Monday, July 20, 2009

Basic Network Equipment Considerations

Some general considerations as you manage your network equipment include warranties, buy or lease, grouping purchases, standardizing equipment, budgeting to avoid obsolescence, necessary regular maintenance, and equipment recordkeeping. You will probably find it a lot easier to work out basic guidelines on these things ahead of time than to decide as you go. I’ll share some of my approaches to these issues.

Warranties: Considering the time-and-money issues that plague almost every network, can you really afford to repair computers yourself? Warranties are often a very good buy compared to the cost of parts, let alone labor. I try to keep all the equipment in our network under warranty (almost everything is from Dell), by buying 3-year warranties along with the gear and then renewing warranties if I can’t replace something in three years.

In particular, warranties have been very economical for laptops, which in my experience have required far more repairs than desktop computers. And, when my regular duties are feeling overwhelming, I can easily show a user how to call in his or her own repair.

As to the buy or lease question – I buy. Leasing costs a lot more. If you think leasing works better for you, at least do the math and work out what the effective interest rate is on the lease. It might be a lot more than your credit card rate or your business line of credit rate.

Besides, your equipment is only going to last three years, and if you’re lucky, maybe five. If you buy one third, fourth, or fifth of your equipment each year, you spread out the cost.

The more different manufacturers and models that you have, the more effort becomes necessary to maintain everything. Wouldn’t you rather have only a couple of kinds of printers, one kind of desktop, and one kind of laptop? How about this approach to grouping your purchases and creating your own payment plan: replace desktops in year one, laptops in year two, printers and other peripheral equipment in year three, and servers and backup equipment in year four. You go along spending about the same amount each year, trying to get a couple spares in each batch of gear so you don’t have to buy too many items in between batches. Of course you’ll get off the schedule occasionally, but following such a plan helps reduce the variety of models you’re supporting, the number of different warranty expiration dates, and it certainly keeps your business from slumping into the “everything we own is obsolete and all the employees are griping” state.

When hard times come along, the “buy on rotation” approach lets you take a year off and let the equipment age. You can’t take a year off from lease payments!

We don’t do fancy or bleeding edge at the nonprofit where I work. We buy the business line models, not the consumer ones, and configure them all with the same business-oriented software.

Because I try so hard to keep the number of different models to a minimum, recordkeeping is a little easier. I have a folder with all the paperwork and disks that came with each product. I also have a list of all the equipment, the serial numbers, purchase dates, warranty dates, who has it, processor speed, memory, disk size, etc. It seems that, for me at least, I have to go inventory everything about once a year as well as recording it when we first buy it and changing the list as we get rid of things or reassign them. An easy way to track repairs is to keep the paperwork on the repair and note the model number and serial number of the machine.

And, while I’m on the subject, I’ve found that sometimes it’s just so easy to keep some old, obsolete but operable equipment. I’ve got a cheap streak, and in offices, we get used to keeping things like filing cabinets forever, but computers reach a point where they just have to go, and the best place to go is completely off the premises. If you let employees buy or take old equipment, it needs to be wiped clean with only the original configuration – not free copies of software or any company records and files. Maybe I’ll blog later about strategies to use if you want to sell or give equipment to employees.

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