Why size matters with PCs

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This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of CRN magazine.

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Why size matters with PCs

Virtually everyone has gone virtual. It makes sense for every size business these days, not just the ‘big end’ of town. When the whole company is using virtual servers and virtual PCs, the IT crowd is happy. They can easily access the always-on machines and keep them updated, virus-free and backed up. Throw in a scripted reboot once a week and the help desk phones almost stop ringing.

However, you still need something on every desk to access the virtual things and sadly, that’s where the IT industry hasn’t done a very good job. Since we no longer needed a full-blown PC sitting whirring away in front of every staff member, thin clients popped up. They might be thin but they’re not popular with the vendor community, so their price points aren’t much better than buying an actual PC.

Sure, you can make plenty of valid arguments about their innate reliability and manageability but when it comes down to it, accountants usually sacrifice even your best logic in favour of the bottom line. Another argument against thin clients is that smaller IT support teams often lack the skills to do anything with them except press restart when things go wrong, before binning them and installing a new one.

But the average IT support jockey has a lot of expertise on all things Windows, and they are usually far more comfortable with an end-to-end Windows solution, including the desktop access device. That leaves a lot of older PCs with spinning disks and humming fans, eating power and waiting their turn to fail, sitting on an awful lot of desks doing nothing other than provide a window to the virtual world.

Recently, vendors have discovered a way to build PCs that look and behave pretty much like thin clients. No fans. Solid state disks. Tiny footprints. No noise. Low power. For reasons best known only to vendors, probably something to do with having lots of practice building bigger PCs, they’re able to trot out these tiny PCs for around $350 each delivered, which is quite a bit cheaper than most genuine thin clients.

From the under-skilled IT support point of view, these tiny tots are ideal, since they run real Windows, which they already know how to access and support. The fact that simply because they run real Windows, they will actually need to be accessed and supported is incidental, since their price point means they sail past the budget conscious accountants. No need to explain what it is. It’s a PC, stupid. And it’s cheaper than the last batch we ordered. Approved. Thanks.

These mini-PCs come preloaded with Windows 8.1, and no doubt soon with Windows 10, and have gigabit Ethernet plus all kinds of wi-fi built-in. Literally plug-and-play. At last. You could configure them to join the company-wide domain. Takes time and effort. But you could also just leave them alone and just install your favourite management applet. Takes less time and less effort. Click here to access your virtual PC. Thanks. You’re welcome. Back to the IT dungeon. Get back to important stuff like lolcats and Facebook updates.

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