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The Growing Use of PCs and Networks

By the time the last decade of the 20th Century rolled around, PCs and the networks that interconnected them had become engrained in everyday life. Computer courses were being taught in elementary schools for the young, in senior citizen homes for the not so young, and in most every institution of learning in between.

Not only had the number of PCs grown substantially during these past 10 years, but so also had their variety. The processing power of desktop computers changed in both directions. Those requiring extensive capacity for intensive graphics applications evolved into powerful—and expensive—PC workstations. Those needing only minimal processing capability such as for data entry, data inquiries, or Internet access were offered as less expensive network computers.

These two extremes of PC offerings are sometimes referred to as fat clients and thin clients, and there is a wide variation of choices between them. Desktop models were not the only type of PC available in the 1990s. Manufacturers offered progressively smaller versions commonly referred to as laptops, for portable use, palmtops, for personal scheduling—greatly popularized by the Personal Digital Assistant Palm Pilot—and thumbtops, an even smaller, though less popular offering. These models provided users with virtually any variation of PC they required or desired.

Laptop computers alone had become so popular by the end of the decade that most airlines, hotels, schools, universities, and resorts had changed policies, procedures, and facilities to accommodate the ubiquitous tool. Many graduate schools taught courses that actually required laptops as a prerequisite for the class.

As the number and variety of PCs continued to increase, so did their dependence on the networks that interconnected them. This focused attention on two important functions of systems management: availability and capacity planning.

Availability now played a critical role in ensuring the productivity of PC users in much the same way as it did during the evolution from mainframe batch applications to online systems. However, the emphasis on availability shifted away from the computers themselves since most desktops had robust redundancy designed into them. Instead, the emphasis shifted to the availability of the LANs that interconnected all these desktop machines.

The second discipline that evolved from the proliferation of networked PCs was capacity planning. It too now moved beyond computer capacity to that of network switches, routers, and especially bandwidth.

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