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Saving money on desktop costs

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

You the expert You may recall, we set you a challenge to join our expert panel and answer questions from our readers on how to deal with your desktop, and mobile desktop, environment.

This week we've got the second installment from our resident reader experts, Adam Salisbury and Trevor Pott. They're joined again by Jon Collins from Freeform Dynamics and Steve Cutler from Intel.

The question this week is:

I need to save money from my desktop costs (both capital and operational). What should I do as a priority?

Take it away, team.

Name: Trevor Pott
Job Title: Systems Administrator

If there is a single concept that will reduce the TCO of desktops it is homogenization. Systems with homologous components can be treated not as individual units, but rather as part of a class. Keeping the number of classes deployed to a minimum provides real operational benefits. In my experience, classing systems based upon identical motherboards has made imaging and post-warranty hardware support simpler.

Homogenization of the desktop environment allows for a single prototype per class. This simplifies fit-for -purpose testing and the creation of deployment images. Start from a common 'base' image and make necessary differentiations from there. Buying a group of identical desktops means you can work your suppliers for a discount and it also creates a simple business case for retaining 'cold spare' systems. Once off warranty, a small number of spare components can keep a fleet of deployed systems in service far longer than most people would expect. This is an especially important consideration for SMEs, where every dollar must be stretched to breaking.

This leads us into the operational savings that homogenization brings. Interchangeability is the biggest advantage. If something similar to roaming profiles and server-based home folders are in use - to ensure that no actual important data is ever stored on a desktop - then when desktops are identical and properly managed they should become interchangeable.

When a desktop decides it's time for a lie down, pop a spare system into service and RMA the dead one. This enables the user of that system to continue being productive, as well as offering the opportunity to repair the cranky hardware with minimal time constraints. Upon its return, the repaired system returns to the class pool as a spare. Spare systems also double up for testing. You can remake your images on a spare box periodically, and they come in handy for patch testing.

As a parting thought, consider the total lifespan of desktops. It is a common view that a front-line class of desktops deployed to high demand users should be retired when the warranty expires. When a class is removed from service, refurbish it and increase the percentage kept aside as spares. You can often return the entire class to service in a less demanding role, extending the operational life with little risk. (The larger the company, the less viable this becomes.) When looking at system lifespan as a whole, homogenization of desktop infrastructure can reduce the time and cost to deploy new systems, as well as greatly ease the burden of supporting them in the field.


Turn it on

Name: Steve Cutler
Job Title: Technical Marketing Manager, End User Solutions, Intel® Corporation

Find out if you have any vPro™ systems in your estate. You can do this by foot - walk around and look for vPro™ stickers on your clients. You can do this more automated by checking out the AMTSCAN tool from the vPro™ Expert centre web site.

The capabilities of AMT range from simple features like asset inventory and power control through to more powerful features like Serial over Lan (SOL) and IDE Redirection (IDER). Let me give some examples of how you can use these features to improve your client manageability capability and reduce your manageability costs. If your current policy is to leave desktop systems on over night to allow patching without impacting user productivity - then you are burning a lot of power for no good reason.

With vPro™ systems with AMT you can change your policy to have systems powered off over night and then set your management console to wake systems only when necessary for patching and then turn them of again. Power savings in this case can be very significant. If you are seeing a lot of deskside visits to resolve system problems - then maybe SOL and IDER will help you.

Using SOL you can redirect boot screen and BIOS screens to the management console and change boot settings or other BIOS settings remotely. Using IDER you can have a system boot from a remote local disk image which could be a dedicated remediation image with a full suite of debug tools - or simply to a standard OS image. Even in cases where there is a hardware failure, SOL and IDER will probably allow you to diagnose the problem so only a single visit is required to replace the failed hardware. All these features can be configured to operate in a fully secure manner using TLS encryption, so you can be sure these features can only be accessed by correctly authenticated and authorised support staff.

If you have very few or no vPro™ systems in your estate - are you using an existing management console? If not, it is well worth investigating what these can do for you. There are multiple vendors (Microsoft, Symantec, LanDesk, HP, etc) and they tend to provide a similar core set of features. If you do have management software in place - are you using it as effectively as possible? Are there features in your management software that could have direct cost saving impact if you enable them or start using them?

Look at the commonest causes of desktop issues that your help desk is dealing with. There may be things you can do with your existing software that will improve the efficiency of dealing with some of those issues. Some specific areas to look at: What are the power management capabilities you have between what the OS can do and what your management software can do.

If you can implement better policies on your clients for powering off systems or at least moving them into standby, can your management software wake them up if necessary to install security patches? Are you able to take advantage of existing OS tools like remote desktop? Maybe this will allow your help desk staff to investigate and resolve more issues. Are you able to repartition client disk drives to include a maintenance and recovery partition so that each client has a known good OS available to boot at all times. Then if end user suffers problem on main partition - you can remotely revert back to maintenance partition to investigate and maybe resolve the issue.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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