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I'm the IT admin for a company with a small number of users (15-20). We currently run an astonishing array laptops, each bought sometime in the previous four years. Because of this, no two are alike, and support is a nightmare.

I want to switch from the process we have in place now to a lease based plan, where my users are upgraded in "flights", so to speak. The benefits will be tremendous. I'll be able to roll out a standard image instead of wondering who has what version of what software, issues will be much easier to debug, and I can conduct thorough tests before rollout.

My problem is that I've never done leases nor planned rollouts like this. What advice would you give to someone who is just doing this for the first time?

Edit

Since machine lifetime plays a part in this, but is a completely valid question on its own, I have asked that question here: http://serverfault.com/questions/18816/what-is-your-end-user-machine-lifetime

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I've been through that before and the expected decrease in support time never materialized. It was a lot of work to setup, and nothing was gained by it. :-( –  Brian Knoblauch Jun 3 '09 at 15:07
    
Thanks for the comment. Out of curiosity, how big was your userbase? –  Matt Simmons Jun 3 '09 at 15:20
    
About 30. Not all have the same software loads, and the performance demanded from the hardware varied quite a bit more than expected between job functions. –  Brian Knoblauch Jun 3 '09 at 16:51

9 Answers 9

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There is no reason to require leases for this. Simply purchase the machines in flights like you are suggesting. also make sure to go with the business class machines which are likely to stick around for much longer.

As far as knowing the versions of things, you may want to look at a Systems Management software rather than just going based on your images. System Center Essentials would be appropriate for your organization size and will sit you in good stead going forward and moving towards the Enterprise level System Center products. Alternately there are other software offerings to assist with this such as Altiris's Deployment Server (I'm not 100% certain of the naming on the Altiris products).

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There is no need for leasing unless of course you plan on having cashflow. Serverfault is great for sysadmin advice, not so much for cashflow management advice –  Jim B Jun 7 '09 at 3:43

Can't beat Kevin's sound advice there.

I recently came accross http://www.virtualcomputer.com/Products/nxtop and it looks quite interesting, might be of use in a smaller environment.

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Interesting, though since they're laptops, centralized VM hosting probably isn't the best bet, unless I'm misunderstanding how that process works? –  Matt Simmons Jun 3 '09 at 15:09
    
I'm still trying to figure it out (haha), but more here - (virtualcomputer.com/Solutions/laptop-management), it doesn't appear to be VM in the traditional sense. I'll be doing more reading. –  LegalITTech Jun 3 '09 at 15:42

Here is how I do it for 30 computers.

  • Purchase computer with Vista home
  • Nuke that and install XP Pro using our open license (usually its either replacing a machine or we purchase another license)
  • Apply all windows updates
  • Connect to domain
  • Reboot
  • Group Policy installs all my user software :)
  • Give to end user

Since we buy computers in batchs of 1 to 5 even getting the same model will usually mean slightly different chip sets, video cards, etc when there are a couple of months between purchases that it makes doing machine images impractical

Also I agree, no reason to lease, you'll be cheaper in the long run to purchase especially if you drag out how long you keep them, even if they end up being test machines or spares in year 5

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Imagine can be easily done with many of the newer tools out there that handle driver injection during the build process –  Kevin Colby Jun 3 '09 at 22:02
    
I would say see the comments Brian had on the one post about trying that. The way I am doing it here the machine base load is the same from the GPO and then you can load any user specific sofware someone might need on a one or two of basis. Machines tend to get re-formated so infrequently to take few hours out to do it is not an issue. –  SpaceManSpiff Jun 7 '09 at 3:13

Leasing versus purchasing should be an accounting question, not IT. You can do the same replacement cycle with both methods. It really comes down to your company's cash flow, the cost of monies and the interest rates on leasing. There could also be property tax issues that come up with leasing too.

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It is an accounting issue, but considering the size of IT's budget and purchasing in many companies (particularly technology companies), this is something that can concern IT, too. I'd highly recommend involving both parties in the discussions so both understand the ramifications of buying vs. leasing and can make a good decision. (Note: I worked for a company where finance made the decisions without IT, and there were some huge and very expensive issues that resulted from it. –  Christopher Cashell Jun 7 '09 at 2:54
    
+1 for noting that business decisions are not made by IT –  Jim B Jun 7 '09 at 3:45

LegalITTech, thanks for mentioning NxTop.

NxTop isn't just for laptops (we have a number of people inernally running XP and Vista on NxTop-enabled desktops). Essentially, NxTop offers centralized one-to-many management of virtual desktops through local execution of a bare metal client hypervisor, designed to ease PC management. Every person being managed through NxTop can be on different hardware, yet it is still one OS image that needs to be managed.

We offer semi-regular webinars -- if anyone's interested or just wants to talk to someone for more info, I can get you in touch with the right people here.

Evan

Virtual Computer

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My thoughts ...

  • Theoretically, lease vs. buy is a decision about money best left to the accountants. However, the one nice thing about leasing from our (admin) viewpoint is that replacement (or conscious re-purchase) is forced after some number of years.

  • We typically budget to replace 33% of the laptops and 25% of the desktops each year. This year we have reduced those fractions for the typical reasons. The platforms (hardware, OS, software) are in relative stability now, so that is working out fine.

  • It isn't really necessary to purchase and deploy in "waves". You should settle on a standard make and model (i.e. ThinkPad T61), keep buying it until it is no longer available, and stay in the same family. If you set the standard just below bleeding edge it can last for 6-8 months; you will overpay a bit a the start and get great deals at the end. If you buy Toshiba today, HP tomorrow and Dell next week you are going to suffer!

  • I recommend buying the OEM OS, and sticking with that OS unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. You don't need to re-do the integration work that the PC manufacturer has already done.

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Be careful with the OEM bit, particularly if you're leasing. Doing so means that you're repurchasing your OS (and potentially any OEM software) every time you buy new hardware. Especially with server licensing, this can add a lot of additional cost (think Windows Server Enterprise, or Exchange licenses purchased OEM). OEM OS is fine for desktops/laptops, but I'd definitely be careful with it on servers. –  Christopher Cashell Jun 7 '09 at 2:52

First of all, it sounds like you need to get a handle on your IT purchasing practices. If you're doing things right, 4 years shouldn't result in more than 2-3 laptop models. You should be purchasing business class hardware to reduce lineup changes. For example, Dell guarantees that each model in the Latitude line will be available for a certain amount of time, to give buyers a stable purchase option. This also gives you better support options geared towards IT departments.

You need to make sure that all IT related purchases get approved by IT, and you need to make sure you have a defined standard platform for employees. Get those in place, and I expect most of your problems will go away.

As to leasing . . . Be very, very, careful with leasing. It can be a very useful and important purchasing tool, but it can also get you into a huge amount of trouble.

First things first, never lease anything without a (reasonable) buyout option unless you are 100% absolutely guaranteed positive you are not going to keep it. Also, make absolutely sure that you keep track of your lease agreements and know what is and isn't on lease, and when the leases end.

Especially for smaller companies, I'm a fan of leasing for large purchases ($100k for a new storage system, or $200k for a new Oracle RAC setup, or whatever). It can help you spread the purchase out over a couple of years, instead of taking a big hit all at once.

I'm generally not a big fan of leasing on smaller purchases. Leasing adds additional overhead in order to manage the leases and track the systems. If you screw up here, you can end up with missing or lost systems that you then have to pay for (possibly at a premium) because you didn't own it, just leased it. And that's on top of the replacement cost you'll have to cover if you still need the device.

Part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is that I worked at a company that started with leasing a few things. Then some absolute morons in the finance department decided to lease everything. Without making that clear to the rest of the company.

By the time we figured out what was going on, we had devices that we'd paid for 2-3 times over (because we'd been leasing them for 5 years when they were purchased on a lease that covered their value in 18-24 months). Worse, the leases we'd gotten suckered into (again, complete morons in the finance department) had no buyout option. We had to rip out and return basically everything we'd purchased in the past few years unless we wanted to keep paying for it forever. And remember what I said about keeping track of everything? Hah! Right. It took roughly two full time employees six months to get a reasonable handle on where we were, with a huge effort to fully catalog and organize everything.

Oh, and also be very careful with leasing and software. You can really screw yourself over if you lease software (if purchased bundled with the hardware or via a third party leasing agent). You might have planned on upgrading your Exchange servers and keeping the same Exchange licenses, but if you bought them bundled with your Dell servers on a lease, and are returning your servers, those Exchange licenses are probably going to have to go back, too (also illustrating the importance of a buyout option again).

Leasing can be very useful. Just remember: Buyer beware, and make sure you know what you're doing. Remember that when you lease, you don't actually own the hardware, so keep track of it. Make sure you have a buyout.

Good luck. ;-)

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+1 to the anti-leasing advice. –  SpaceManSpiff Jun 7 '09 at 3:15

I'm doing this as a separate answer since it is different then my last advice and an alternate to leasing :)

It was something my last place did because money was tight, and we couldn't afford the up front costs of the new equipment (about $10k, money was real tight).

Anyway, as a stop gap we did financing instead. Similiar to leasing in that it was a monthly payment, which we could afford and we owned the equipment so nothing to worry about with having to return it at the end or buyouts, etc.

The only place that gave financing, though, was Dell Financial, and the interest rates sucked (15%), but it got us over the hurdle, and we got the project launched, and paid out the loans pretty within the year. Plus side to using Dell Financial is that it was seemless to us to use since it was all done on the Dell side, we just signed the purchase order.

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The first thing you will want to do is get a handle on how your software will be purchased/licensed. You may already have the licenses you need depending on how you got your existing licenses. This is also the time to look at upgrading to vista (especially since there is no upgrade path from XP). As far as deployment goes you can use Windows Deployment Services WDS from server 2008 or 2003 (even if you choose XP). System Center would be a great add on depending on how much software and config management you need to do. With 20 users you're probably on the cusp of needing it (vs. nice to have). So plan on evaluating it before purchase. One thing no ones mentioned is that it's likely you will not have 1 standard image unless you are running vista (since it's very unlikely the CEO and the facilities manager will have similar laptop needs) So you will be using multiple laptop types. It would be really really nice if you could get the same laptop for everyone but it should be top of the line in that case (as it will probably have to last a while). Also a couple of points about buying the OEM windows OS:

  1. You will receive no support from Microsoft. You will be referred to the original OEM licensee.

  2. You cannot upgrade the FULL OEM version. When windows 7 or appears this will not be a qualifying license.

  3. Currently you can transfer a non-OEm license to a new machine. You remove windows from the first machine and the license will transfer to the new machine. You call Microsoft and get a new activation code. You cannot do this with the OEM license. It is for one machine only, the original machine. You will not be issued an activation code for a new machine.

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That's good advice, thanks! –  Matt Simmons Jun 7 '09 at 4:24

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