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Should You Minimize Software and Hardware Configurations?

Even though it’s true that one way to expedite recovery of failed systems both day-to-day and in disasters is to minimize hardware and software diversity as much as possible, such a draconian stance harkens back to the old days of IBM 3270 terminals. In those days, there were lots of comments like these:

Comment: I’m a graphics artist, I publish the company newspaper! I need a Mac!

Answer: No, you get one of THESE. (IBM dumb terminal.)

Comment: I’m an engineer; I need a high-end workstation!

Answer: No, you get one of THESE. (IBM dumb terminal.)

Comment: I’m a manager; I need the Microsoft suite of products and a high-end PC!

Answer: No, you get one of THESE. (IBM dumb terminal.)

Do you see the pattern above? Aside from my lame attempt at humor, there’s a measure of truth in the fact that dumb terminals were easy to support:

  • Everybody used pretty much the same thing.
  • Help desk support and workstation security was a cinch—at least in comparison to today.

The only problem is that if we operate in this mode today and restrict hardware and software too much, the whole issue of recovery and survivability becomes academic, as the company would soon go out of business.

So how do you handle the problem? Perhaps your organization could limit configurations but try to allow enough flexibility so workers could still be productive. Stated another way, let users use the configurations that make them most productive, but restrict them to an "approved list." Even so, there would be a lot of different configurations to support and recover. Consider a company that restricts knowledge and production workers to the following three configurations:

  • Standard desktop configuration
  • High-end desktop configuration
  • Standard laptop configuration

In many companies, this arrangement would cause a mutiny, but follow me on this line of thought for just a moment. Let’s add some assumptions:

  • Whether you like it or not, hardware changes every six months.
  • Software changes every 12 months—yes, it really does.

Even after this minimal start of three approved configurations, the company would still be supporting up to 45 unique permutations of hardware and software in two years (see Figure 1). Try staffing a help desk for that configuration, let alone restoring it in a disaster! In summary, whether we like it or not, we all support a lot of different types of equipment these days.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Configuration standards don’t prevent changes in hardware and software.

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