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El Reg Article – Desktop Costs

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This is the second contribution to an article on The Register that I was asked to make as a “reader expert.” We were asked to submit a response to the question “I need to save money from my desktop costs (both capital and operational). What should I do as a priority?”

The original article can be found here.

If there is a single concept that will reduce the TCO of desktops it is homogenization. Systems with homologous components can be treated not as individual units, but rather as part of a class. Keeping the number of classes deployed to a minimum provides real operational benefits. In my experience classing systems based upon identical motherboards has made imaging and post-warranty hardware support simpler.

Homogenization of the desktop environment allows for a single prototype per class. This simplifies not only fit for purpose testing, but the creation of deployment images. Start from a common ‘base’ image and make necessary differentiations from there. Buying a group of identical desktops not only means you can work your suppliers for a discount but it also creates a simple business case for retaining “cold spare” systems. Once off warranty, a small number of spare components can keep a fleet of deployed systems in service far longer than most people would expect. For SMEs where every dollar must be stretched to breaking this is an especially important consideration.

This leads us into the operational savings that homogenization brings. The biggest advantage is interchangeability. If something similar to roaming profiles and server-based home folders are in use to ensure that no actual important data is ever stored on a desktop then when desktops are identical and properly managed they should become interchangeable. When a desktop decides it’s time for a lie down, pop a spare system into service and RMA the dead one. This allows that system’s user to continue being productive, as well as offering the opportunity to repair the cranky hardware with minimal time constraints. Upon its return, the repaired system returns to the class pool as a spare. Spare systems also double up for testing. You can remake your images on a spare box periodically, and they come in handy for patch testing.

As a parting thought, consider the total lifespan of desktops. It is a common view that a front-line class of desktops deployed to high demand users should be retired when the warranty expires. When a class is removed from service, refurbish it and increase the percentage kept aside as spares. You can often return the entire class to service in a less demanding role, extending the operational life with little risk. (The larger the company, the less viable this becomes.) When looking at system lifespan as a whole, homogenization of desktop infrastructure can reduce the time and cost to deploy new systems, as well as greatly ease the burden of supporting them in the field.

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