.  The impact can be felt across the campus since technical resources normally dedicated to supported equipment must be diverted to troubleshoot and research issues with non-supported equipment.

And certainly a major concern is the increased potential security risk a non-standard machine presents for the campus—the more difficult it is for IT Support Services to provide centralized security and support updates to our computing equipment, the higher the threat to University systems and data.  Breaches in data are monetarily costly for the responsible department, and will quickly taint the reputation of the department and the University.  Every department has a responsibility to ensure that the computing systems in use by their faculty and staff are supportable, and used in a secure manner.