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Fall Down 7 times get up 813 Hours and $1,400.00 To upgrade my Hard Drive?!?


We’ve always said that Managed Services for IT is usually a flawed business model.  Pretty much the better job you do the less you make.  Kinda like lawyers, I guess, except at least we talk about it!


13 hours to reformat and upgrade a client laptop is the perfect example of providing GREAT service at a TERRIBLE value.  I worked over a long day and night replacing the hard drive of this particular laptop.  There’s no question the client got a lot of benefit.   3.5x more storage space, 3x improvement in speed.  And almost no worries – he handed me the laptop in the morning and came back for it the next day fully upgraded.  I couldn’t save him from a couple headaches, though – he had to hunt down passwords that needed to be reached in his browser .... and he had to see my 13 hour bill!  Which points to the value problem – the work took 13 hours, but no one wants to pay labor of 13 hours for 3.5x space and  3x speed.  Think of it this way – the 320GB drive cost less than $100 and the 3x speed was just getting the computer back to the speed it was the day he bought it.  Who wants to pay almost the cost of the computer to simply set (or in this case reset) it up?


I’ll tell you: nobody.  But what’s the alternative?  It takes hours and hours to set these things up – so we as a Managed Services Provider are stuck – either provide poor value by charging for our time or give our time away for free, which just isn’t sustainable.


The alternative is simple, we have to think of all our client equipment as if we own it and is if any inefficiency in managing it costs us, rather than the client.  It’s the truth, of course, because the real cost of IT <> is not even the high cost of professional maintenance.  It’s the even higher cost of technology GETTING IN THE WAY because it is broken, slow or configured badly.  And if technology is getting in the way, then we aren’t doing our job and we might as well make pretzels or something other than deliver IT solutions.

So the laptop in question was previously managed by a typical MSP methodology which is to recommend a system, have it shipped to the client then bill an hourly rate to install pretty much anything the client requests and subsequently "fix" the machine when it doesn’t run well.  Or worse, not fix the machine to save the client “money” (which actually costs the client the most – in inefficiency and repair costs later). Coming in at this point puts us in the position where we do our best to deliver Great service, but often feel we’re not providing great value.


For the benefit of other providers below is the low down on what I did to fix the laptop to provide great service while putting the laptop into our SureRecovery™ plan to make sure  we also provide great Value going forward.


When we were introduced the this Laptop 7 months ago it was a top notch "desktop replacement" laptop - Dell  Precision M90 Precision with 4GB Ram and 2.0GHz Pentium Processor, 256MB video card 17-inch display.  A fine machine to run business applications on -right? Sure, except it was configured Wrong from the point of view of reducing the Total Cost of Ownership and providing value.
For example, the user account had Administrator privileges and there was everything from TVIO,  Zone Alarm (free addition) to ITUNES outlook plug-in, to multiple versions of anti virus still registered on the machine. The system tray, when expanded almost stretched to the start button - for all the non-IT folks -  this is a visual indicator of what programs are chewing up your computer’s resources whether you are using them or not.    In short, this business-critical machine was not being managed at all, but was being band-aided for a high hourly rate only to fail again. 


When we took over management of the computer, we did the usual clean-up - removed all copies of AV and installed our managed AV, firewall and internet security service, deleted extraneous freeware programs that were not needed, narrowed down start-up applications to only those being used, defragged the hard drive, cleaned and repaired the windows registry, scanned the disk for bad sectors, uninstalled un-needed Outlook plug-ins - which, if you weren't aware can wreak havoc on a system – XOBNI <> included - but I still use it.  We got the machine running faster, but it was still extremely slow for this class of machine.
It was now time to take this bull by the horns and provide the service this client deserved. 


Task at hand 
Replace existing 80GB hard drive with 320GB drive, fresh install of WindowsXP Pro and have the machine up and running with all business critical applications and peripherals with as little down time as possible.


Agent in Charge


My Creds
Got my first computer - Apple II E and Commodore when I was 6 and built my first PC from ordering parts from a Computer Shopper magazine when they used to be the size of an encyclopedia and  Michael Dell was still peeing in his diapers (just kidding he's older than me).  I've been programming Professionally for the last 14 years, but have kept my hardware chops up-to-date.  I've done many builds, and rebuilds of computers in Windows, Linux and even a MAC once or twice - which I'm not sure counts because it did "just work" - also, I'm writing this article on a Windows Vista 64-bit OS running on a MAC Pro via Boot Camp which was configured by yours truly, if that means anything to you.


There was never an image taken of this machine when it was in working condition.  There were no copies of the Dell factory driver disks or latest OS with Service Pack 2 that was shipped with the machine. 


Steps to Solution:  

  •     Exported IE and Firefox favorites
  •     Backed up existing data (internal 80 GB drive) to external USB hard drive.  Tested restore of data.
  •     Installed new 320GB HD booted off of WinXP Pro CD, created partition and formatted drive
  •     The only licensed copy I could find from our client included Service Pack 1.  Now we're in for some serious updates...
  •          Updated to SP2, then SP3 and all 100+ cumulative security packs  and updates (including beefy  IE 7 and .NET framework updates) via windows update.
  •     Downloaded and Installed all Precision M90 specific drivers from the dell website (Video, communication, Mouse/Touchpad, BIOS etc. and tested) 
  •     Installed Office Professional 2007 and all associated security packs and updates
  •     Configured Outlook Exchange SureMail ™ account, 5 pop accounts all with different signatures (these things cannot be exported so have to be done manually)  Ran into challenges with forgotten passwords.  Had to reset passwords on hosting site(s)
  •     Created user accounts (2 Admin Accounts one for and one for the client) and a "limited user" account for client to work day-to-day with - we advise not giving users Administrator access, but some users desire it.
  •     Installed, configured and updated Act! 2006, Roxio, QuickBooks, Skype, Trillian, FireFox McAfee Managed AV, Firewall and browser protection, Citrix Gateway Client, SurFiles ™, Remote Monitoring Software, BIOS and wireless security
  •     Mapped SureFiles™ file share drives and created shortcuts.
  •     Download drivers, software and configured Xerox Scanner, Label Printer, HP Laser Printer, Verizon Wireless Broadband modem set up all peripherals in office and tested them.
  •     Reinstalled 80GB hard drive and booted it to ensure drive was still operational.  Once verified, put back 320GB HD.
  •     Restored old drive data to a secluded directory on new drive to allow our client to comb through what needed to be moved to the new drive. 

Total time spent on above: 12 hours 

Total time with client after install: 1.5 hours
The Kicker

If this computer  were properly managed total time spent on this project should have been:


4 hours or less
The above project in many ways was a waste of time and money for all parties involved.  For us, because there is no way we can in good faith charge full price for this project and for our client because they will have to pay more than what a project like this should cost.  But at the end of the day something needed to be done to this computer to make it a usable tool and the time above was very real (I was there).
Here’s the rules for keeping restore costs for a sub optimally performing computer down to a couple hundred bucks:


For IT Services Companies:

1.   Periodically create a snap-shot or image of your clients machines when it is in good working state.  2-3 time a year should be fine.  A restore from a decent snapshot to a completely new hard-drive in most cases should take under an hour (depending on the amount of data). 
If the previous IT provider provided our client with this simple image, it would have shaved 12 or more hours from this project.
2.  Ensure that you maintain  the original software that came with your clients machine.  Driver Disks, Operating System Disks and any software such as Microsoft Office. 
3.  Ensure that you have Service Tag, Serial Number, Model Number for the machine and know what's inside of it.
4.  Think twice before giving users Administrative rights to their machine.  If you don't control or are not aware of what is being installed on the machine how can you guarantee its operation?  Be clear with your client that it WILL be MUCH more expensive to maintain a machine that they have administrator rights to and you cannot guarantee its operation.
5.  Provide or recommend  to your clients a password manager.  For security purposes you should never store your clients passwords, but we should provide a means for our clients to easily and securely manage their own.

For Clients:

 Ask questions!  Any IT service is always a partnership and you are paying money for expertise and advice!   Here are some examples:


1.  How much time will it cost to get me back to today if my hard drive falls into the toilet and is destroyed?  Will I lose any data? 

2.  What services do you provide to ensure I don't lose data or large amounts of time if my hard drive is destroyed?

3.  Is my data being backed up?  Is it secure?

4.  Do you manage my software or do I?  Chances are that you'll only ever need your original disks in an emergency  -  know who is responsible your original software and software after your initial purchase. This will get you up and running faster guaranteed!

5.  Your IT Service provider should be an expert on all types of technologies.  Anyone worth their salt will be happy to answer questions or get you answers to the ones they don't know.  They should love to learn and not be put off by other experts.

6.  Have an independent review of your network and computer health.  Second opinions are always helpful.

7.  Your relationship between you and your IT Services company is a partnership in which you are entrusting perhaps the most important part of your business - your data.  If you don't feel secure about this relationship it is time to move on.  

8.  Cut your losses.  With computers, there is a logical reason for every problem, but it just may not worth (time and money wise) finding out the cause.  If your data and system is managed properly it may be more cost effective to buy new or upgrade the  hardware and do a fresh install rather than "fixing" it.  You can always sell our old hardware on Ebay, donate it or use it as a spare in case of emergency. 

9.  Be confident that you IT provider is providing you service.   The scenario outlined above happened because our client was paying premium dollars for incompetent IT service.  Please use some of my suggestions above to avoid this, or just shoot me an email. 


Now, take your hard drive out of your laptop and drop it into the toilet, contact your IT Services company and test them out.  If your computer is truly managed, relax, have lunch and your computer should be up and running soon after!