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We're working on a project that requires PCs to be deployed to various locations and report back various data to a central server, and are interested in a recommendation on the hardware to use. We have the following requirements:

  • The monitoring software depends on some 3rd party windows-only drivers for a USB device, and is written in .NET, so these must run windows xp/vista/7/server and have at least one USB.
  • We would like to be able to remotely administer them and only have to travel to them for hardware failure. It would be nice if, in case of power failure, they came back up on their own once power was restored.
  • We would prefer 'off-the-shelf' hardware from a reputable vendor like Dell, HP, etc.
  • The cheaper the better.

We're considering netbooks, small-form-factor desktops, and blade servers. What specific model would you recommend for a scenario like this?

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@kara: 1 desktop per site to monitor FM radio information, and various other related data. The UX on the desktop isn't vital - we want them to be easy to administer, but typically they will just work on their own, unattended. –  Daniel Dec 3 '09 at 18:13
    
Product and service recommendations are specifically off topic for ServerFault (see point 4 in the NOT About section of the FAQ) –  sysadmin1138 Jan 5 '12 at 3:15
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closed as off topic by sysadmin1138 Jan 5 '12 at 3:15

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3 Answers

You could use boxes from Fit-PC. They aren't the cheapest but they are tiny reliable low power devices.

http://www.fit-pc.com/web/

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I don't know about the longevity of the manufacturer, but those devices look really, really nice! The pricing isn't too bad at all, compared to a desktop computer. –  Evan Anderson Dec 3 '09 at 19:27
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  • I'd think seriously about netbooks if your scenario is undemanding in terms of video/cpu/ram/disk-io. It'd be easy to overnight replacements, or even keep spares onsite, given the low cost. There's going to be a big jump between 'cheap as possible' and anything with a decent warranty - but with remote (and possibly not very supervised?) hardware, I'll opt for cheap & easily replaceable (with little - or NO - time spent on the phone with vendor support).

  • I'd absolutely explore Desktop Virtualization if it fits (hard to tell based on the description so far) - but that definitely fits the bill for cheap onsite hardware.

Some questions that might narrow down your responses - approx how many desktops per site? What kind of data is being collected? How important is the user experience?

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Thanks! I added a comment above answering your questions. –  Daniel Dec 3 '09 at 18:14
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I'd recommend looking at SiteKiosk. They allow for complete remote management of a PC including limiting the abilities of that PC. We use them as customer-facing systems in our healthcare clinics, but your application would be an ideal candidate for their product.

http://www.sitekiosk.com/en-US/SiteKiosk/Default.aspx

Good luck...Michael

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