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Reality IT: Lessons in Vendor Hype

Waterfront or Swamp?

A few years back, the industry was abuzz about a new type of low-cost client hardware. Some vendors called them network computers; others diskless workstations. The current term is thin-client devices. These machines were all the rage for several years, and they may have worked out just fine for some organizations. But for ACME, they were a major disappointment--and an object lesson in avoiding vendor hype.

In the late 1990s, ACME's call centers were running old 80486 computers, but we were facing a major upgrade because the machines could not be made Y2K-compliant. We considered buying replacement PCs, but one vendor convinced us we would save money and improve control if we used diskless workstations with redundant central servers for the thin clients. We decided to make the leap to the new technology.

The problems started almost at once. The vendor had back-order problems, so we didn't receive all the workstations we had requested. We had a BIOS problem with the initial units, so the vendor had to help us perform an extra update step on each unit. And the headaches were just beginning.

The vendor had insisted on a massive server configuration with huge disk, processor power and memory requirements. But we found that the servers were way oversized and underutilized. And since the diskless workstations turned out to be only slightly less expensive than increasingly cheaper PCs, the high cost of the servers canceled out the cost advantage of the whole solution.

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