Buying and Deploying Technology

Even if you follow the technology industry, keeping up with every change in processor speed and every new software feature is a big challenge. While we can’t take the complexity out of the buying process, we can provide a few questions and answers to help you focus your research.

Once you make a technology purchase, there’s bound to be some work involved in getting the hardware from the box to the desktop. The same is true of new software. How will you get that software from the installation CDs out to the end users? As with all of the stages in the technology life cycle, it’s worth taking some time to plan for deployments, installations and upgrades.

Although it’s helpful to think about the specific decisions that have to be made during the installation of new hardware and software, it’s also worth studying the broader, umbrella subject of IT change management. Change management is beyond the scope of this project, but if you’re interested, check out How to Develop an IT Change Management Program and the Wikipedia articles on this topic. These are fairly technical, but when boiled down, they all stress the importance of communication, documentation, planning and testing.

Why Plan Carefully for Major Purchases

There are five good reasons why you should think through and carefully plan for the technology you bring into the library. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Save money. Any time you buy in bulk, by yourself or in cooperation with other organizations, you’ll probably save money.
  • Save time. Buying technology takes a lot of effort, especially when you have to cope with local government paperwork and the never-­ending process of applying for e-­rate discounts. If you cooperate with other players at the state, regional and local level, you might be able to bypass the paperwork or get someone else to help you with it.
  • Limit ongoing costs. As we discussed in the Total Cost of Ownership section, all technologies have ongoing costs, and you want to control these as much as possible.
  • Get the best support. If you buy technology from an unreliable, unresponsive company, you might wait forever for fixes, upgrades and improvements. Or they might stop supporting your product altogether. On the other hand, quality training and responsive tech support can make your life a lot easier.
  • Avoid vendor lock-­in. Some companies are better than others at allowing their technology to work with other products. For example, you’d like to integrate your ILS and your PC reservation software, but the ILS database won’t allow this, and the vendor won’t work with you to develop a solution. Or if you want the systems to work together, you have to buy the PC Reservation system approved by your vendor. Or you want to buy a new firewall, but it doesn’t work well with your existing networking equipment. This situation is known as vendor lock-­in.

Vendor Selection and Management

Unless you know how to build your own computers from scratch and write your own software, you’ll have to talk with IT vendors sooner or later. Librarians have a lot of leverage when it comes to building and managing these relationships, but we don’t always know how to exercise our power. Getting the best service and the best price takes some thought and planning.

Here, we break down the process of working with vendors and recommend a few good online resources for each step along the way. We’ve used fairly vague, general language (“project,” “purchase,” “purchasing decision”) because our advice applies to a wide variety of situations. You may be looking to buy a workstation, a printer, a suite of productivity software, an ILS system or an operating system. On the other hand, you might be in the market for a consultant or a contractor to build a database or a Web site.

Why Pay Attention to Vendor Selection and Vendor Management?

  • You get good strategic advice. Sales representatives and account managers at computer companies can be great allies for your library. If they’re knowledgeable and they’re willing to devote some time to understanding your situation, they can provide excellent advice about how to spend your technology dollars.
  • All the reasons outlined under Why Plan Carefully for Major Purchases.

Key Actions

  • Buy off state contracts. As we describe in our Ten Steps to Successfully Working Vendors tool, state contracts can save you huge amounts of time and lots of money. If you have access to any other consortial or regional buying cooperatives, look into those as well. There’s strength in numbers.
  • Look at NPower’s overview. If you’re looking for a single document that describes the whole process of vendor selection from start to finish, we recommend Selecting the Right Technology Vendor from NPower. Should you move forward with this project in the first place? If so, how do you research vendors? How do you write a Request for Proposals (RFP)? How do you evaluate the responses to your RFP? Even if you don’t issue a formal RFP, this guide has a great list of criteria you can use when comparing different technology vendors.
  • Check out TechSoup. It offers a similar overview of the process in the form of an RFP timeline.

Stories from the Field

I am probably known to have as few vendors as possible to keep things simple. After you’re their customer for a little bit, you get free stuff. The place we buy most of our hardware and software from, we get free shipping, free installation of extra parts. I had to have 10 extra serial ports put in for some of the touch screens we use on some PCs we bought for this building, and they put them in for free. There was no installation charge. I’ve gotten like tons and tons of free stuff from the guy [who is] my main vendor. In terms of networking, some people will have the cable company for this part or different Internet providers; I hate that. I’ve gotten stuck in situations before where it’s a he said/she said kind of thing, where one company says ‘Oh, no, it’s their fault. Oh, no it’s their fault.’ I hate that, and then you’re stuck in the middle. I’m good, but I’m not so good that I know every single thing in the world, so at some point, you need a person [who] really, really knows and is really, really specialized, and they can say ‘No, this is the problem and we will fix it.’ It’s nice to have one person to call to do that. I find that when you have multiple vendors, sometimes it’s really, really hard for someone to say ‘Yes, we’ll fix it.’

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library, KY

Cooperative Buying Strategies

Partnership and collaboration are themes we’ve hit on repeatedly in the Cookbooks. When you’re buying technology, higher volume usually leads to better prices and better service. You can collaborate with state purchasing agencies, state libraries, regional library cooperatives, municipal IT departments, local colleges, K­-12 schools, K­-12 libraries and on and on. For more on partnering with other organizations, see Effectively Collaborating with Other Libraries and Partners. Also, be sure to review our How to Buy Cooperatively Quick Reference.

Why Buy Cooperatively?

  • Save money. Purchasing cooperatives offer vendors access to more customers and high-volume contracts, which gives cooperatives an edge. They usually can negotiate better deals than individual libraries.
  • Bypass the RFP process and other procurement rules. State contracts in particular almost always satisfy local laws and regulations with regards to RFPs and competitive bidding. Other joint buying agreements may also comply with these laws. In other words, depending on the situation, there’s a good chance that you won’t have to issue your own RFP and wade through the responses.
  • Get better service. Most vendors assign their most experienced sales representatives to their high-­volume contracts. In other words, when you buy through a state contract or a similar joint buying arrangement, you still have someone at Dell, HP, Verizon or wherever who you can turn to for assistance and advice. Often, it takes months or years to find a competent sales rep and build a relationship with that person. When you buy off a state contract, the relationship is already in place. You might also find that the contract guarantees a higher level of tech support. In short, you might get replacement parts quicker or your calls might bypass the less-­experienced, first­-tier help-desk technicians.

Key Actions

Talk to local experts or do your own research to ensure that you’re authorized to buy off of a particular contract. States and localities have different rules about setting up purchasing cooperatives and buying off of contracts that someone else negotiated.

Stories from the Field

In Montana, a lot of people don’t know this still, and I’ve been trying to educate people, but our state government, when they negotiate contracts with vendors for software or hardware, they almost always throw in the clause that local government agencies are allowed to purchase off those contracts. So we get a pretty hefty discount for a lot of things — not only hardware, but software and services like my cell phone; my business cell phone is through a state term contract….We’re lucky enough in Montana that our state government has a contract with Novell. It’s called a master license agreement, or MLA, and when they negotiated that MLA, they also put in a clause that local governments are allowed to purchase off that contract. So whatever list price is, I get, like, 42 percent off list price. And it’s a licensing thing, so I’ve got, I forget my numbers, but it’s, like, 40 some desktops that use ZENworks. So I pay an annual maintenance fee on those licenses, which means I get support and product upgrades for free.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

I don’t even look at the retail pricing anymore. Even if I called Dell, for example, and I ask for a quote, they already know that I have a state contract, so I get the state contract pricing by default. I don’t know what pricing I would get if it wasn’t for that. But I was looking at a laptop, and it was at least $500 difference between what was on their W ebsite versus what the state contract pricing was. It’s great...I found out about it just because the person before me was aware of it. And I have a feeling that the way we got onto it in the first place was [that] we were using a state contract for purchasing vehicles. And you know, vehicles are such a significant purchase. You’re always looking for the best way to get it...Ongoing paperwork is nothing. It’s just fill in your organization address and send a check to participate in the Cooperative Purchasing Ventures, as they call it in Minnesota. And the fee is small. I’m guessing it’s just to cover administrative costs.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, MN

Many times, they’ll have a state contract and then they’ll have a rep for a particular piece of that state contract, so that person will know about the differences on that particular piece of the contract and can tell you who to get in touch with and that type of thing. Another advantage is that a lot of times, at least in Texas, the way that contracts work is if you buy off the state contract, it’s legally binding. It meets all bid requirements, regardless of what local bid requirements are or anything like that. So from that point of view, it makes it easier because you don’t have to mess with doing all the legal stuff. In some states, if you go above a certain amount, you have to go out and get three bids or something like that. In a lot of places, if you have that state contract, you don’t have to go out and get those bids. You already have. It’s already been negotiated.

Chris Jowaisis
Texas State Library, TX

And you don’t have to buy off the state contract if you can find a better deal somewhere else. You’re not limited to the state contract. It’s just that if you do buy off the state contract, then there’s something called the Uniform Procurement Law in Massachusetts, and it governs when you have to get three bids for something. It has thresholds for when you have to get three bids for a service or when you have to do a sealed bid. If you buy off the state contract, then parts of that process are already done for you and you don’t have to go through all of it. But you’re not restricted to the state contract if you can find a better deal somewhere else.

Sia Stewart
Kingston Public Library, MA

Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure

IT standardization is a strategy for minimizing IT costs within an organization by keeping hardware and software as consistent as possible and reducing the number of tools you have that address the same basic need. It may take the form of ensuring that every computer has the same operating system, or of purchasing hardware in bulk so that every PC in your office is the same make and model. Standardization often goes hand in hand with centralization, the process of giving your IT department more control over purchases of hardware and software, and more control over what staff members are allowed to do with their office computers.

While imposing equipment standards can help you streamline your IT infrastructure, simplify decision­ making and minimize purchasing and maintenance costs, the process of standardizing itself can be complicated. In the following section, we'll show you ways to gauge the level of standardization your organization requires, highlight some of the benefits of standardization and offer tips for standardizing your equipment while balancing organizational and staff needs.

Why Standardize Your IT Infrastructure?

  • Reduce the burden on IT staff. Your IT department faces a learning curve with each new piece of technology you bring on board. If you’re supporting four types of antivirus software in your library, each of those applications uses a different procedure for updating and patching. The troubleshooting and support skills needed for each application are different. The online resources for each piece of software are different.
  • Avoid compatibility problems. It’s difficult to find replacement parts and match the right part with the right computer if you’re supporting 15 different models. Also, the more software and hardware you have, the more often you’ll encounter conflicts and errors that are hard to isolate and fix.
  • Improve communication. Finally, it’s hard for your IT staff to communicate with frontline employees about troubleshooting issues if there’s no standard. Neither side really knows what the other party is talking about.
  • Other benefits. A more thorough discussion of the ways you can standardize is available in Benefits of Standardization.

Key Actions

  • Buy in quantity. Dell, HP and other vendors change their models constantly, so the computer you buy this week is different from the one you bought last week, even though the model number is exactly the same. It may have a different network card, a different hard drive or even a different motherboard. If someone has to have a computer right away, try to reuse your existing machines until you can put together a larger order. To roll your smaller purchases into larger purchases, focus your attention on planning and asset tracking.
  • Buy business models. When you’re buying new computers, look at the business models instead of the home models. Manufacturers (Dell, HP, etc.) change the components in their business machines much less frequently. They might freeze your model for six or nine months, and when they do make a significant change, they’ll notify you in advance.
  • Plan ahead. If you speak with a broad cross­-section of your library employees and department heads during the process of writing your technology plan, you’ll know roughly how many new staff members you can expect during the coming year and if your library plans to add any new public computers.

Stories from the Field

Yeah, when I first started here at the bottom of the totem pole about eight years ago now, there was no standardization at all. And in fact, there wasn’t any kind of automated process for distributing software. So it took a whole day for somebody to sit down and install the software on a PC, which automatically led to a lack of standardization. You’re always gonna make a mistake when you’re doing it manually. And then there were multiple models of computers, because they would just buy whatever could be purchased whenever the money was available rather than making large bulk purchases and keeping it standardized.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, MN

Right now, one of the biggest problems in our old building is that everything was different. Like, we would buy a PC here and a PC there and get one donated, and everything was different, so maintaining everything was hard. And the goal now is we’re just going to turn over everything all at the same time, and so all the PCs in the building, at least the public PCs, would all be the same. And right now, they’re all exactly the same systems, with exactly the same hardware loaded on them, and they all work the same. So it’s easy for the public when they come in — no matter what workstation they sit down at, it’s exactly the same as any other. And it’s easy to maintain them because the people [who] are working with [them] know what’s on there and the different glitches with them and whatnot. And so our goal is to have this turnover where we just put money aside every year for this big purchase every four years, and then you get a good deal on PCs. You’re buying in bulk.

Valerie Meyerson
Charlevoix Public Library, MI

What I try to do is replace whole branches at a time. When I do the main branch, for example, there’ll be, like, 100 computers that I buy, and I’ll buy them all at one time. But then the smaller branches, I group them together so that I’m replacing several branch computers at the same time. Honestly, I don’t like to buy fewer than about 50 PCs at a time, just because we try to stay on a five-year cycle — not even five years, four years. So I try to buy as much as I can at one time. Then when I do buy some more computers, I try as often as possible to get similar hardware configurations.

Michelle Foster
Boone Public Library, KY

Buying Refurbished Computers

While nonprofits may hold on to hardware equipment until the last bit of life has been squeezed out of it, many corporations abandon working computers in good condition after just three or four years of use. While this equipment may be outdated for the bleeding­-edge needs of a large enterprise, that doesn't mean it doesn't have years of life that it can offer your organization — especially when its components have been examined and updated by a professional refurbisher.

You can find laptops, desktops, servers, PDAs and most other types of hardware, all from a wide variety of manufacturers, with a wide variety of components and specifications. Bear in mind, though, there are many ways to buy refurbished computers, and as with anything else, it pays to do some research and planning.

Why Buy a Refurbished Computer?

  • Help save money. Refurbished desktop computers usually cost between $100 and $300, depending on the components. However, monitors are often sold separately. Overall, refurbished machines generally cost about half as much as a comparably configured new computer. Of course, these PCs are also closer to the end of their usable lives.
  • Help save the environment. Refurbishing keeps working computers out of landfills, storage or out of countries where equipment may be dismantled under unsafe conditions.

Key Actions

  • Carefully think through your current and future computing needs. A three­-year­-old refurbished PC may have enough juice to run Microsoft Office, but it might choke on the latest video­-editing software. A quick Google search or a glance at the packaging will tell you the minimum and recommended requirements for a particular piece of software. Make sure your computers meet at least the recommended requirements for the operating system you plan to install and anything else you will need to use on a regular basis. A technology plan and a needs assessment are good ways to ensure that you know what computer power your staff and patrons will require in the near future.
  • Always buy from a qualified refurbishing company. If you buy used computers from a flea market or the classified section, you probably won’t be happy with the results. Refurbishers, on the other hand, test each computer they receive thoroughly, repair them if necessary and may do some simple upgrades.

Other Key Questions to Consider...

  • As with new computers, try to buy machines with identical parts. Refurbishers often receive hundreds or thousands of PCs from a particular company, so you can buy a batch of 50 computers that have the “same” hard drive, motherboard, sound card, etc.
  • Pay attention to the warranty and the return policy. You probably won’t get a three-­year warranty on a refurbished machine, but a three-­month warranty to cover any out-­of­-the-­box problems is fairly standard. Also, how quick is their response time when a machine needs repairs?
  • Check the refurbisher’s “fail rate” or “return rate.” According to Jim Lynch, Computer Recycling & Reuse Director for TechSoup’s GreenTech Program, the industry standard has a les- than-12 percent failure rate, which means it’s worth finding out if the refurbisher you’re considering has a higher or lower rate of returns or failures for the equipment they sell.
  • Find out the operating system, if any, that you’ll get with the computer. Some refurbished computers come with Windows Vista or Windows XP, but others will have an older operating system or no operating system at all. This may not make a difference if you plan to image the computer. Since many refurbished computers arrive with little or no software installed, disk-cloning is often the best way to quickly and efficiently prepare the workstation for deployment.
  • What peripherals are included? Refurbished computers rarely come with a monitor, so be sure to include that in your budget. Also, if you need DVD drives, wireless network cards or other optional components, look at the details of the specification sheet to make sure those are included.

Stories from the Field

[Off-lease computers] are used computers. They’re leased to corporations instead of purchased. And when the lease runs out, they’re replaced with newer computers, and then the ones that they had previously are usually bought out by various companies that are in this business. And they refurbish them and make sure they’re all working, and they turn around and sell them as used computers that have come off of a lease. They’re usually business-class computers. They’re not the consumer kind that you find at Wal-Mart. And they’ve been working for three years, so you know they’re going to probably work for at least another three, if not longer. And you get pretty good deals with them.

Jeff Hawkins
Lassen Library, CA

Further Resources

To learn more about buying refurbished computers and/or for a list of suppliers of refurbished computers, check out our Further Resources section.

Leasing Computers and Other Equipment

As with cars, TVs or any other large, expensive outlay, you don’t have to own the technology in your organization. You can rent desktop machines, servers, networking equipment and just about anything else. And while you usually pay a bit more in the long run, some organizations find it easier from a purchasing and accounting viewpoint. Before you lease any technology, you need to take some time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the decision.

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
  • Budgeting: When you buy equipment, your expenses can vary wildly from year to year. With leased equipment, you don’t have to work so hard to balance your annual budgets. Instead, the costs are spread evenly over the term of the lease (usually from one to three years).
  • Cash flow: If your cash on hand is less than you’d like, leasing might cost you less in the long run than taking out a bank loan or using a credit card. An accountant can help you weigh your options.
  • Technology currency: If your leases run for short periods of time, you’ll always have fairly up-to-date equipment (i.e., every three years or so, you’ll be returning the old computers and getting the latest, fastest PCs.)
  • Disposal: It often takes time and money to properly dispose of the outdated equipment you own. When your lease is up, however, you usually send the leased hardware back to the vendor, unless you decide to pay the buyout cost and keep the equipment.
  • Loss of control: There might be significant restrictions on what you can and can’t do to leased equipment.
  • Vendor tie-in: With some lease contracts, you may be tied into using equipment from one vendor for several years. If your needs change suddenly, will you be able to get out of the lease without paying unreasonable penalties?
  • Extra expense: When you lease, you’re paying a premium because the vendor is taking on certain risks and obligations that they wouldn’t have if they just sold you the computer outright. Lease Versus Purchase from TechLearning will give you some idea of the extra costs you incur when you lease.
  • End-of-lease terms: Handling the return of the leased equipment in a way that you avoid unexpected fees and penalties can sometimes be difficult.

What to Examine in a Lease Agreement

No one wants to get caught in a lease agreement that is too restrictive or too vague. We recommend that you download our tool, Examine a Lease Agreement. It offers a complete set of guidelines on what to look for and consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Stories from the Field

One of the advantages of doing the lease is that we have a consistent budget year to year to year, because one quarter of that lease is paid each year, so the budget is well planned and consistent.

Thomas Edelblute
Anaheim Public Library, CA

Yes, being as technical as I am, I'd rather buy the machines. I hate the idea of not being able to, because I’ve talked to libraries [that] have done these leasing programs where the company comes in and puts a server in and puts in a bunch of same clients or something like that. But if there’s a problem, you’ve got to call them, and they’ve got to come out and fix it. So there are advantages to it. I could see if someone who doesn’t have someone in-house, like me, that would be a great way to go. Then you don’t have to worry about it; if it breaks, you call somebody, and they come out and fix it. But I’ve never considered the idea of leasing machines. I know that it used to be a big deal. I remember every time I’d go to buy a computer, they’d always be, like, ‘You could lease this today for $28.00 a month,’ or something like that. I never considered it.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis and Clark Library, MT

I have been talking to other libraries that lease computers, and that’s an option that I could be interested in looking at, but not in the current economy, because I could imagine leasing all of our machines and then not being able to renew the lease because we didn’t have the funding. At least if we buy the machines, we own them.

Sia Stewart
Kingston Public Library, MA

Two YMCAs I work with each bought technology with a lease….In one instance involving a leased server, we had great difficulty closing the agreement and getting the equipment packed and ready to return in order to avoid lease-end buyout fees. The entailing phone tag and multiple emails caused us as much grief as being pushed to replace a server on the timetable dictated by the lease’s expiration date. Another lease problem I encountered concerned a photocopier; the person who set up the contract was no longer with the organization, and when the lease expired, no one knew to ask for a buyout option. As a result, the organization kept paying fees for an extra 18 months when the lease converted to a month-to-month agreement.

Dave Welp
Information Technical Director, Scott Family YMCA
Shared Wisdom, Learning from Technology Mistakes

Further Resources

For more articles and suggestions on this topic, check out our Further Resources section.

Buying Hardware and Software

Hardware Purchases

We’ve covered some aspects of hardware buying in Leasing Computers and Other Equipment and Buying Refurbished Computers. To find out more about other key factors to consider when purchasing computers or other hardware devices, we suggest you check out our Buying Hardware Checklist tool.

Software Purchases

We’ve talked about managing your vendor relationships, benefits of standardization and the value of state contracts, all of which apply when you’re buying software. Our Buying Software Checklist tool gives a more detailed look at factors to consider and resources on this topic.

Warranties and Service Plans

Is an extended warranty on a computer really worth the extra money? The answer, as usual, is “It depends.”

Why Should You Pay Attention to Warranties?

When you’re buying a computer, a server or another piece of hardware, the manufacturer may try to cut costs by offering a substandard warranty. On home computers and consumer­-grade equipment, a one-year warranty is standard, but you should expect a three-­year warranty on most business­-grade equipment (e.g., servers and workstations). Networking equipment such as routers and switches will often have a 5 year warranty. Furthermore, a good service plan or warranty on your mission-­critical equipment can allow you to recover quickly and gracefully from a hardware failure, rather than waiting for days and weeks for a crucial replacement part.

What’s the Difference Between an Extended Warranty and a Service Plan?

  • An extended warranty simply extends the term of the standard manufacturer’s warranty. In other words, if the original warranty lasts a year, an extended plan might insure your computer during years two and three. Most, but not all, systems administrators we’ve talked to avoid extended warranties on commodity items such as desktop computers, especially when they’re buying business-class computers, which often have a three-­year warranty. However, some sysadmins opt to purchase an extended warranty for mission-critical equipment such as servers.
  • A service plan generally offers you a higher quality of support and service than you’d normally receive. For example, most manufacturers’ warranties don’t cover accidental damage to a computer. However, for an additional fee you can purchase accidental damage protection. Again, many systems administrators avoid this type of enhanced service plan unless the item is mission-critical. For example, you might want 24-­hour parts replacement or top­-tier phone support on your Web server or your Windows domain controller.

Questions to Consider When Evaluating Warranties

  • If you’re buying a lot of computers from the same vendor, can you get an extended warranty or an upgraded service plan thrown in for free?
  • Does your credit card offer an extended warranty? Some cards will extend the manufacturer’s warranty automatically.
  • Is the money better spent elsewhere? Extended warranties typically cost between 10 and 30 percent of the retail price of the item. With desktop PCs, consider putting this money into a repair and replacement fund that you can use when and if your machines break down.
  • How much time do you have to troubleshoot and support your computers? If you don’t have a full­-time systems administrator and you’re tired of fixing your own PCs, a service plan might offer you on­-site repair or premier phone support. If you have more money than time, it might be worth it, but do some Web searches to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the plans you’re looking at.
  • How much expertise do you have? Again, if you don’t have much experience with technology, it might be worth it to pay for top­-tier phone support or on­-site support. However, trial and error is often the best way to learn, so think twice about letting someone else do all your troubleshooting.

Stories from the Field

Typically for the library, you know, the sort of standard warranty that comes with the computers…varies, depending upon the vendor. Most of the time, we don’t do extended warranties. We’ve had pretty good luck with the machines. Part of that is, you know, we’re able to actually replace parts that go bad. If a hard drive goes bad, we’ll just [replace it] and, you know, pay the cost of doing that…individual pieces. Probably the biggest replacement that needed to happen was [after] a lightning strike a few years ago. And essentially, the insurance took care of replacing all of those. So, you know, on a normal basis, no, we typically don’t go with the extended warranties or extended, extended warranties from the vendors.

Brian Heils
Dubuque County Library, IA

We do. Some small stuff we can and do fix here, but the majority of the stuff, Dell, I know, is the only one I’ve had to actually use, they do next-day service, and they’re real good about getting out here and getting us going again for big stuff that we don’t want to tackle. Replacing motherboards and that sort of thing….Until they become OPACs, generally, our computers are all under warranty while they’re in general use. Once we move them down to the OPACs, that usually means they’re out of warranty, so if an OPAC dies, I just grab it. If it can be fixed easily, great; if not, then we switch out another one of the older computers and set it up.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

On warranties, I like the PC to have at least a three- to four-year warranty. Sometimes, depending on the season or the mood of the computer company, getting that extra fourth year can be really expensive. So I don’t always get that. But most of the business machines I buy come standard with a three-year warranty. And sometimes you can save a little bit of money if you shave off things like on-site repair, because a lot of times, they’ll want to sell you the warranty, and it’s an expensive one because they’ll send someone on-site to replace that power supply. And I don’t need them to send someone on-site. I can do that myself. Or a lot of times they have weird gold tech support or they have silver and platinum tech support with different prices, or they like to do things, like for an extra 50 bucks a year, you can keep your hard drive if it fails and we’ll send you a replacement, and then you can swap them out and mail them back. They have little ways you can shave more money off the contracts. But standard, I like three to four years with machines. Printers, I like to have a good five-year warranty; and you can push a printer a lot longer than a PC. And then [with] notebooks, I’ll go with three to four years as well.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, UT

We do that. We purchase the warranties. That has been a big help to us to have those warranties in place. We don't feel the stress financially if we know we've got warranties on them.

LeeAnn Jesse
Adair County Public Library, KY

Further Resources

For additional articles about computer warranties, check out our Further Resources section.

How to Standardize Your IT Infrastructure

How Standardized Do You Need to Be?

Being open and adaptive to new technologies can be important to both your organization's mission and its ability to operate efficiently. Likewise, being flexible when it comes to individual preferences can help employees work better and encourage creativity.

Yet every technology you introduce to your nonprofit — whether you implement it organization­ wide or just on one computer — comes with hidden and not­-so-­hidden costs. Every new piece of software you add to your IT arsenal requires installation, maintenance, staff training, repair, patches, upgrades, and more.

How you address this tension between innovation on the one hand and the need for consistency on the other depends on your size, your organizational culture, how many IT staff you have, and how tech­-savvy your staff is. While some organizations are very centralized — purging unsupported hardware or software as soon as it’s detected — other organizations eschew strict enforcement in favor of a more balanced, less time­ and resource­-intensive approach. These organizations may allow staff to download unsupported software, for example, but refuse to troubleshoot it and will uninstall it if it conflicts with other programs. (Note that this more flexible route carries with it an increased risk of spyware and virus infections, however.)

For these reasons, it's important to adopt a standardization policy that fits your situation and needs. Though there are many benefits to centralizing your purchases, decide what makes the best sense for your organization before making sweeping changes to your current setup.

Standardizing Your Equipment

If you work in a library with multiple models and versions of software and equipment, the task of standardizing everything can be overwhelming. Starting from scratch by buying all-new equipment is probably not an option for most (if any) organizations, but there are a few steps you can take to standardize your equipment over time. We suggest you check out our Eight Smart Tips for Standardizing Your Equipment tool.

Balancing IT Needs and Staff Needs

If your organization has traditionally allowed departments to choose and customize their own equipment, it can be difficult to convince employees to switch to a more centralized, standardization-­friendly IT purchasing system. Yet there are ways to streamline your purchasing procedures without ignoring staff needs.

  • Involve front­line staff in the technology planning process and purchasing decisions. Representatives from each department can be a part of the team that writes your organization's tech plan; if staff members don't have time to participate directly, you can interview them about their technology priorities and concerns. If you’re making a major purchasing decision, be sure to ask staff from various departments to weigh in on the packages offered by various vendors.
  • Train your front­line staff. If your staff doesn’t know how to use the official, supported programs, they’re more likely to fall back on unsupported software.
  • Create a list of “preference” software. Many organizations have a list of “preference” software that employees can request from the IT department. These applications are supported, but not installed by default on every machine. This model gives employees access to specialized software, while controlling cost and complexity.
  • Allow unsupported software, but make it clear that staff uses it at their own risk. If it causes headaches for IT, they can uninstall the program or re­image the hard drive if the situation is dire enough. This approach can cause extra headaches for your IT department if staff doesn’t remember what they’ve installed or doesn’t disclose it. On the other hand, your front­line staff might discover useful applications that IT eventually adopts for the whole organization.

The Benefits of Standardization

Hardware and software aren’t the only aspects of an IT system that you might consider streamlining. We’ve highlighted some of the advantages of standardizing everything from your operating system to your vendor relationships in the following sections.

Operating Systems

It’s hard for techies to stay on top of new releases, updates and information when they’re supporting more than one operating system. Moreover, because each operating system supports different software, you may end up supporting two versions of every piece of software, or different pieces of software that serve the same purpose, if you fail to impose a standard operating system at your organization.

Hardware

  • Computer manufacturers change their models almost weekly in response to fluctuations in price and the availability of new components from their suppliers. This can cause problems for IT departments, who often want to support a minimum number of hardware configurations.
  • You’ll also have an easier time finding and tracking replacement parts (e.g., hard drives, network cards, etc.) with standardized hardware.
  • If you use disk-cloning software, a new hardware model might force you to build and test a new image. See Disk-Cloning in Libraries for more information.

Software

  • Some users feel comfortable with their ancient, serviceable software, while others will always clamor for the latest applications and features. However, you can save a lot of time and hassle when your entire organization uses the same version of the same software.
  • When you have more software, it’s harder to automate the installation of security patches and software upgrades.
  • With fewer programs, it’s easier to test new programs and upgrades for conflicts. If your organization plans to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, for example, the IT department has to look at every major piece of software in the organization to make sure it works with the new operating system. More software equals more chances for software conflicts.
  • Sometimes you can allow for some customization by allowing staff to choose software off an approved list. This reduces the number of supported applications without eliminating choice altogether. This will also discourage staff from clinging to old, outdated software.
  • Training staff on new software will also decrease their dependency on old, non-­standard programs.

Vendor Relationships

Dealing with too many vendors can be confusing from a billing, tech support and interpersonal perspective. You may be able to reduce the number of vendors you work with by purchasing your printers and servers from the same company that sells you desktop PCs. Technology resellers — businesses that buy equipment on your behalf — can also often be a good place to purchase hardware and software from different manufacturers from one central point of contact, simplifying the purchasing process.

Miscellaneous

Servers, printers, scanners, copiers and other pieces of hardware are cheaper and easier to support if you’re buying in bulk from the same vendor. However, only large organizations buy these items frequently enough to make bulk purchases. On the other hand, since successive models from the same manufacturer often have a lot in common, even small organizations can build on their existing skills by staying with the same company over time.

Disk-Cloning in Libraries

Disk-­cloning software, also known as disk-­imaging software, is a time­-saving program that creates a sector­-by­-sector, low­-level copy of an entire hard drive (or partition). Symantec Ghost and Acronis True Image are two well­-known examples, but there are a few dozen others to choose from.

What’s the Difference Between Disk-­Cloning Software and Backup Software?

Disk­-cloning software is primarily designed to save time, while backup software is designed to protect data files in case of a hard drive failure or other disaster. Also, backup software copies the contents of a drive at the file level, while disk­-cloning software makes copies at the bit level. Disk­-cloning programs can also provide some protection against data loss, but their main purpose is to capture a particular configuration of software and operating system. That snapshot can then be pushed out to another PC with similar hardware components (e.g., similar motherboard, similar processor) or to dozens, or even hundreds, of PCs.

Why Is Disk-Cloning Important, or...Six Ways Disk­-Cloning Software Can Make Your Life Easier

  1. New computer staging and deployment: If you buy a batch of new computers and you want to install a specially configured, unique combination of software and operating system, cloning software can save you days, or even weeks, of duplicated effort. Install the operating system and the software on your “source” machine, tweak all the settings, and then let the cloning software do the rest. However, keep in mind that for this solution to work, your computers must have similar hardware components. The motherboard and the processor need to be identical or at least similar. The hard drive on the destination machine needs to be as large as or larger than the hard drive of the source computer. If the video card, network card, and so on aren’t identical, you may be able to work with a single image, but there’ll probably be some extra work involved.
  2. Standardization: You’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration by making sure your computers are as consistent as possible. When you use disk-cloning, you ensure that your computers are as close to identical as possible. If you do each installation and configuration individually, it’s almost guaranteed that each computer will be a little bit different. For more information, go to our section on Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure. Also be sure to check out our Guidelines for Disk-Cloning tool.
  3. Restoration of your computer after it fails: You should be backing up critical files on a daily basis or even more frequently, but having a reliable data backup is only the beginning of the recovery process. Over months and years, you’ve probably installed several dozen pieces of software and tweaked the settings in a hundred different ways. It could take you days to return your crashed computer to its original state. If you have a recent snapshot (e.g., a recent disk image), you’ll be up and running in an hour or so.
  4. Preventive maintenance and troubleshooting: Some libraries don’t wait for a complete hard drive failure. Instead, they use cloning software to fix relatively minor problems. The cloning process takes a few minutes to an hour, depending on the speed of your network, and you don’t have to watch it as it runs. Overall, it’s fairly predictable. On the other hand, you often have no idea how long it’ll take to repair a problem with somebody’s software. It could take minutes, or it could take days.
  5. Training labs: Many libraries with training labs and public computers reimage these machines periodically to eliminate any developing problems, viruses, spyware, patron downloads, abandoned files, etc. Disk security programs, such as Windows Steady State, Clean Slate, or Deep Freeze, have the same effect, but they use less bandwidth and fewer server resources.
  6. Migrations and hard drive upgrades: If you’re buying a new computer or putting a new hard drive into an existing computer, you can save your existing configuration to a disk image and then restore from that image. Bear in mind, however, that the greater the hardware differences between the two computers, the more trouble you’ll have with the migration if you use this technique.

Key Actions

Try to make your computers as consistent as possible. The more consistent and standard your hardware, the easier it is to implement a cloning procedure.

Stories from the Field

Well, I know Dell will actually take an image from us or make an image and do it there, but that's an extra charge. So when we got those 12 computers in, we took one and made it exactly the way we wanted to. And from that point, we took Ghost and made a ghost image from that. And we did those other machines in a day and a half. So we imaged 11 machines in less than nine hours. So it’s a pretty quick process that way. And if we had to do it by hand, one by one, it would take the three of us a good week to do those 12.

Jarvis Sims
Hall County Library System, GA

Honestly, too, we don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out why something doesn’t work. We image everything, so if a desktop is down, we just image it, and it’s done in six minutes or whatever in our main building. If we do it over the [wide area network] WAN — I’m here at the main branch and let’s say I had to do one at Walton—it takes about 25 minutes. If there is some configuration issue, it’s just faster to reimage it.

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library, KY

And I do my best to make sure that I’ve tried every possible combination, and within minutes after I put it out, someone finds something I didn’t think of; but that’s okay. Once that machine is configured and running, and I know it works well, I create an image of that machine on a portable hard drive, and then I can just clone it. I just push that image out and apply that image to all the other machines. So right now, every morning, the computers in the lab are all identical — same image, same hardware — and that works really well. I spend a good amount of time getting one machine working, and then I just copy and paste it to the other machines. Initially I do each machine one at a time in my office, because that way, I can test the image to make sure it worked. Sometimes, something goes weird. But yes, if someone calls me up and says, ‘Gosh, number 12 in the lab is not happy,’ I can go into my network software and say reimage this machine and then tell them, ‘Go ahead and restart the machine.’ And when it restarts, it’ll image itself.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis and Clark Library, MT

Further Resources

If you only buy a handful of computers every year, you could take what you get from the manufacturer, add all of your software and call it good. However, this doesn’t scale well. It can take hours to set up and configure all of your applications. And if you’re installing your own operating system as well, you’re looking at three or four additional hours. Exhausted by the tedious swapping of setup CDs, many mid­-sized and large libraries use disk-­cloning software to automate this process. If you would like to find out more about disk-cloning analysis, check out our Further Resources section.

Deploying New Computers

Whether you’re rolling out a single new computer or a hundred, you need to first ask yourself some questions about the who, what, where, when, why and how behind your deployment decision.

To help in your deployment efforts, we recommend you review our Deploying New Computers — What to Ask and Why tool.

Installing and Patching Software

Software is the big payoff. It’s the reason we all use a computer to begin with, but it can also be a huge source of frustration and wasted time. To minimize your trouble, consider how you’ll address software testing, deployment, asset management and patch management.

Why Concern Yourself with Software Installation?

  • The need to be efficient and save time. As with any major, recurring activity, you’re investing a lot of time in software installation, and anything you can do to make it more effective and efficient is worth thinking about.
  • The need for easier maintenance. When you automate this process, your software has the same settings on every computer and it’s installed to the same directory. This type of consistency will make it much easier to troubleshoot problems later on.

Key Actions

  • Consider a phased rollout of new software or major software upgrades.
  • Use an asset management program to keep track of where you have software installed and related information concerning license agreements and activation keys.

Software Testing and Phased Rollouts

Ideally we’d hire someone to spend weeks testing every new application we install in our organizations, but realistically, we often have to rely on the manufacturer for due diligence and hope for the best. And no matter how much testing you’ve done, your patrons and staff will still find some glitches that you and the vendor didn’t catch. To mitigate the effects of these problems, you can roll out your new software slowly. Install it on a few targeted computers and let those end users know that they’re your guinea pigs. Or install it for an entire department. If any problems arise, you’ll hear about it from a few individuals rather than your entire organization.

Systems Management Software

Walking from machine to machine with an install CD is “so 1998.” As with many other routine activities, software installation can be largely automated these days. Systems management software is a type of software that bundles together several different utilities that can make an administrator’s life easier. For example, it lets you specify standard, scripted answers to all of the questions that normally come up during the setup wizard. You generally roll up these preferences into an installer file (aka a software package) and then deploy it to all of your computers. This is sometimes called an unattended installation because once you start the process, it finishes on its own without your intervention. With most systems management software, you don’t even have to visit the computers you’re trying to install to. After you’ve created the installer package, the systems management software will push it out to the computers you specify and start the process automatically. Alternatively, you can let end users initiate the install process. This way, staff who don’t need the software won’t waste a valuable license. Systems management software also handles a wide variety of other administrative tasks, such as patch management, asset management and network monitoring. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Further Resources section and/or take a look at the Wikipedia article on the topic and the accompanying list of software.

Advantages of Systems Management Software

  • You (or your IT department) tweak the software settings once rather than typing them in at every machine.
  • You answer the questions in the installation wizard once.
  • The software you’ve deployed is the same on all the machines in your organization. If you install the software on each machine individually, you often end up with differences in each installation, which can make the software harder to support.
  • You can decide which machines receive the new software, based on who the end user is, or based on how much power and disk space the computer has.
  • You can specify what time of day the installation occurs.

Other Software Installation Tools

Software installers (often used with Windows systems) and package managers (often used with Linux/Unix systems) can also help you with software rollouts, but they’re not as powerful as a systems management suite. They allow you to pre­-configure your software and create a standard installation, but you usually can’t push the package out so that it runs automatically on all your machines. Instead, you have to carry the installation files around on a CD or download them from a network location. InstallShield and Wise Package Studio are two programs of this type.

Software Asset Management

Whatever system you have in place for tracking software licenses, you need to activate it when you install new software. As soon as possible, record the number of licenses you’ve purchased, the number of copies you’ve installed and the location of the installed copies. Also, be sure to keep track of your installation CDs, passwords and license keys.

Patch Management

In between major releases of a program, software vendors release dozens of small patches to fix problems and close security loopholes. Some applications can be set to automatically download and install these patches, but IT departments often reject this approach due to concerns about compatibility. Before they allow a new piece of code into the organization, IT wants to make sure that it won’t corrupt the operating system or cause critical software to malfunction. Also, depending on how the computers are set up, end users may be able to turn off these automatic updates. Patch management software is a more centralized, reliable solution. Again, some programs are designed specifically for patch management, but, in many cases, patch management software will come as part of a systems management software suite.

If you’re interested in learning more, go to our Further Resources section. Check out How to Handle Patch Management and the patch management articles on Microsoft’s Web site. Also, WindowsSecurity.com has reviewed some of the better­-known patch management tools.

Stories from the Field

Once you create the auto-install package, you can push it out to multiple computers at a time, so you could do a whole library in one sweep, and supposedly, the thing can also be scheduled to run, say, in the middle of the night when the computers are thawed anyway. Although I’ve had limited success for whatever reason. Sometimes it runs, and sometimes it doesn’t. I just haven’t had a lot of time to play with it, but if I ever get it down, I could actually set the thing to do an upgrade in the middle of the night, and you come in the next morning, and they’re upgraded and ready to go.

Rick Moody
Birmingham Public Library, AL

Our patches are done centrally, and we use Microsoft’s patch management software…The Windows updates and the antivirus updates are automatically updated through a server on that network that is updated via the Web, and then all of the public terminals are updated via that server.

Jim Buston
City of Auburn, AL

Novell ZENworks is an application initially designed for desktop management. And they’ve added to it over the years, and now it has many different aspects to it. So, for instance, if you were to come and sit down at one of my computers right now, after you get through our PC reservation system and you get logged onto the computer, you will see an empty desktop. There are no icons on the desktop. The Start menu has nothing on it but Log Off. And the only thing that will open on the machine is a window. And that window is from Novell’s ZENworks — it’s called Application Monitor. And so I, as an administrator, create basically an icon. I’ll create an icon for Internet Explorer, for instance. And I will tell the network that anybody logged into either this computer or anybody logged into the network as this user gets this icon. And they can’t have anything else but this icon. So, like, right now, you’d sit down at my computer, you’d see a window, and in that window would be the icons that I say they can have. So there’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Internet Explorer. In some cases, [there are] games, and I create those icons. I tell the Application Monitor window which icons to display. And I can say stuff like, if the executable for Word doesn’t exist, don’t show the icon, because otherwise, people would be clicking on it and getting an error message.

Also, I can do things like application updating. So if they release a new version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, I can create a package on my desk and say this is the update to the Acrobat Reader. Now go ahead and do that to all 500 of my computers. I don’t have 500 computers, but if I did it would go and install itself on all those machines. Or update it on all those machines. Or I could actually uninstall applications remotely, too.

It also does imaging on the PCs, so I can build a workstation, put all the applications on it and then make a copy of it on a remote disk. I just plug it in and say, ‘Now push this image down, push this image down,’ so that I can clone machines really fast. And they’re all identical, which is nice. It also does remote management so that I can connect PCs remotely. It also does policy management. And that’s what I use for our public workstations. I can create a policy package [that] is basically a bunch of registry entries. And I can tell the system, ‘Okay, anybody on this computer gets this policy.’ And then I can change the policy up here from my desk, and every PC who logs in that uses that policy gets those changes. It also does application and hardware inventory so that I can do a quick glance and find out how many Dell GX520s I’ve got, how much RAM is in them [and] what applications are on them. I can do license metering, so I can see, oh, I only purchased 20 licenses of Microsoft Word, but I’m using 22, so I’m out of compliance. You know? And it does a lot more than that, but that’s the beginning.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, UT

Further Resources

Adding new software or upgrading software on computers that you’ve already deployed is a process with its own set of variables. We’ve included additional resources on the topic of software patching and installation that you might find useful.

Further Resources

Buying Refurbished Computers

  • There are over 500 Community Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers in the U.S., Canada and Latin American countries. TechSoup has a list that you can search by ZIPW code. Most of these refurbishers provide low-­cost IT equipment to libraries in addition to schools, nonprofits and low­-income families.
  • There are several large, commercial suppliers of refurbished computers. Some of the better­-known companies include:
    • Redemtech is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher that sells Windows XP — installed desktops and laptops with a 90­-day warranty plus Microsoft service and support.
    • TechTurn Refurbished Computers is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher selling open­-box, refurbished, and scratch and dent inventory with a 90-­day warranty and genuine Windows software.
    • Intechra Outlet sells factory refurbished excess inventory, open­-box returns and off­-lease computers and monitors with a 120­-day parts/labor warranty.
    • Dell Outlet sells previously ordered new, certified refurbished, and scratch and dent inventory with the same Dell warranty given to customers buying built-to-order Dell systems and a 21­-day return policy.
    • HP Outlet sells refurbished desktops and laptops with either a 90­-day or 1-­year warranty depending upon the model purchased.
  • To learn more about refurbishing, reusing and recycling computers, see TechSoup’s directory of reuse and recycling articles. PC Bargain Hunter also has some advice on buying used equipment.

Leasing Computers and Other Equipment

Warranties and Service Plans

Disk-Cloning in Libraries

Installing and Patching Software

Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager and Novell’s ZENworks are two popular systems management suites. Qualified organizations can purchase System Center Configuration Manager from TechSoup for $52. In a Windows Active Directory environment, you can also use Group Policy and MSI files to deploy software, though this requires some in-depth knowledge to accomplish.

Tools

There are so many things to consider when buying library technology. Where are the best deals — the city, the county or the state? Perhaps cooperative negotiations are the best way to go for you. Then there’s the actual job of deployment and installation. You’ve got to plan ahead for that. Fortunately, we’ve provided a few tools to help you in this endeavor and make the whole process a bit easier.

TechAtlas: Technology Planning Options for Libraries

It’s impossible to predict the future, especially when dealing with technology. Having a good technology plan, however, will serve as a map for your journey. TechAtlas is a free online tool for library technology assessment and planning.

If your library receives e-rate funds, then you know that it’s necessary to have a current technology plan for your library. The plan you create in TechAtlas can be used to fulfill that requirement.

Tech Atlas includes many features from which a library can pick and choose. Potential uses include the following:

  • Track hardware and software with the automated inventory. If you use TechAtlas for only one thing, or if you are looking for a first step in using this powerful resource, then consider running the inventory tool. An automated script will run and gather detailed information about each computer, compiling that information in a web-based inventory that you can access from any computer. This means the information can be shared with anyone who helps you with your computer. It is a simple and fast process that provides you with an up-to-date inventory of the hardware and software in your library, allowing you to feel much more on top of the technology in the building. Knowing what you have now will help you feel prepared for planning and budgeting for tomorrow.
  • Survey your staff’s technology skills. How do you know if there are technology skills you should have or may benefit from having? The number of skills you can learn is large, so how do you pick and choose where to focus your energy and brainpower? The tools in TechAtlas can help you track staff skills and can also compare your library to other libraries. The staff skill section of TechAtlas is customizable, so you can add skills that are specific to your library. C
  • Create a technology plan. Does your library have a technology plan? If so, is it a meaningful document, or was it simply created to fulfill a requirement for a grant application? A well-done technology plan requires time and energy, but the end result is well worth it. Setting your goals and priorities and then reviewing them on an ongoing basis will mean the difference between feeling overwhelmed by technology and feeling like your community needs are being well-served. TechAtlas can help in this area. After answering questions and inputting the necessary data, you are able to print out a technology plan.
  • Track computer problems and issues. Event Tracker is a component of TechAtlas that can be used to log problems and other information about your library technology. In a library where multiple people are responsible for technology troubleshooting, Event Tracker can be a way to share information with one another about the computers in the library. It can also be useful in smaller libraries, where there is only one person responsible for fixing computers and solving technology problems. Looking back at logs over time can help you pinpoint problems. It can also serve as a reminder of previous fixes that worked. In addition, if there is staff turnover at the library, Event Tracker can help new staff people quickly review past technology problems and solutions.

Tips and Guidelines for Making Informed Computer Purchases

  • Do some research. Before you buy a new computer, be sure to read the consumer reviews and look at price comparisons. CNET is one place to find reviews. Consumer Reports magazine is another place to look. MySimon is a great place to do price comparisons.
  • Know the basics. A grasp of computer hardware and software fundamentals can help you make informed decisions. If thinking about hardware specifications is new to you, then you might begin by focusing on three essential things:
    • Processor speed. The faster the processor, the more quickly it can process computations.
    • RAM (Random Access Memory). More memory lets you run more applications at the same time without slowing down your computer.
    • Size of hard drive. The larger the hard disk, the more data you can store. The How Stuff Works Web site has easy-to-understand explanations.
  • Make your computer purchase decisions make sense for your patron computing environment. You should ask yourself: How will the library’s computer be used? How much software will be loaded on it? What sorts of applications will run on it?
  • Be sure to get any possible discounts. You may be able to get a lower price by purchasing your computers as part of a group or through an existing county or statewide contract. For software purchases, be sure to take advantage of donated and discounted software available to public libraries through TechSoup Stock.

Using Older Computers – Key Considerations

If your library needs to keep older computers and use them as long a possible, here are few points to keep in mind:

  • Computer upgrading: Ideally, all your computers will be able to run the same version of a currently supported operating system. This makes it easier to maintain the computers and use the latest features. To do this, you’ll need to upgrade your computer operating system and software. However, very old computers may not be upgradeable to the current version of Windows.
  • Compatibility issues: Moreover, after you upgrade, you may find that the other software applications and utilities that you installed previously may not be so completely compatible with the new version of Windows. To avoid this unfortunate outcome, you may want to consider leaving these computers as they are, and limiting their purpose to specific tasks. As an example, one library designated their older computers – Gates-granted computers which ran Windows NT – for use by children to play educational games. These computers were taken offline so that the children were not able to access the Internet.
  • Computer donations: Donated computers should be evaluated for their potential usefulness before accepting them; some older computers may be more trouble than they’re worth. It’s a good idea to have a policy in place that states that you will only accept computers capable of running the same software as the other computers in the library (e.g., Pentium IV processor, 512 GB RAM, 20 GB hard drive). That way, you can gracefully decline donations that won’t be useful.
  • Linux considerations: A few rural libraries have also made the foray into Linux, a free, open-source operating system. Some flavors of the Linux-based operating system are “lighter” and geared to run on fewer computing resources than Windows. This reduces the costs of buying operating system upgrades. So, this might be another way to extend the life of your computers.

Disk Protection Software Installation Tools and Techniques

For some libraries, the simple act of restarting the computers may be the most effective maintenance and troubleshooting technique…thanks to disk-protection software.

Disk-protection is a way to revert back to the way a computer was configured at a particular point in time. Ideally, you want to start off with a solid configuration that has all the elements to serve your patrons well. This is the configuration that disk-protection will revert back to when you restart your computer.

  • Take some time to plan and think about all the elements you want to have on these computers before installing disk-protection. These include:
    • Patron-use software such as office productivity software, games, or alternative browsers such as the Public Web Browser
    • Antivirus or anti-spyware software policies that you use to customize the look-and-feel of the computers
    • Accounts for patron use (e.g., you may want several different patron accounts — one for children, one for teens, one for adults, etc.)
    • Patron management and lock-down software such as the Fortres 101, CybraryN, or CASSIE
  • Set up your patron computer accordingly, so that changes to the computer will not stick. This brings up some issues that do not apply to a “normal” computer setup. For one thing, as mentioned previously in this section, patrons wishing to save work or downloads from the Internet should use their own media or online. If they save on a disk-protected computer, it will get wiped away when the computer restarts.

    Also, by nature, disk-protection makes it harder for you to change your patron computer's configuration. You must turn disk-protection off before you install new software or upgrade software. For example, if you want to upgrade Microsoft Office to the new version, you will have to turn disk-protection off before you can install it, then turn it back on once its installed.
  • If your patrons use a certain kind of software that needs to update configuration information as it is used, configure your setup to accommodate that. For example, a typing tutor program might include a feature that saves the progress of its students so when they return at a later date to do more exercises, the program will know where the student left off. If you don't configure the typing tutor software to save this progress data to an unprotected area, disk-protection will wipe out this information when you restart the computer. How disappointed your hard working typing students would be!
  • Along with planning, test the disk-protected setups to make sure things are working as intended, especially after you restart your computer. First, test the computers yourself. Once this is done, ask one or more of your patrons to sample the computer with the new features and setup. If the patrons identify problems, you can address them before installing and setting up the other patron computers. Patron Computer Software Comparison Chart The chart on the following pages compares some of the better-known titles that are currently in use in small libraries. They have been grouped by family, based on the most prominent patron computers’ management features. The pricing and support terms reflect discounts for public library licensing and 15 workstations (where applicable).

Patron Computer Software Comparison Chart

The chart on the following pages compares some of the better-known titles that are currently in use in small libraries. They have been grouped by family, based on the most prominent patron computers’ management features. The pricing and support terms reflect discounts for public library licensing and 15 workstations (where applicable).

TYPE OF SOFTWARESOFTWARE PUBLISHER AND TITLEAPPROXIMATE COSTINCLUDED SUPPORT, MAINTENANCE AND SOFTWARE UPGRADE TERMS
Patron Management offers session time and print management, workstation reservations, patron computer usage reportingLibrarica CASSIE
Supports: Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista
Feature list: http://www.librarica.com/features.html
$995 for 5 workstations
$1,990 for 10 workstations
$2,485 for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help documentation support (add additional years for 15% of licensing cost per year)
CybraryN Library Solutions1
Supports: Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.cybraryn.com/Solutions/
$774.95 for 5 workstations
$1074.95 for 10 workstations
$2,519 for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help, documentation and remote assistance support (add additional years for $375, according to number of workstations
Userful DiscoverStation1,2,4
Supports: Linux-based thin-client w/ included hardware
Feature list: http://userful.com/products/library-ds
$1,740/year for 5 workstations
$3,480/year for 10 workstations
$5,220/year for 15 workstations
(all rates based on 3-year term agreement)
Phone, email, online help, documentation, and remote assistance support
Fortres Grand Time Limit Manager
Supports: Windows 2000, XP, 2003
Feature list: http://www.fortresgrand.com/products/tlm/tlm.htm
$125 for 5 workstations
$250 for 10 workstations
$195 for 25 workstations
Lifetime phone, email, online help, and documentation support
Disk-Protection preserves a computer’s baseline configuration and restores it upon restarting or logoffFaronics Deep Freeze STD
Supports: Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista
Feature list: http://www.faronics.com/html/deepfreeze.asp
$219 for 5 workstations
$236 for 10 workstations
$334.90 for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help, and documentation support (add additional years for $44, up to three years)
Faronics Deep Freeze Mac
Supports: Mac OS 10.3 and 10.4
Feature list: http://www.faronics.com/html/DFMac.asp
$330 for 5 workstation
$364 for 10 workstations
$516 for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help, and documentation support (add additional years for $68, up to three years)
 
Fortres Grand Clean Slate
Supports: Windows 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.fortresgrand.com/products/cls/cls.htm
$295 for 5 workstations
$590 for 10 workstations
$335 for 15 workstations
Lifetime phone, email, online help, and documentation support
Centurion Technologies CompuGuard CornerStone
Supports: Windows 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.centuriontech.com/products/compuguardcornerstone
$462 for 15 workstationsOne year phone, email, online help, and documentation support (additional years at 10% of license cost per year)
Centurion Technologies MacShield Universal
Supports: Mac OS 10.3 and 10.4
Feature list: http://www.centuriontech.com/products/macshielduniversal/
$453.75 for 15 workstationsOne year phone, email, online help, and documentation support (additional years at 10% of license cost per year)
Workstation Lock-Down restricts patron access to a limited number of functionsMicrosoft Windows SteadyState2,5
Supports: Windows XP
Feature list: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sharedaccess/default.mspx
Downloadable for freeOnline help, documentation, and discussion forum support.
Fortres Grand Fortres 101
Supports: Windows 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.fortresgrand.com/products/f101/f101.htm
$295 for 5 workstations
$590 for 10 workstations
$335 for 15 workstations
Lifetime phone, email, online help, and documentation support
Faronics WINSelect3
Feature list: http://www.faronics.com/html/Winselect.asp
$245 for 5 workstations
$490 for 5 workstations
$755 for 15 workstations
Through next version (typically two year lifecycle per version) phone, email, online help, and documentation support
Application Launch Restriction prevents patrons from launching unapproved applicationsFaronics Anti-executable standard
Supports: Windows 95,98,ME, 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.faronics.com/html/AntiExec.asp
$179 for 5 workstations
$236 for 10 workstations
$398 for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help, and documentation support (add on up to three years for additional fees, according to number of workstations)
Beyond Logic Trust-No-Exe
Supports: Windows NT, 2000, XP
Feature list: http://www.beyondlogic.org/consulting/trust-no-exe/trust-no-exe.htm
Free downloadableOnline help, and documentation support
Web Browser Customization modifies the way Internet Explorer looks/locks down its functionalityTeamSoftware Solutions Public Web Browser
Supports: Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista
Feature list: http://www.teamsoftwaresolutions.com/
$125 for one year, renewable site licenseEmail, pager, online help, and documentation and discussion forum support
Workstation Remote Control and Administration allows library staff to see/interact with the workstation desktop to make changes, troubleshoot, or assist a patronGoToMyPC
Supports: Windows 2000, XP, Vista
Feature list: https://www.gotomypc.com/en_US/personalFAB.tmpl?_sid=209346628%3AFE2219D...
$777/year for 5 workstations
$1554/year for 10 workstations
$2,025/year for 15 workstations
One year phone, email, online help, and documentation support
VNC
Supports: Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, Mac OS 9 and 10.x, Unix, Linux
Feature list: (various sites, e.g., http://www.realvnc.com/)
Free downloadOnline help, and documentation support
LogMeIn
Supports: Windows 98, 200,0, XP, 2003
Feature list: https://secure.logmein.com/go.asp?page=products_free
Free for LogMeIn Free versionPhone (leave message for call back), email, online help, and documentation support
Patron Privacy Data Cleanup can clean patron tracksCCleaner
Supports: Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista
Feature list: http://ccleaner.com/features.aspx
Free downloadOnline help documentation and discussion forum support

A note about the listed costs: These are prices as reported by the respective vendors in April, 2007. Prices are subject to change, please contact vendor for current rates. In addition, you should always discuss your specific situation with the vendor to get the most appropriate package and pricing for your library.

Notes
1Includes some workstation lockdown features
2Includes disk-protection functionality
3Includes some patron management features
4Requires Linux/Unix
5Requires Windows XP Service Pack 2

Some General E-Rate Rules for Eligible Products and Services

If you apply for E-rate reimbursements, be sure to check the Eligible Services List at http://www.usac.org/sl/tools/eligible-services-list.aspx before you order products or services. Sometimes a particular hub or router is eligible, while a similar product, but a different make and model, is not. E-rate does not fund redundancies — for example, if you need only one server and buy the second server as a backup or “fallback,” E-rate will not fund it.

The Eligible Services List provides guidance regarding what products and services may be able to receive E-rate reimbursements. It is organized by category of service and revised and updated each year in advance of the application window.

Here are some general E-rate rules to consider by funding category.

  • Telecommunication — USAC funds various types of services. Examples: T-1, Centrex, Local and Long Distance Telephone Service, Cellular Service and Paging Service, but NOT end-user equipment, such as telephone sets.
  • Internet — USAC funds the basic conduit access to the Internet or services that are an integral component part of basic conduit access. Examples: T-1, DSL, DS-3, wireless service, email server, Web hosting services, but NOT content or design and development of the Web site.
  • Internal Connections — USAC funds components at the applicant site that are necessary to transport information to the school or library. Examples: Access points, routers, switches, hubs, wiring, PBXs and codecs, but NOT the end-user equipment, such as telephones (including IP telephones) or laptops.
  • Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections — USAC funds basic maintenance of the internal connections to ensure the necessary and continued operation of eligible internal connection components at eligible locations. Examples: Repair and upkeep of eligible hardware, wire and cable maintenance, but NOT the end-user support, such as a student calling a help-disk for technical assistance.
  • LANs and WANs — A LAN is considered Internal Connections and is funded beginning with the highest poverty level areas. WAN is not considered Internal Connections because it runs from the demarcation point at school or library to a point outside.
  • WAN network facilities may only be leased, not owned, by applicants. See the WAN Fact Sheet for detailed information at http://www.universalservice.org/sl/applicants/step06/wide-area-network-f...

Maintenance Tasks/Costs: Computers WITH Lock-Down and Disk-Protection Software

Items that must be completed on a regular basis to maintain computers that ARE locked down and disk-protected.
* Monthly time does not include hours required on a quarterly and annual basis.

 TASK SCHEDULE
AREAWEEKLYMONTHLYQUARTERLYANNUALLYMONTHLY TIME REQUIRED (PER COMPUTER)OUTSIDE CONSULTANT @ $50 PER HR.
Security
  • Update virus definitions
  • Update spyware definitions
  • 15 min.
  • Change system passwords.
  • Visually inspect computers for signs of tampering.
  • 30 min.
  • Check for unneeded or unused programs and consider uninstalling them.
  • 15 min.
  • Renew antivirus software subscription.
  • 1 hr.
1 hr. 30 min.$75.00
Computer  
  • Check for the latest Service Packs/ Updates for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer.
  • Clean the mouse so it is free of dust and grime.
  • Make sure all the plugs are properly connected.
  • 1 hr.
  • Clean the screens with appropriate screen-cleaning cloth/solution.
  • Check printers. Print a test page to ensure printers are producing clean copies, and toner cartridges are full.
  • Clean the CD-ROM drive.
  • Check supplies (e.g., paper, cartridges, disks, etc.) and order as needed.
  • 30 min.
  • Check cables for crimps, breaks, wear and tear.
  • Clean inside PC.
  • Update drivers as needed for printers, modems, sound cards, video cards, and other devices.
  • 1 hr.
1 hr.$50.00
Internet 
  • Identify policy and procedure issues
  • 15 min.
  15 min.$12.50
Patrons 
  • Restock:
  • Computer use policies and procedures
  • Instructional handouts for computer and Internet use
  • 15 min.
  • Review and update as needed:
  • Computer use policies and procedures
  • Patron instructional materials
  • 30 min.
  • Review and update as needed:
  • Library policies
  • Patron instructional materials
  • 8 hrs.
15 min.$12.50
TOTAL MONTHLY PER COMPUTER (after installation)3 hours$150.00
Lock-down and disk-protection software installOne time installation: 6 hours for first computer, 2 hours for each additional computer (not counted in total above)

Approx. $45 - $90 for first computer, $30 for each additional computer

Note: if you have Windows XP, you can use the free Windows SteadyState for locking down and disk-protection.

Maintenance Tasks/Costs: Computers WITHOUT Lock-Down and Disk-Protection Software

Items that must be completed on a regular basis to maintain computers that are NOT locked down and do NOT have disk-protection.
* Monthly time does not include hours required on a quarterly and annual basis.

 TASK SCHEDULE
AREAWEEKLYMONTHLYQUARTERLYANNUALLYMONTHLY TIME REQUIRED (PER COMPUTER)OUTSIDE CONSULTANT @ $50 PER HR.
Security
  • Update virus definitions, and run a full antivirus system scan.
  • Update spyware definitions, and run a full anti-spyware system scan
  • 1 hr.
  • Change system passwords.
  • Visually inspect computers for signs of tampering.
  • 30 min.
  • Check for unneeded or unused applications and consider uninstalling them.
  • 15 min.
  • Renew antivirus software subscription.
  • 1 hr.
4.5 hrs.$225.00
Computer
  • Run “ScanDisk” to check hard drive for errors.
  • Run “Defrag” to defragment files.
  • Run “Disk Cleanup” to delete Temporary Internet files, Temporary Files, and Recycle Bin.
  • Troubleshooting and fixing problems on computers
  • 2 hrs.
  • Check for the latest Service Packs/Updates for Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer.
  • Clean the mouse so it is free of dust and grime.
  • Make sure all the plugs are properly connected.
  • 1 hr.
  • Clean the screens with appropriate screen-cleaning cloth/solution.
  • Check printers. Print a test page to ensure printers are producing clean copies, and toner cartridges are full.
  • Clean the CD-ROM drive.
  • Check supplies (e.g., paper, cartridges, disks, etc.) and order as needed.
  • 30 min.
  • Check cables for crimps, breaks, wear and tear.
  • Clean inside PC.
  • Update drivers as needed for printers, modems, sound cards, video cards, and other devices.
  • 1 hr.
9 hrs.$450.00
Internet
  • Clear browser history
  • Delete cookies
  • 15 min.
  • Identify policy and procedure issues
  • 1 hr.
  2 hrs.$100.00
Patrons 
  • Restock:
  • Computer use policies and procedures
  • Instructional handouts for computer and Internet use
  • 30 min.
  • Review and update as needed:
  • Computer use policies and procedures
  • Patron instructional materials
  • 8 hrs.
  • Review and update as needed:
  • Library policies
  • Patron instructional materials
  • 32 hrs.
30 min.$25.00
   TOTAL MONTHLY PER COMPUTER16 hrs.$800.00

Ten Steps to Successfully Working with Vendors

STEPACTIONTO LEARN MORE
1Determine if this is the right time to make this purchase.The NPower guide mentioned previously offers five criteria for deciding if you’re ready for a particular technology project. See the “Assessing Feasibility” section.
2If the project involves considerable time and labor, decide if you should outsource it. In other words, do you need a vendor…or should you keep the project in-house?Summit Collaborative offers guidance for answering this question in its article Determining Whether to Outsource.
3Figure out your organization’s needs. What are you trying to change in your organization by buying this product or service? What are the outcomes you’re trying to achieve?The article What Do You Need from a Provider? can help you define your needs up- front. If you create a formal requirements document (aka a needs assessment) that defines your required and desired outcomes, you can use this as the basis of your RFP and your vendor evaluation matrix.
4Determine if you should write an RFP. Call your city attorney, IT department or purchasing agency and ask for the policy on RFPs. Frequently, RFPs are required above a certain dollar amount (e.g., $5,000 or $10,000).The article The RFP Process: An Overview explains the difference between an RFP (request for proposal), an RFI (request for information) and an RFQ (request for quotation), and provides guidelines to help you decide between a formal and an informal RFP process. Remember, by buying off a state contract, you can often satisfy local requirements and avoid the tedious process of writing your own RFP. See the following “State Contracts” section for more information.
 
5Become an RFP pro. There are a number of excellent resources that can help you get started.
The articles Writing an RFP and The RFP: Writing One and Responding to One provide helpful RFP checklists to get you started. Beyond the Template: Writing an RFP That Works offers additional advice on making your RFP stand out from the crowd.
6Research possible vendors.TechSoup's Nine Tips for Navigating the RFP Research Phase recommends places to turn to when you’re researching a vendor’s track record, while TechRepublic's Follow These Guides on the Road to a Valuable Vendor Relationship emphasizes the importance of checking a vendor’s references.
7Develop vendor selection criteria (see the following “Vendor Selection Criteria Specific to Libraries” section).
8Negotiate and write the contract. Work with an individual or department in your organization that is the expert in contract rules and regulations. Turn to them first so that you abide by the relevant laws and policies. However, for large, complex, important projects, make sure you and your colleagues are involved in drawing up the contract.
9Manage your vendor relationships. You can’t just sign a contract and then ignore your vendor.For tips on how to keep that relationship running smoothly, read Marc and Beth’s article on Techsoup.
10Evaluate your vendor relationships. Examine the market and your library’s needs on a regular basis. The best vendor last year won’t necessarily be the best vendor this year. On the flip side, a long-term vendor relationship can pay off in service and perks. Also, a well-written contract often includes benchmarks that you can use later to evaluate the vendor’s performance. 

How to Buy Cooperatively Quick Reference

Buy off state contracts. In most states, the government has negotiated deals with a variety of vendors, obtaining steep discounts that local government agencies can take advantage of. You can buy hardware, software, supplies, even cars off state master contracts. For non-specialized hardware and software, the prices on the master contract frequently beat the prices you can negotiate for yourself. However, you probably won’t find highly specialized items, such as print management software or ILS software. Not every state has this great arrangement, but most do. Also, the details vary widely from state to state. If you don't know anything about state contracts and you want to learn more, get in touch with your state library or state procurement office, or do a Google search for “state contract" and your state initial.

Buy off the city or county contract. In some cases, you’ll be partnering with other municipal agencies, whether you want to or not. If the library is under the legal authority of the town government and local policy dictates that everyone has to buy computers through the IT department, that’s what you’ll do. However, if your library is administered independently, it could still be worthwhile to meet with the town’s IT folks. They might be able to negotiate a better deal for you than you can get on your own, or they might have some good advice about bargaining with vendors.

Let a library cooperative negotiate for you. In many areas, the state library or a statewide library cooperative negotiates steep discounts for members and constituents. Some of these cooperatives only negotiate the licensing of online databases from vendors such as Proquest and Thomson-­Gale. Others focus on a wider range of library-­specific products, such as books, magazines, furniture, preservation materials, barcode scanners, etc. In other words, these library cooperatives often complement the work done by state government purchasing agencies (see the first bullet item), though there might be some overlap. You’re more likely to find desktop computers, servers and other commodity technology on the state contracts. The Colorado Library Consortium and Minitex are two examples of consortia that negotiate on behalf of member libraries.

OCLC regional service providers. If your library system or your state library has paid for membership in an OCLC regional consortium, you’re probably eligible for discounts on library-­ related supplies and services. Of course, these organizations begin by negotiating deals with OCLC itself, but they also negotiate with other vendors. For the most, part the regional service providers represent multiple states. BCR, Amigos and Solinet are prominent examples. Wikipedia has a full list.

Set up your own cooperative purchasing arrangement with other libraries in your area, local colleges, K­12 schools or area non­profits. It can be time­-consuming to create a consortium, so ask yourself if the long­-term benefits outweigh the initial effort. Also, talk to lawyers and accountants who know the local laws and regulations. They can probably guide you to templates that you can use as a basis for your purchasing agreements. For more information on using local partnerships to buy broadband and other telecommunication services, see Internet Access and ISPs.

How to Examine a Lease Agreement

Do your homework and read the terms of the lease carefully before signing. The following are some questions you’ll want to consider:

  1. What happens at the end of the lease? In the past, some leasing companies required that you return to them the exact same machine that they sent you originally, and they checked the serial number to make certain. However, more and more, companies are willing to be flexible and accept a computer that’s comparable in most respects to the one they loaned you.
  2. Do you have a good asset­-tracking and management system? Even though companies are becoming more patient and understanding about end-of-lease arrangements, you still have to return something to them in fairly good condition. If you constantly have trouble tracking and locating your equipment, you should buy rather than lease.
  3. Are there other end-­of-­lease terms? Can you buy the equipment and at what price? How strict will they be about the condition of the computers? Don’t be afraid to push back if the leasing company gives you trouble, because you may be negotiating a new lease at the same time you’re returning the old equipment.
  4. Who is responsible for maintenance and repair? While vendors will probably replace defective parts during the period of the lease, they usually don’t repair damage done by patrons, whether accidental or intentional.
  5. Does the lease lock you into any financial issues downstream? If possible, show the lease to your accountant, your director, your CFO or whoever it is that balances your books. The structure of the lease could have unforeseen consequences on your budgets and your cash flow, so you want to get their approval if possible.
  6. Does the leasing company require an up-­front down payment, security deposit, proof of insurance or some other hedge against losses on their part? Most likely, as a government agency, you won’t have to bother with this stipulation, but check the leasing agreement to make sure.

Buying Hardware Checklist

ACTIONKEY CONSIDERATIONS
Pay attention to your users.
  • What are they actually doing with their computers?
  • What software do staff and patrons use most often?
In most libraries, staff and patrons aren’t using resource-intensive applications, so you don’t need the latest, greatest, fastest computers. However, if you’re buying machines for teen gaming or video editing, you may need something more robust.
Think about obsolescence.
  • You don’t need to pay a premium for the speediest PCs, but if you buy bargain-basement equipment, will it cost you more in the long run?
Remember, every few years, Microsoft releases a new, resource-intensive operating system (e.g., Windows Vista) and then stops supporting one of its older operating systems. So it’s important to strike the right balance. For a quick take on buying desktop machines, see A Simple Guide to Buying Computers. If you want a more detailed discussion, read Desktop Computers for Your Business.
For labs/public computing environments, consider business-model computers rather than consumer computers.Business-grade machines tend to be more durable.
Ask some questions about the vendors on your shortlist.
  • How long have they been in business? How stable are they financially?
  • What’s the average failure rate and/or return rate on their equipment?
It’s often hard to get a reliable answer to this last question, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Find out if the company offers imaging and installation services.
  • Will they install the operating system and the core software?
  • Will they install customized software and peripheral devices?
  • Will they come to your library and put all the equipment together?
All of these services cost extra money, but they’re worth considering if your IT department is short-staffed. For more information, see Deploying New Computers and Disk-Cloning in Libraries.
Ask about vendor support during installation.If you’ll be installing the equipment yourself, find out what kind of support the vendor is willing to offer during installation.
Ask about vendor support after installation.
  • What’s their initial response time to a tech support call?
  • What’s the time to resolution (e.g., the time between your initial call and the time the problem is fixed)?
  • Which problems will they help you with?
For more information, see the following section on warranties and service plans.
Determine whether you should do business with the manufacturer or with a hardware reseller.A reseller with multiple manufacturer relationships can sometimes simplify your life by serving as a single point of contact, handling multiple purchases on your behalf and presenting you with a consolidated bill. A reseller might also be closer to you geographically and better able to offer personalized service. On the other hand, resellers will charge you extra for this added value. For details, read Where to Buy a PC and What Is a Value-Added Reseller.
Check out the vendor’s disposal policy.
  • Can you return out-of-date equipment to the vendor, knowing it will be properly disposed of?
  • What do they charge for this service?
For more information, see Getting Rid of Old Computers Responsibly.

Buying Software Checklist

ACTIONKEY CONSIDERATIONS
Do some research and testing. If possible, download a trial software application on a machine that closely matches the typical library computer, so you can see if it’s compatible with your existing hardware and software. For major software purchases, ask librarians and patrons from different departments and backgrounds to help with testing.
Look at TechSoup Stock to see if you qualify for discounted software.TechSoup only charges an administration fee, so you’re only paying between 5 and 20 percent of the retail price. All public libraries in the U.S. and Canada qualify for this program, and almost all Microsoft titles are included.
Pay attention to the software license agreement (sometimes known as the End-User License Agreement or EULA).Some license agreements will actually tell you that by using the software, you’ve agreed to install spyware on your computer. While this is more of a problem with free software, it’s always a good idea to run through the license agreement. Since most of us don’t have time to wade through each EULA, check out EULAlyzer, a utility that examines each agreement for key words and phrases.
For major pieces of software, such as an ILS system, seek expert advice before signing a contract or license agreement.You’re tying your library into this agreement for years to come, and since this is such a large purchase, you may have more leverage to renegotiate some of the terms. Check out How to Make Software Contract Negotiations Work for Your Business and Reviewing Software License Agreements for more suggestions.
Know your vendor.10 Things You Should Ask Before Buying Software has some questions you can pose to your vendor.
If you’re buying a large quantity of a particular software title, investigate volume licenses and site licenses. You can often receive discounts for this type of bulk purchase, and software that comes with a site license is generally easier to install and administer. Usually, volume discounts start somewhere between three and ten copies of an application, but it varies from vendor to vendor. Save Money with Volume Software Licensing has more information. Also take a look at Microsoft’s documentation on volume license keys.
If you have a system for tracking your license agreements and installation keys, be sure to input the information about your new purchase.This is discussed in more detail in Asset Management.
Keep your IT department in the loop from the beginning.They’ll be the ones supporting the software and will probably play a role in training staff. They can also help you test the software.
Centralize software purchases as much as possible to avoid the proliferation of different applications that serve the same purpose and different versions of the same application.For more information, see our section on Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure.

Eight Smart Tips for Standardizing Your Equipment

  • Buy in quantity. Dell, HP and other vendors change their models constantly, meaning that the computer you buy this week may be different from the one you bought last week, even if the model number is exactly the same. It may have a different network card, a different hard drive or even a different motherboard. If you space your purchases out over the year, each batch of machines will be a little different from the others. You can mitigate this somewhat by working with your sales representative and buying business­-class computers (see the next bullet), but it’s still worth it to consolidate your purchases.
  • Buy business­-class computers. When you’re buying new computers, consider business over home models. Manufacturers change the components in their business machines much less frequently, and they often will guarantee configuration support for a certain period of time (usually six months).
  • Plan ahead. If you speak with a broad cross­-section of your colleagues and supervisors when you’re planning your budget for the year, you’ll know roughly how many new computers you’ll need and what other types of technology you’ll be buying, making it easier to standardize your equipment.
  • Make technology inventories and track your assets. If you know how many computers you have and how old they are, you’ll know roughly how many you need to replace in the upcoming year. Also, you can identify the one­-off, non­standard pieces of hardware and software in your library and then get rid of them as soon as possible.
  • Make purchases centrally. Although all staff should have some input into your purchasing plans, don’t let every department do its own buying unless they’re buying off of a predefined list of approved items. Individual purchasing can not only lead to hardware and software incompatibility, but it can also cause confusion on the accounting side as you try to sort through and reconcile bills from multiple vendors.
  • Accept donations selectively. If you accept every hardware donation that shows up on your doorstep, you’ll eventually have an unmanageable patchwork of computing equipment. One way to prevent this is to create a written policy specifying which donations you will and won’t accept. This policy can help you politely decline gifts that don’t fit with the mission and technology plan of your organization, and direct unwanted donations to qualified computer refurbishers and recyclers, where they will be updated or disposed of responsibly. Unsure about when to accept or decline the offer of new equipment? See TechSoup’s article Six Tips for Accepting (and Refusing!) Donated Equipment.
  • Adopt standardization policies. Your policies should reflect your decisions with regard to centralization and standardization. A simple policy entitled “Supported Hardware and Software” is a good start, but your IT purchasing policy, and your computer acceptable use policy should also reflect your approach to these questions.
  • Use systems management software suites. Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (available on TechSoup Stock), Novell ZENworks and several dozen other software packages can help your IT department automate routine tasks and control the configuration of end-user machines. Be aware, though, that these programs are often expensive, complex and difficult to implement. Wikipedia has a list of systems management software and a short definition of this type of software. Also if your organization has a Windows domain controller (using Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008, both available on TechSoup), you can use Active Directory and Group Policy to control the configuration of your desktop PCs. However, you won’t have all the options and features that you would get with most systems management systems.

Guidelines for Disk-Cloning

What to Look for in a Cloning Solution

  • Imaging assistance: Should you do the imaging yourself or pay a third party? Computer manufacturers, resellers and other companies are happy to clone your computers for a price. The larger your order, the more likely you can benefit from this type of arrangement. Cloning 100 or 200 computers in your library can put a serious strain on your network and your IT department staffers.
  • Maximum limits: What’s the maximum number of computers that the software can handle simultaneously?
  • Efficiencies: How does the cloning software react to differences in hardware components? If you have two batches of PCs with similar components, you may be able to clone both with a single image. This can save you time and disk space. Also, can you restore individual files from your disk image without restoring the entire disk? In other words, can you browse the image as though it were a file system and pull out a single file or a handful of files? With the current versions of most cloning programs, you can do this.
  • Software capabilities: Will the software perform incremental updates? In this sense, cloning software is becoming more and more like backup software. It scans your source computer for recent changes and incorporates them into the master image without forcing you to shut down or reboot. Also, creating a full image can really hog your library’s network and computing resources. These small, incremental updates are much more efficient.

What to Consider When Implementing a Cloning Solution

  • Hardware purchases planning: For cloning to work effectively, you need to have a minimum number of different hardware models. If you buy a few computers here and there, you’ll wind up with a patchwork environment, and you’ll have to manage dozens of different disk images. More is not better in this case. For more on this topic, check out our coverage of Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure.
  • Master disk images planning: Who creates the images? Who decides what software to include and how to configure that software? Remember, these disk images may be deployed to dozens of staff computers or public computers, so the affected parties should have a voice in the development of the image.
  • Source image preparation: Microsoft Windows operating systems come with a utility called Sysprep that strips out all unique, specific information (e.g., computer name and security identifier) from your source hard drive and gets it ready for cloning. Nlite is an open­-source program that lets you strip out Windows Media Player, Outlook Express and other add­-on features from Windows XP (but not Vista). These preparation utilities are often used in concert with post­-cloning tools such as, Setup Manager and Ghostwalker. (See "Tweaking and customizating" for more details on these tools).
  • Image deployment: You can always perform a direct disk-­to­-disk copy of an image. In other words, your source and destination hard drives are connected to the same computer, or they’re connected via a network. The transfer is direct, without any intermediate steps. However, many librarians and systems administrators create a “master image” and then deploy from that. The master image is usually stored on a removable hard drive or a network drive (see "Testing"). When you have a large number of computers to image, you should consider deploying the image across the network. Using a technology known as multicasting, most disk­-cloning programs can image dozens of computers at the same time. Multicasting may slow your network down somewhat (do it after hours or during non-­peak hours), but it was designed specifically to send lots of information to lots of computers with the least possible overhead and bandwidth use. It won’t choke your network as long as your network infrastructure is relatively up­-to-­date. Also, if you’ll be cloning and multicasting on a regular basis, you should consider dedicating a server to the process.
  • Testing: If you’re cloning lots of computers, image one or two and examine them carefully before deploying to your entire library. Check that your image is reliable and uncorrupted. Also, look again to make sure that you haven’t forgotten an important setting or an important piece of software.
  • Tweaking and customizing: Your computers might be 99 percent identical, but that last 1 percent is still important. After you’ve cloned your PCs, you need to change the name of each one to avoid conflicts on the network. If your computers use static IP addresses (increasingly rare), you should assign these manually to each machine after they’re imaged. In a Windows domain environment, you also need to assign a special identifier (called a SID) to each machine. Often, your cloning software will have a tool that can handle this automatically (e.g., Ghostwalker or Setup Manager).
  • Image storage and management: With most cloning software, you can save your images to a local hard drive, a network drive, a tape backup, CDs or DVDs. Avoid CDs and DVDs if you can. Since most images won’t fit on a single CD or DVD, you’ll have to span your image across multiple disks. However, once you’ve saved your master drive to a local hard drive or a network drive, you can use DVDs to create backups of these images.

Deploying New Computers — What to Ask and Why

WHAT TO ASK……AND WHY
Who will prepare and deploy your computers?In most libraries, the in-house IT staff deploys the computers, but if your IT department is understaffed, you can always hire a third party to help you. The computer manufacturer or reseller can handle part or all of the preparation. Finally, to a limited degree, library staff can assist if they’re savvy enough.
How will you install the operating system and the core software?Disk-cloning is the easiest way to do this when you’re dealing with more than a handful of computers.
Do you need to install any special software or make other tweaks?Disk-cloning programs will help deploy a core, standard configuration. However, some librarians work with special applications. For instance, one person needs accounting software, while another needs graphic design software. Also, certain settings are unique to each computer (e.g., computer name, IP address, SID and mapped network drives).
Is there any special hardware that you need to install and deliver along with the computer itself?For example, circulation computers often need barcode readers and receipt printers, and some users need their own local printer or scanner.
Do you need to migrate data from the old computer to the new computer?In the best of all possible worlds, library staff save their files to a server, and the IT department backs it up on a regular basis. However, some users insist on saving their data to the desktop or the local hard drive. Before you swap computers, make sure the user has backed up all his or her data to a secure location.
When will you deploy the new computers?Timing is especially important if you’re replacing computers for an entire department or library branch. For larger installations, you should ask the IT department to do their work at night or on the weekend.
Did you get what you paid for?Consider spot-checking your new computers to make sure you received the components and software that you actually ordered. Run TechAtlas’ inventory tool or Belarc Advisor to see how much memory and hard disk space your computer has. Did you receive the processors, network cards and graphics cards that you requested? Are any programs missing?
Should you document all the decisions you’ve made previously?Deploying new computers is a complex process. Even if you’re the only one involved, it can be difficult to remember all the steps. If you’re working with multiple staff members and/or multiple organizations, you need to write it all down. Be especially careful to note what software and hardware you’ve included with each new computer. Though you can use a word-processing document or spreadsheet for this, you should also consider some sort of asset tracking software.