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When starting a large project, it helps to have all of my thoughts in one place…particularly when making sizable hardware acquisitions. I’ve in the past made the mistake of focusing so intently on a single goal for new hardware (a Win7 migration, for instance) that I improperly weighted several considerations. I’ve therefore included below a reasonably complete list of things that I consider when evaluating and purchasing PCs (read “including laptops, notepads, etc.”) for business use:
Given the general requirements for standard business computing, some PC hardware is simply too expensive. There is a company whose namesake is rather fruity that arguably builds better hardware than its competitors. It’s also considerably more expensive. I have found that for its use in general business (graphic design is a notable exception) it is about twice as expensive as relatively comparable IBM hardware models. Let’s face it, most of these machines are going to sit there and grind out processes that represent only a small percentage (if we don’t count java-based or flash games) of the machine’s capacity.
You must take into account the business’ hardware attrition cycle. Are PCs kept for the standard three year cycle or has that cycle been extended by economic concerns? Perhaps the cycle is shorter due to ever-changing specialized, proprietary software demands. Buy hardware with components in sufficient quantities to ensure that the machines are useful through the end of their cycle, especially those components that are inexpensive. Nobody wants to spend evenings and weekends adding RAM to old machines because an original purchase was unnecessarily chintzy, n’est ce pas?
3. Volume discounts
Depending upon how much hardware you’re intending to purchase, buying it piecemeal is always a more expensive proposition over time (duh, right?). When negotiating, be sure to know what the price break points are. It may be less expensive, or at least more economical, to acquire a few extra units at a steeper price reduction.
4. Operating system
Most PCs include an operating system of a specific (typically the most recent) version. You’ll want to consider whether or not you can roll-back to a previous version with no additional cost if desired. Or you could try …
5. Volume licensing
Upon the advent of Windows Vista, Microsoft’s volume licensing, or more aptly stated, activation model became much more cumbersome. The choice between MAK and KMS is dependent upon many factors, including minimum machine counts (activation thresholds), and the availability of a machine to run the Key Management Service with access to the Internet. Still, volume licensing can save you a ton of headaches if you’re using one of the common deployment solutions to deliver ready-to-use PCs to your users. (Here, read all this ©гαϷ: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff793423.aspx).
6. Unintegrated components
Depending upon your business’ computing requirements, some hardware is simply unnecessary. You don’t need a high-definition graphics card on a PC that will likely only run a browser and a document production suite.
7. Brand loyalty
Let’s face it. It’s a factor. It may be one established solely based on anecdotal experiences. It’s still manages to find a way to remain a factor…Do with that what you will.
8. Quality and reliability
Overlooked more than you’d guess, make every attempt to avoid first year models when possible. Read the reviews; weed out the zealots at the top and the crazies at the bottom. Go for reasonable. Check the manufacturer’s knowledge base and user forums for endemic issues.
9. Driver availability and packaging
Some manufacturers do a better job than others with providing a complete set of drivers for each make/model of PC that they produce. However, in their efforts to add their special features and software, the drivers that they provide are often not the most up-to-date. Hell, in some cases, new hardware has been released without making the associated driver set downloadable for weeks afterwards! Perhaps this adds to the experiences that establish (or ruin) brand loyalty?
If the unit (particularly notepads/laptops) is easy to type on/navigate and the display is adequately sized, offering resolutions that are conducive to the eyesight requirements of the individual user, ergonomic issues can be avoided and the unit is more likely to be regularly used. Difficult to use devices are often circumvented.
11. Aesthetics (Look and feel) – BONUS ITEM!
Last, but certainly not least—and arguably the most subjective of all criteria—we can consider aesthetics. The visual appeal of the hardware can actually affect its performance. Small, visually pleasing devices are far more likely to be placed in visible, and therefore better ventilated, locations with adequate circulation, reducing the long-term effects of heat on the internal components.
While it may be technically infeasible to consider all of the variables simultaneously, at least, given full consideration, an administrator can choose which are most important to her organization and set about selecting specific models to pilot in her environment.
Bonne chance et bon courage!
Big Bang LLC
Forced to bid out your purchases?
In the case where you are forced to bid out an order of PCs, be a specific as possible with respect to your ACTUAL requirements. If you’re not specific enough, you may get stuck with a lower, sub-standard set of machines! For example, specify “USB 3.0” (if desired/required) as opposed to simply “USB”. Otherwise you may be forced to buy machines with USB 2.0 ports when the competing bid comes in less expensive.
So, you’re thinking about switching OS Deployment Solutions. Congratulations! You’re in for a serious amount of work not only choosing a solution, but also in planning, configuring, organizing and executing the little monster. Sure, some solutions are easier than others, yet all solutions require much more effort than you think. If you’re thinking, “what are you talking about? This stuff is easy…”, I probably can’t help you. You’ll figure it out, I’m sure.
STEP 1 –
First, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Seriously, unless you’re hoping to solve a mission-critical problem with respect to OS deployment, it likely won’t be worth it, regardless of the foundation of your reasons; be they political, financial, technical, talent-level or fear based. Be honest and go into the process knowing the actual reasons, it’ll help you most when you’re attempting to choose between the various offerings out there. Side note: If the reason is purely political, you probably need to suck it up and get it done and the rest of us out here in the Interwebs will feel appropriately bad for you. We know…
STEP 2 -
When choosing a new OS deployment solution, you’ll need to know what your critical requirements are. What combination of features, available add-ons or plug-ins, integration within your environment, usability, security, delegation of responsibilities and learning curve (just to name a few) meet the needs of not only your organization, but also of your staff. Make a spreadsheet and fill it out or find one on the web, or if you have an extraordinary memory for really boring details, make one in your head! (I don’t recommend the latter…) Start by assuming that you’re a noob and go from there. The biggest mistakes we professionals often make are assuming that we know how everything works.
STEP 3 -
Once your new OS deployment solution is chosen, planning begins. Prepare for a lot of time to be spent making sure that you know all of the technical limitations of your chosen solution. These limitations may cause you to scrap an iteration of your plan (or several iterations). If you’re considering the actual reasons that you chose the solution, you’ll scrap a few as you learn the caveats. Whatever time you set aside for planning, a good rule of thumb is to double it, at least. Planning covers: solution installation (with required, supporting network services such as WDS/PXE, multicasting switches, etc.), network infrastructure requirements and resources, target machine topography, technical staff training, and end-user training (where applicable), etc.
“Planning without action is a daydream. Action without planning is a nightmare.” – Japanese proverb
STEP 4 -
Next comes configuring the solution. There are undoubtedly systemic parameters that must be verified if not set, either within the solution or on the network resources that will support it (or both, likely). Organize the deployment methodologies. Determine which method or methods you’ll use, (e.g. PXE vs. bootable media, etc.) and exactly what hardware you’ll be deploying to, neatly organized into interlaced groupings. Don’t solely consider the new hardware that you’ve got in your lab, but also consider the hardware that’s been deployed into your production environment, especially that ancient machine in accounting that has specialized software on it, developed by one guy in his basement, long dead, and “it just works, so we don’t touch it”. Perform the laborious task of discovering and researching the implications of EVERY parameter available in the solution, (assuming that you didn’t do so prior to making the choice), as these can often either save your backside - or kick it.
STEP 5 -
Finally, execute the solution, preferably in a test lab or at least in a segregated environment at first, work out the bugs (hello, forums…), and then pull the proverbial trigger when you’re satisfied. If you were diligent, you’ll undoubtedly be a proud and happy camper (after some beverages). If not, well… You know the drill.
Choose an OS Deployment Solution that can handle Application package deployment as well.
Choose a solution that can allow you to create small, specialized groups on which unique or at least highly customized OS images may be employed.
Choose a solution that will meet the anticipated future growth needs of your organization.
Train your staff on the solution! Train the hell out of them!
Use PXE, it’s awesome…
“Open Source” usually means no organized support effort. Factor that in…
If you considered this post to be overly alarming and elect to ignore it, good luck. If you agree with its basic tenets or elect to take it with a grain of salt, that’s cool too. Either way, it has hopefully prompted you to consider a couple of things more seriously and my only hope is that it helps you in your decision somehow. You’re welcome, and I’m sorry that there’s no Easy “button”…
If you work in a Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) environment, you are familiar with the major challenges you face during the deployment process within SCCM's native Operating System Deployment (OSD). First, you have to locate drivers for specific hardware components, then organize and package them. Next, you need to create a task sequence to advertise to a hardware-specific collection. If any errors present themselves along the way, you have to start again from square one.
On paper, it sounds easy, but in reality, when you consider how many different hardware configurations are scattered around your company, it quickly becomes an overwhelmingly complex and time-consuming process. It’s a process that’s necessary only because none of the native Microsoft tools features a driver database, which makes locating and managing the correct drivers a manual (and burdensome) process.
Streamline your deployment process with the UIU for SCCM
We can take the headache out of OSD through a fully integrated plug-in that safely and smoothly enhances and streamlines your existing SCCM 2007 or 2012 environment. Our Universal Imaging Utility allows SCCM administrators to easily advertise any UIU-configured task sequence to any collection of computers, regardless of manufacturer or model.
All you need to do is create a new, or modify an existing task sequence with the UIU Machine Configuration step, and you've completely eliminated driver packages from the process. During deployment, the UIU real-time discovery tool ascertains the onboard hardware, locates the correct drivers, and incorporates them with the image deployment, ensuring that only the most appropriate drivers are staged. By using only the latest and most appropriate drivers, the UIU makes sure that every machine boots properly after every deployment.
The driver database
Drivers are always the lynchpin to any successful deployment, and a pain to manage. The UIU contains a fully vetted and updated driver database that validates and maintains over 2,000 business-class drivers and 40,000 Plug-n-Play Ids for supported Windows operating systems. And the database can be set up to update automatically. Because the UIU completely automates driver management, it eliminates the need for SCCM administrators to locate, manage, and package driver files.
The UIU enables IT departments to save considerable time and money by delivering a hardware independent image to any PC.
- Learn more about the UIU for SCCM or request a Free Trial
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