Reasons for Buying Recommended Hardware

Sometimes people believe the price of equipment we recommend is higher than something they see elsewhere.  Usually the person wants to save the institution money--and we heartily respect those honorable intentions.  However, with regard to information technology (at least), usually:

  • The "up front" cost remains the least expensive part of your purchase.
  • The majority of the expense comes from maintaining the equipment over a typical lifecycle.

In fact, when money is in shorter-than-usual supply, purchasing the best, supported equipment costs less.  This is true in terms of your time and productivity as well as physical costs.

If, after reading the following, you feel you have a justified need for some other solution, please contact our office first (we do make exceptions).

Risk to You and the Institution

UNT implements a very light firewall and possess some of the fastest Internet pipes in the metroplex--making all computers on our network highly-valued by hackers.  In 2007, we installed a fresh Windows computer on the network in a manner to the way most users would install the computer and it was compromised within five minutes. Compromised computers are typically used to compromise institutional and constituent secrets, some of which are protected by US and Texas laws.

This matters to you because when a computer is hacked, it prevents you from getting your normal work done.  This matters to your colleagues because when a computer is hacked, it puts all the other systems at greater risk.  For example, a popular economic reason for hackers to compromise desktop computers is for the distribution of spam (they get paid, typically by middling shell companies).  Those computers start send out spam and soon remote sites, like Hotmail, AOL, GMail, etc. refuse email from the whole campus until we locate and fix the problem (usually takes hours).  Our fix for unsupported computers?  Disable all network access until user resolves the issue.

Software Services

UNT, CAS, and some departments pay for more than 100 software programs for use on recommended/supported computers. In most cases, we purchase licenses in bulk to reduce costs either altogether (in the case of Microsoft, we pay for the entire Office license since almost everyone uses it) or dramatically reduce costs (e.g., for Adobe and statistical software products).  Many licenses (like some statistical packages) only work with a special type of network ("domain" or "active directory") access.  Because of the security risks (see above section regarding risks for you and the institution) with unsupported computers, we do not allow them into the UNT domain (so users would have to buy those packages separately).

Warranty

Particularly with regard to computers and network switches from Allied Telesis that we recommend, no third party coverage comes close to the services UNT provides.   In most cases, when you buy a computer "off-the-shelf" from a vendor, it comes with a 90 day to 1 year warranty.  The UNT-recommended computers come with a three year parts and labor warranty and an additional two (for a total of five) year labor warranty.  Typically, the Microcomputer Maintenance Shop repairs computers within one hour.  If you suffer a day or two of down time on an unsupported "cheap" computer, that usually obviates any savings you may have otherwise realized (not including "opportunity costs").

Management Costs

Each computer costs the College about $300-$400/year to support.  That includes professional periodic software updates, configuration, desktop service visits, file, print, and other services.  UNT provides the professional, specialized service groups to take care of computing so you can spend more time working in your field (e.g., performing scholarly activities).  By doing so, UNT reduces “opportunity costs” (the institutional and individual hard and soft costs of doing something other than your field of specialty).

Long Term Viability

We recommend “enterprise” grade (rather than "consumer" grade computers).  That means the equipment we recommend consists of higher quality parts that usually work better and longer (they have a lower “mean time between failure”).

Price versus Performance

In the Information Technology field, we consistently strive for the best price to performance ratio.  Recently, a colleague noted the seemingly-low price of an unsupported computer brand/model.  A brief comparison and evaluation demonstrates the pure "up front" savings turn into unnecessary expense and the following table demonstrates why that remains the case (in case you want to compare another system).  Comparing the differences, I found the following (performance advantage shows in bold):


"Seemingly Low-Priced PC" drive lacks a “burst cache” which would significantly improve performance (see the "CPU Cache" notes above).

Monitor22"20"
Warranty3 years parts and labor; 2 more years labor3 years parts and labor (maximum)On-campus hardware repair usually happens within an hour.  No comparable third party solution exists for the "Seemingly Low-Priced PC."Price for 5 year lifecycle$214/year$246/yearSee below for details.

Clearly from the above, the UNT-recommended solution performs much better and costs less money.  Here is how the price/year was determined:

  • The "UNT Recommended PC" costs $1,070 for a 5 year lifecycle, which comes to $214/year.
  • The "Seemingly Low-Priced PC" costs $739 (includes max 3 year warranty for the 3 year life cycle), which comes to $246/year.
  • Therefore, the "UNT Recommended PC" ends up costing $32 less per year for the same five years ($160 total) of service.

A brief note that this comparison only covers the actual, physical cost of the computer.  If you factor in the software and service benefits noted in the previous sections, then the "UNT Recommended PC" comes out even further ahead.

 Closing Thoughts

Culturally, it seems like many people still consider computers and related equipment as expensive items.  However, purchasing agents should consider all of the above sections and then examine the difference between the perceived and the actual savings: 

  • How much does UNT pay the user (a UNT expense) over five years?
  • How much does the new equipment cost over those same five years?
    Result: The equipment likely costs less than 1% of the person's salary.
  • What is your assumed savings between UNT-recommended versus unsupported equipment?
    If you do manage to save 20% on some equipment, you just saved 20% of 1% of costs (that's a 0.2% savings).
  • Is that "savings" really worth your consideration along with the additional costs from management, compromises, productivity loss, and maintenance issues in the above sections?

This goes beyond the insitution and employee relationship.  Purchasing agents can also make the same sort of calculation based on student expenses for using a computer lab by calculating the number of students using the computer and the amount they contribute versus the benefit they received.

Please contact our office (see footer for contact information) with any questions or concerns.