Managing Hardware: The Principal of Uniformity

Is this your agency? You have Apple Macintoshes in one office, and in another, a mix of Windows PCs running Windows 95, 98, ME or NT4. Everything is connected via a Novell Network. using Novell’s propriatory network protocol ,You access the internet using a second protocol. You all print to a variety of laser, dot-matrix and inkjet printers. Many printers were purchased one at a time over the years and several sit on the desks of petulant managers who insist that they must have their own personal printer. Of course, since these were bought ad-hoc, you felt you couldn’t justify more than a home-grade inkjet printer, so you have a few of the older ink-jets which cost 50 cents per printed sheet, in cartridges and regularly jam and smear. Several folks have spouses who have purchased their own laptop computers (from multiple mannufacturers) and they are now coming to you asking whether they can use these at home to access the office network.

Consider: Let’s say you’ve got the aforementioned Macs in 2 versions, and computers with three different versions of Windows, and maybe 4 different printers. Let’s say these all have to talk to each other. That’s at least 2x3x4 – 24 combinations of hardware and software which need to talk to each other. At this point, I hear you saying “it really isn’t that bad”..but think about it:

• The Apples need software drivers for each printer.

• The Windows machines need software drivers for each printer.

• Wordprocessing, eMail and spreadsheet and database programs need to be able to read attachments created on the other machines.

• eMail setups will be different between Apples and Windows and among the Windows versions

• Virus protection will be different between the different platforms and versions

• There will be little opportunity to centrally manage anything on the workstations.

• You can’t easily replace one person’s machine if their’s goes bad because you have nothing else in the office that matches.

The above example is a real one. A more recent example is an office with 15 users. They have Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows XP workstations and a Windows NT file server for the network. WordPerfect versions 6.0 and 10. A proprietary application uses Microsoft Word 2000 and Excel for writing reports. Each machine has at least two word processors and sometimes three. The office has two HP LaserJet2P printers, a LaserJet 4P, a couple of 6P printers and a LaserJet Series II circa 1986. (Guess which printer is the most reliable?)

Ten years ago technology was expensive enough that it may have made sense to build things up incrementally. However, over the longer term the cost of supporting multiple versions of everything will eat you alive. It is a luxury you really can’t afford.

Pick a platform that you can live with. Windows or Mac. Reduce your operating systems by half. (if you have five different versions of Windows, work out a scenario that only supports two, to start). Replace the earlier versions with the later versions. Repeat every six months until you have a single O/S, (which, frankly, as of 1st quarter of 2003 I hope is Windows XP Professional, or Mac OSX). If you have multiple printers, do the same.

If you can follow this halve-every-six-months regime, after two years or so, even the most diverse office will be narrowing down the multiples. You can reverse the incremental build-up in the other direction. Of course, if you have a solid technology plan which calls for wholesale replacement of large numbers of machines at once, so much the better.

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