You know as well as anyone exactly how valuable every dollar is in your budget, and it gets more valuable every day. You also know that prices for computers have fallen as technology becomes cheaper to produce and the marketplace becomes more competitive. The evidence is all around us; newspapers, TV, email spam, and popular online stores such as Amazon.com. "Cheap technology" is everywhere. So what represents a responsible investment in technology using Rutgers' funds? For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on the distinctions between business-class computers and consumer-class computers - those you would find in a retail stores or online for purchase by individuals - just as most computer manufacturers do.
Consumer-class systems are typically much more economical to purchase than business-class systems. They are marketed everywhere from popular retail chains to the Sunday paper to the manufacturers' online stores. They typically have product names that distinguish themselves from more costly business-class systems from the same manufacturer, but the underlying differences in technology should have a significant bearing on what you purchase for use at Rutgers.
Consistency in components
- Manufacturers plan obsolescence into both consumer and business-class systems. For consumer systems how long a manufacturer will continue to support a systems operation aligns with the production period of the system itself. Once a consumer-class computer is no longer manufactured, the manufacturer will cease creating software updates ('drivers') necessary for the system to operate correctly with newer applications or operating systems. In some instances, consumer-class machines may never have drivers created that might be necessary for certain uses at Rutgers today, and most certainly tomorrow. Business-class systems have planned life-cycles that take the supportability of the systems into consideration far beyond their actual production. This means that drivers will be updated and maintained for years to support business and industry that rely on sustaining their technology.
- Like computers should be expected to be constructed with the same components. The components in a computer should be identical to those in another of the same make and model, no matter where or when it was purchased. Business-class systems are designed with that in mind, such that supporting one computer is the same as another copy of the same computer because the internal components are the same. Consumer-class computers are not designed for consistency over the production of the system. Each computer could have different internal parts and components from another like system from the same manufacturer purchased on the same day. This is a serious problem for technology support staff relying on supporting consistent and familiar components in departmental computers.
Quality of construction
- The ability of a machine to be modified with new hardware, such as memory, video interfaces, or drives sometime in the future may be limited in a consumer-class system. Remember, manufacturers are looking at life-expectancy of consumer-class systems tied to a production cycle, not how long the system may be in use. Such a system may never be any more capable than when it's taken out of the box, but it certainly won't have potential if it wasn't designed with it in mind. Business-class systems are typically designed from the ground up with consideration for possible expansion or modification to provide new or greater functionality sometime in the future. Consumer-class systems are not designed for the future so much as they are designed to sell popular technology at the moment.
- In general, the more economical a machine is to purchase, the less refined its design. For notebooks this could mean that the casing is poor fitting or ill-conceived. For desktop systems, this could mean poor placement of connections, less than sturdy controls, or an abundance of poorly formed components. Similar distinctions can be seen in the selection of internal components. Business-class systems are designed so internal components will work together through the life of the system and support future operating systems and applications as they evolve, and not simply assembled to work with operating systems and applications available while the machines are being produced as consumer-class systems are often constructed. The effort and planning that has been invested in designing and manufacturing a system will generally be reflected in its initial purchase price.
- With the proliferation of technology has come rising concerns regarding security. Increasingly, manufacturers are providing enhancements to business-class systems that focus on safeguarding both their operation and the data contained on those systems. Independent of what security software applications might provide, manufacturers are building into the systems the ability to manage and secure the systems in a fashion required of many of their business clients, using technology pertinent to Rutgers. Features such as storage encryption and chip-based tracking services and identity management are becoming increasingly present in business-class systems. The same isn't true for consumer-class systems which have far fewer regulatory and management considerations to guide their design.
- Consumer-class computers are typically purchased with a one year warranty. There may be options for extending the warranty, but usually such warranty upgrades don't provide value given the low cost of the systems, nor do they necessarily provide the convenience typically associated with business-class warranties. Most consumer-class computers sell with 12 month, depot service, meaning you will need to transport the computer, whether locally or across the country, to a specified location where it will be serviced should anything happen during the warranty period. Similarly, where you purchase a consumer-class system may govern whether or not a local authorized repair center is permitted to do warranty repairs. Business-class systems often come with a 3 year, parts and labor coverage, done on-site. Although there are a number of variations on warranties, the terms for consumer-class systems are typically less thorough in coverage and convenience than would be considered appropriate for Rutgers.
So, while there are more economical purchasing options available, Rutgers investments need to represent wise, supportable choices over the entire lifespan of the technology. Making an computer purchase based solely on price can make the cost of support and functionality much greater over time than buying business-class systems designed with those concerns in mind.