Enterprise Software

Support your support staff: Standardize hard drive images

A standardized hard drive image can contribute to your bottom line and save your support staff some of their sanity. Take a look at what it does for others.


Take a lesson from IT professionals who have to support users in extremely remote locations or who support large numbers of users—standardize your disk images and save your support staff both time and aggravation.

A standardized disk image on every computer in your company can have two significant advantages for an IT shop:
  • Improved support for both remote and local users
  • Reduced total costs of ownership for the machines

A call from the great beyond
The IT staff for H&R Block has a centralized call center to assist users in the company’s more than 10,000 offices around the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia.

The loss of any of its computers, particularly during the first four months of the year, means lost revenues for H&R Block. Downtime cannot be tolerated at the company, best known for its tax-preparation services.

H&R Block uses a number of strategies to increase the infallibility of its machines in the field. To learn more, read “Case study: H&R Block's desktop rollover” and see how the company uses the purchase of new computers as a starting point for their failsafe process.

According to Chris Jacobs, H&R Block’s network engineer for technical services, every computer contains on its disk image both the programs that end users need and the utilities that the help desk center can have the users access to troubleshoot any problems.

The disks also are partitioned so that the working partition can be reformatted and everything can be reinstalled by the user with help over the telephone, Jacobs said. The company has a hot-swap program just in case the utilities or reinstalling doesn’t solve the problem. The end user simply ships the malfunctioning computer to the help desk while a working computer is overnight shipped to the user.

“Because [the disk image] is the same, there’s no training or set up,” Jacobs said. “All they do is plug it in, turn it on, transfer a few files from the server, and off they go.”

Calls from the greater beyond
While Jacobs' users can be thousands of miles from the help center in any direction, some end users for NASA project manager Matthew Bordelon are often less than 400 miles away.

Bordelon’s challenge is that these particular users are located 400 miles overhead and passing by at speeds in excess of 17,000 mph. Read more about computers in space in “IT at NASA: How the support crew keeps them flying” and in “IT at NASA: When support concerns are out of this world.”

By the end of the year, Bordelon and his staff are hoping to be supporting astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station. For both Space Shuttle and Space Station end users, distance isn’t so much the problem as actually getting replacement parts or help information to them.

A stable and standard disk image helps to reduce support desk challenges for him and his staff at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. When astronauts are in space, his staff is there 24/7 to support them if they have a question or a problem.

“We have tried to squash all those bugs before they got up there,” Bordelon said. There are troubleshooting procedures that include training the astronauts to completely remove and replace hard drives in space, and software can be reinstalled via satellite connections if necessary.

The IT support staff also has identical machines with identical disk images on Earth to try to mimic any problems that arise during the flight, he said. The duplication goes down to BIOS level and any special programs and data that may be located on any of the astronaut machines.

NASA has taken standardization to such a point that updating the operating system to a more recent version of Microsoft Windows would create a ripple effect felt throughout the world, according to Bordelon. Even so, when NASA bids for new computers in a year, everyone is going to have to upgrade.

Keeping costs down to Earth
When NASA decides to replace its now-ancient IBM ThinkPads with new laptops next year, the process of standardization will begin anew.

With the Space Station in orbit, it is a given there will be more of the small computers at locations around the planet. There are currently more than 2,000 of the ThinkPads located in 16 countries, all with the standard NASA image, according to Bordelon.

H&R Block typically buys about 16,000 new machines a year, according to Jacobs, and before they are shipped out to the offices they have to have the standard image put on them.

The company has used Compaq computers most recently and then had a company called InaCom process the new machines with the H&R Block disk image, Jacobs said. Compaq bought the part of InaCom that did the disk imaging process so if Jacobs buys Compaq computers again this year, there will be one less step in the process.

Compaq hasn’t got a lock on the contract, Jacobs said early in the summer, but whoever wins their business will have to include setting up the new computers with the company’s disk image, he said.

"Compaq is moving toward the configurable business: They have an order, they fill that order, they put that corporate image on that machine, and ship it out to where it needs to go," Jacobs said. "They do all the tracking, the asset tagging, the serial numbers. And they do a lot of the operating system tracking, which is a good value-add for us."

That helps reduce the resulting TCO for the machines, along with the savings in support desk time, and effort with the diagnostic programs included in the disk image, he said.
Have standardized disk images helped your support staff deal with your end-user population? Do you wish your company had the same disk image on all its machines? Start a discussion below, or send us a note.
Take a lesson from IT professionals who have to support users in extremely remote locations or who support large numbers of users—standardize your disk images and save your support staff both time and aggravation.

A standardized disk image on every computer in your company can have two significant advantages for an IT shop:
  • Improved support for both remote and local users
  • Reduced total costs of ownership for the machines

A call from the great beyond
The IT staff for H&R Block has a centralized call center to assist users in the company’s more than 10,000 offices around the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia.

The loss of any of its computers, particularly during the first four months of the year, means lost revenues for H&R Block. Downtime cannot be tolerated at the company, best known for its tax-preparation services.

H&R Block uses a number of strategies to increase the infallibility of its machines in the field. To learn more, read “Case study: H&R Block's desktop rollover” and see how the company uses the purchase of new computers as a starting point for their failsafe process.

According to Chris Jacobs, H&R Block’s network engineer for technical services, every computer contains on its disk image both the programs that end users need and the utilities that the help desk center can have the users access to troubleshoot any problems.

The disks also are partitioned so that the working partition can be reformatted and everything can be reinstalled by the user with help over the telephone, Jacobs said. The company has a hot-swap program just in case the utilities or reinstalling doesn’t solve the problem. The end user simply ships the malfunctioning computer to the help desk while a working computer is overnight shipped to the user.

“Because [the disk image] is the same, there’s no training or set up,” Jacobs said. “All they do is plug it in, turn it on, transfer a few files from the server, and off they go.”

Calls from the greater beyond
While Jacobs' users can be thousands of miles from the help center in any direction, some end users for NASA project manager Matthew Bordelon are often less than 400 miles away.

Bordelon’s challenge is that these particular users are located 400 miles overhead and passing by at speeds in excess of 17,000 mph. Read more about computers in space in “IT at NASA: How the support crew keeps them flying” and in “IT at NASA: When support concerns are out of this world.”

By the end of the year, Bordelon and his staff are hoping to be supporting astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station. For both Space Shuttle and Space Station end users, distance isn’t so much the problem as actually getting replacement parts or help information to them.

A stable and standard disk image helps to reduce support desk challenges for him and his staff at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. When astronauts are in space, his staff is there 24/7 to support them if they have a question or a problem.

“We have tried to squash all those bugs before they got up there,” Bordelon said. There are troubleshooting procedures that include training the astronauts to completely remove and replace hard drives in space, and software can be reinstalled via satellite connections if necessary.

The IT support staff also has identical machines with identical disk images on Earth to try to mimic any problems that arise during the flight, he said. The duplication goes down to BIOS level and any special programs and data that may be located on any of the astronaut machines.

NASA has taken standardization to such a point that updating the operating system to a more recent version of Microsoft Windows would create a ripple effect felt throughout the world, according to Bordelon. Even so, when NASA bids for new computers in a year, everyone is going to have to upgrade.

Keeping costs down to Earth
When NASA decides to replace its now-ancient IBM ThinkPads with new laptops next year, the process of standardization will begin anew.

With the Space Station in orbit, it is a given there will be more of the small computers at locations around the planet. There are currently more than 2,000 of the ThinkPads located in 16 countries, all with the standard NASA image, according to Bordelon.

H&R Block typically buys about 16,000 new machines a year, according to Jacobs, and before they are shipped out to the offices they have to have the standard image put on them.

The company has used Compaq computers most recently and then had a company called InaCom process the new machines with the H&R Block disk image, Jacobs said. Compaq bought the part of InaCom that did the disk imaging process so if Jacobs buys Compaq computers again this year, there will be one less step in the process.

Compaq hasn’t got a lock on the contract, Jacobs said early in the summer, but whoever wins their business will have to include setting up the new computers with the company’s disk image, he said.

"Compaq is moving toward the configurable business: They have an order, they fill that order, they put that corporate image on that machine, and ship it out to where it needs to go," Jacobs said. "They do all the tracking, the asset tagging, the serial numbers. And they do a lot of the operating system tracking, which is a good value-add for us."

That helps reduce the resulting TCO for the machines, along with the savings in support desk time, and effort with the diagnostic programs included in the disk image, he said.
Have standardized disk images helped your support staff deal with your end-user population? Do you wish your company had the same disk image on all its machines? Start a discussion below, or send us a note.

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