Over the last several years, two camps of thought have developed over how workstations should be constructed and incorporated into an IT infrastructure. One camp, which is older and focused on short-term costs, believes that workstations should be built according to the current needs of the organization at the time. In other words, a workstation selected this month may be completely different than other workstations that exist in the organization purchased only months previously. While each workstation is connected to the network and considered a clone of all the others, a new workstation may be completely different compared to other workstations depending on when it was added. Different brands and different capabilities lead to inherent mismatching of equipment, and this can create IT problems. While the investment outlay is less as workstations are added piecemeal, the eventual long-term costs in IT troubleshooting can be significantly more, comparatively.

The other school of thought calls for a standardization of workstations that allows uniform capabilities within the organization. This may cost more initially, because some workstations have functionality not needed by everyone in the organization. However, the long-term savings in repair and downtime costs make this worthwhile. Because all workstations are the same, the failure of one workstation can be easily remedied with the replacement of an identical workstation. Workstations customized and built with different capacities are often not interchangeable. Standardization ensures that all equipment will match well within the network; this will do away with the problem of having to deal with different brands or components that may create problems in communications or functionality.

In addition to these advantages, standardization of workstations often allows better support situations. If workstations are a well-known brand (such as IBM, Hewlett Packard, or Dell), 1-800 equipment support is usually available and allows rapid replacement of non-functioning equipment. Having standardized workstations facilitates this support further. In my experience, customization of individual workstations is typically not required for most organizations, and scrimping on initial costs is usually more expensive over time. Therefore, choosing standardized workstations as part of your IT infrastructure is often the best choice.

Incidentally, I have several clients who have adopted a “purchase cycle” for their new workstations on an annual basis. Group A gets new computers this year, group B the next year, and group C the subsequent year. Everyone as a result gets a new system every three years, and all the workstations within the network are relatively new. This has benefits in terms of warranty coverage and vendor support, and the organization enjoys a planned expenditure schedule for replacement of 33 percent annually. This practice makes things more manageable, keeps the IT system current, helps stabilize corporate cash flow and budgets, and minimizes workstation variability within the IT infrastructure.

For more information, see my book www.ITSurvivalGuideBook.com

14 Comments
  1. I didn’t think that companies updated as often as every 3 years, I always figured that they held onto the same computers forever.

    I think having everyone on the same system would be much better, because like you said, it’s easier to deal with technical issues once and have them solved for everyone rather than have to do it multiple times.

  2. The old company that I worked at was an IT nightmare. They had the train of thought like the first camp you mentioned. Whenever they needed a new workstation they would buy whatever was the newest and best at that time. This lead to the whole office being a mismatching nightmare of computers. One time when the servers went down, fixing the problem for some computers lead to problems with others and it was hell.

    Luckily I don’t work there anymore.

    • It’s amazing when a company has a good relationship with their vendor. Standardizing your workstations makes for ease of replacement as well as sourcing spare parts. It might be slightly more expensive upfront, but overall the savings in man-hours and repair costs can really add up to make it the superior choice.

  3. They should be updating every 3 years but most of them wait 5 years or more to do this! No wonder they constantly have issues with their computers and loss of data! Most businesses just buy whatever is cheapest at that time and don’t even look for things like a proper warranty that could cover important potential damage. If they would only stop to think before acting, so many companies would be doing so much better!

    • Five years isn’t thaaaaat bad. It’s gambling a bit as most vendor warranties will expire by this point but the odds of failure are not too bad. You’ll mostly be seeing failed drives here and there, and those are pretty easy to replace assuming your network as some redirection in place so as to prevent data loss at the workstation level.

      • I agree with you, while it could be a bit of a gambling but you’re absolutely right, the odds of failure are not too bad and while it might happen, you can take extra cautious plans to help beat it.

  4. The company I worked with had stations that aren’t standardized equipment within the same department. They didn’t also update as much so if there are new stations (we didn’t have permanent stations for security purposes), people went there and used it so much it gets ruined faster. Same goes with the OS, I think all the PCs there used Windows XP.

  5. This is something that many companies don’t account for. Many purchasers will delude themselves to the fact that computers will eventually need to be replaced. We still have some clients that are running XP networks and that’s on the cusp of expiry.

  6. Standardizing is a big thing right now. Some corporations have offices all over the world so it is very important that everyone be on the same page as it were. Technical issues are one reason, but when everyone is on the same operating system, everything runs smoother.

  7. Three years seems about right to replace certain things. The last company I worked at was awful at updating software, which was the biggest pain because when you discovered you had an outdated version, you had to schedule the IT department to come, and then leave your computer for who knows how long. It should be a standard practice, not something the employees have to initiate on their own! I think the uniform capabilities is the right way to go.

  8. Man, I am reading these post and I absolutely love them. This is good advice because too many people get caught up in the price of what it will be upfront. Not too many people think about how much money it will save them in the long run. I am looking to standardize things in our family business. Nice tips!

  9. Yea wish our company was like that. We got old stuff running around. We still use windows xp.. its 2014 not its time to upgrade but nooo they wont do it. I hope this comes a standard to all companies soon!

  10. Our school district’s IT department is pretty screwed up. They don’t upgrade at all, they just hold on to old computers until they’re on their death beds and can’t run anymore. I know the IT budget is strained too because they only have 750k allocated to them, and for some reason the complaints from everybody isn’t enough to increase that budget.

  11. I think the second school of though is best. This is a very informative article and I didn’t know some of this. Thanks for sharing.

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