Can Intel-based Macs really save your university money?

According to Wilkes University, they can -- but I'm not so sure.

Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA, expects to save $150,000 over the next three years by switching from generic Intel-based PC platforms to the Intel-based Apple Macintosh.  According to eSchool News, Wilkes University is replacing their entire compliment of Intel student workstations with Macintosh computers running Boot Camp (Apples dual-boot technology), Mac OS X, and unspecified "virtualization" software. 

Well all this is fine and dandy but one of their arguments is that the Macintosh is less susceptible virus attack.  Don't they realize that a Macintosh running Windows is no less susceptible to virus attack than any other Intel-based PC running Windows?  (I won't bother to address this reality.  The reasons for this are simple and, in a properly secured environment, it is moot anyway.)

The university acknowledges that more software is available for Windows and points out that this move will allow their users to continue to run all their Windows applications.   In the end, their rationale is that by using all Macintosh hardware, they will need 250 fewer workstations than they would need otherwise. 

If we take the simplest approach then, the $150,000 savings divided by 250 fewer workstations comes to $600 per workstation.  Gee, that just happens to be the retail cost of a Mac mini (sans keyboard, mouse, and monitor).  Add a genuine Apple monitor, keyboard, and mouse to a Mac mini and it is more expensive than a comparably-equipped iMac.  Go figure. 

This $1.4 million project will provide the university with 1450 workstations over three years (certainly a sensible life-cycle), or just over $965 per workstation.  Sounds about right -- assuming that you really need that expensive a machine to meet your typical student's computing needs over a three-year life-cycle. 

I won't quibble with the advantages to students of not having to go to a specific location to use a particular application.  In this respect, being able to boot up the environment that you want in order to run the applications that you want in any student lab on campus is a considerable advantage.

Still I would argue that for under $700 per non-Macintosh workstation, Wilkes University could provide their students with the same functionality on those 1450 workstations and have plenty of money left over for an additional 250 Macintoshes for those that really need them. 

If this simple 'back of the envelope' analysis demonstrates an upfront savings by sticking with Macintosh alternatives (while providing students with more total workstations), it would suggest that while their decision to switch to 100% Macintosh hardware might not be a bad one, it is not a cost-saving one. 

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