Monday, August 5, 2013

Balancing risk on desktops and laptops

We are now working divisions and departments to renew the support agreement. As a result, at least one unit has asked if it is necessary to have a support contract for older equipment, so I wanted to share these thoughts.

The most important thing to protect is your data. Many staff and faculty keep files for 10 years or more, yet do not often back up their data. People whose computers are on the campus Active Directory can store their important files on the network using the S: and H: drives. Others may choose to keep copies of important files on the University's file cloud (NetFiles) or in your U of M Google Docs account. But most faculty and staff do not operate this way; they keep a lot of files on their desktop or laptop, so losing their computer because of a hardware problem is a big deal. Usually the first thing to go on a computer is a spinning part, such as the hard drive. That’s why we like to replace computers on a regular cycle.

When we purchase computers, we usually purchase them with a three-year extended warranty. This means if the computer has a problem during the first three years, the vendor will arrange for free replacement or repair.

After those three years are up, we typically use an external support contract with a third party. If someone’s computer has a problem, and it’s too big for the helpdesk to fix, then we can call the external support folks for repair. We strongly recommend desktops and laptops go on the support agreement after the third year, to make sure that they can be fixed if something breaks.

We sometimes have some “spares” on hand, which we use for “emergency” replacement of campus computers. These are usually computers that are “reclaimed” when we replace the lab computers. But these are always in limited quantity, and are provided on a “first-come, first-served” basis. This year, we are deploying many of these “spares” to use as classroom PCs. There’s no guarantee that we will have a spare on-hand if someone’s computer needs to be replaced.

My recommendation is to replace desktops and laptops every four years. Use the warranty in the first three years, and put the computer on the support agreement in the fourth year.

Consider this: If your computer dies during that last year, after it goes off warranty but before it is replaced, do you want to hope that we will have a spare computer for you to use? Or do you want to rely instead on the maintenance contract through a local in-field support person who can (in almost all cases) bring your computer back to life for you?

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