A friend emailed me today with some questions about a thin client deployment he was considering for a local school. A bit of time on the phone with his Dell rep and he was convinced that he just didn't have the budget to roll out a terminal server and a lab of thin clients. The server running the show was simply too expensive.
The rep quoted him just north of $6000 for a Server 2008 rig to handle a 30-seat lab. While $6000 isn't a crazy price to pay for a server designed to deliver an optimal desktop experience on thin clients, the Dells and HPs of the world need to remember that the difference between a $4000 and $6000 purchase can make or break a project in K-12 education.
Public education is a land of compromises. Is it worth trading acceptable performance (versus optimal performance) to actually make a project happen that adds a new computer lab to a media center? Particularly when that computer lab would have the easy management associated with a thin client environment? Most likely.
Often, the salespeople with whom we work look at the numbers, punch them into a spreadsheet or application provided by their engineers or Microsoft, and spit out the specs we need. This works fine for a corporation with a large IT budget. For schools that measure their IT budgets in the thousands of dollars rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a better approach is needed. My best purchasing experiences have come from an hour spent meeting with a systems engineer and really discussing requirements and expectations. In all cases, we were able to save quite a bit of money and achieve very usable results.
How many emails or phone solicitations have you received from vendors suggesting you spend your ARRA stimulus funds on their products? Guess what, folks? We're not exactly flush with cash just because we received some stimulus money. Sure, it's helped and our district, for example, has been able to institute a comprehensive professional development program that teachers don't dread like standard PD. It doesn't mean we can just start buying tech for the sake of tech, though.
Come on folks...the stimulus funds aren't a blank check and they go away in a year. Every purchase we make in technology needs to be sustainable and needs to stretch those dollars as far as possible. We'll spend money, but we aren't corporate customers. Our vendor partners need to remember the compromises we make every day just to keep our schools afloat; the key word in all of this is "partner" and a true partnership needs to drive our purchasing decisions.