So when are my computers going to be installed?

I rarely hear, "Good Morning, Chris" anymore. Any salutations are replaced with "When are those computers going to be in?" Or "Hey, how are those computers coming?"

It was big news when the pallets of computers, servers, and monitors were delivered last week.  Over 200 boxes of high-tech goodness.  The teachers were excited, the students were excited, and I was a kid in a candy store.  Of course, I immediately got to work racking up the servers and unpacking boxes.  I set up a few test boxes and turned a few students loose installing new software.  We had just received Office 2007, the latest versions of Maple and Geometer's Sketchpad, and the latest and greatest AutoCAD, so a bit of testing was in order.

I also set up the first couple thin clients to familiarize myself with the interface and setup utilities (an HP-developed Linux distro).  Rolling out the servers (5 in all, including a cluster of terminal servers, new domain controllers, and a storage server) and testing them in our environment was no trivial task in between classes and countless other projects.  I'm not complaining - I'm thrilled that we were able to finally swing some new technology.  However, as with any IT project, a school-wide tech refresh requires a degree of planning.  Computers don't just appear on 100 desktops without some careful thought, especially when your IT department consists of 1 guy and a few overzealous students.

Unfortunately, this is tough for teachers to keep in mind after years of trying to run classes in cobbled-together labs.  Needless to say, they're a bit impatient.  Even before the computers were delivered, I rarely heard, "Good Morning, Chris" anymore.  Any salutations were replaced with "When are those computers going to be in?"  Or "Hey, how are those computers coming?"  Or better yet, "When are you going to install my computers?"  Well, golly, maybe when I verify that I can actually roll them out without completely disrupting your classes or interfering with mission-critical applications (say, for example, access to the Internet).  Or possibly when I figure out in between administering mid-terms just how best to train students and staff on the use of these little black boxes that look vaguely like computers.

Again, I'm really not complaining here.  I am making the point, though, that it's very easy for us lone IT guys (and girls) to get pushed to a point where we abandon good IT practices and just start rolling out hardware and software as fast as we can.  I'm sure this happens in larger districts and schools where there are actual IS departments, but they tend to have a bit more clout and can push back a bit more easily.  Unfortunately, when planning and testing are left in the dust, the end users as well as the lone IT folks really suffer long term.

I've gotten the same song and dance about Windows Vista.  Although most of the technology we're installing is server-based, so Windows Vista isn't really relevant, a large lab of standalone PCs is part of this big tech refresh.  "Why aren't they running Vista?"  "Oh, I was hoping they'd have Vista on them."  "I just bought a computer and it came with Vista...why don't these have it?"  Because I freaking wanted it that way!  Most of my users aren't terribly well-acquainted with the joys of service packs and look at me blankly when I say that I'm waiting until at least Service Pack 1 before upgrading.  The blank looks turn to disbelief when I tell them that half the software we're running in the lab only works marginally well, if at all, under Vista at this point, so I configured the machines with XP Pro.

Doing what's right is not always the popular choice with our end users.  However, a little patience now will go a long ways towards keeping your users happy in the long run.

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