PCs

Web master challenges: Staying ahead of obsolescence

One of the challenges for web masters, as well as any technology manager, is figuring out when to upgrade on a schedule that keeps up with current advances and fits the budget.

Comparing technology, advancements, and costs for equipment from the early 1990s to today, you get a sense of how everything including skills and proficiency can become obsolete in a short time -- three to five years, actually. Most of us know Moore's Law, which simply states that the number of transistors placed within integrated circuits doubles every two years. Moore's Law continues to be a fairly accurate target from the time Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, first described the trend in a report in 1965. Major enabling factors and trends, which continue to support the law are shown in current technological growth; examples include advancements in microchips, semiconductors, and the development of a single-electron transistor 1.5 nanometers in diameter made out of oxide-based materials. Some speculate that a new form of technology will likely replace current integrated circuit technology, and that Moore's Law will hold true well beyond 2020.

A trip down memory lane

In 1991, I had to decide on a new home computer acquisition. I juggled comparisons between PC and Apple, and after much deliberation, it came down to budget considerations as the motivating factor in my final decision. The PC won out in the ultimate assessment, but it was not an IBM PC. I settled on a clone, or an IBM-compatible Hyundai 386 SX with a 40MB hard drive, which included a fancy "turbo" 16MHz button. In the September 10, 1990 issue of InfoWorld, a large advertisement on page 38 promoted it like this: "The Hyundai® 386 Series personal computers have the power to make light work of the heaviest problems."

When I bought the Hyundai 386 in the summer of 91, it was not the top of the line; the 486 had just hit the market, and the cream of the crop carried a top price, too. I think I paid around $2,100 for the complete Hyundai 386 package, which included the color 14" VGA monitor, keyboard, and mouse; the 486 clones were priced at around $3,400 at the time; and the IBM PCs were in the $3-4K range in the early 1990s.

Just for kicks, and since Steve Jobs has just announced his stepping down as CEO of Apple, I wanted to look up how much an Apple Mac was selling for in 1990, and on page 5 under "News" items for the same issue of InfoWorld, Kristi Coale reported that the base configuration for the Apple Macintosh IIci model with 4 megabytes of RAM and a floppy drive listed for $5,969, and that the top configuration model of 4 megabytes of RAM and an 80-megabyte hard drive was $7,269.

Keeping up with the pace

The desktop PC's from the early 1990's were built rock solid, with heavy sheet metal cases and a lot less plastic on the inside compared to today's models. Is this an example of planned obsolescence, which seems to be the standard in some of today's technology? Just take a look at cell phones and and laptops -- lots of plastic, flimsy parts and easy-to-break pieces. I can't tell you how many laptop display screens and keyboards I have had to order replacements for over the past ten years, and this is from normal daily use.

As a web master or technology manager, how do you know that the current technology, hardware, software, and human resources you have in use today will be able to keep up with the ever-changing landscape?  You can't upgrade all your servers and clients to the next operating system every time a new version hits the shelves; it becomes too expensive to make the switch every three to five years. Several companies, including one that I contract with, continue to support client PCs with Windows XP, however, there is a small rollout of newer Windows 7 computers coming down the line.

When it comes to thousands of licensing and software upgrades that need to be purchased, and then the cost of getting your rollout team to make the transition -- and in most cases this comes with a hardware upgrade to coincide with the new OS -- the costs start adding up. How can you justify a new hardware and software rollout every three to five years?  Justification for upgrades must come with hard documentation for increases in productivity for the company. And then, you have to make sure you picked the right horse; you don't want to go with a technology solution that ends up losing the race five or ten years down the road.

Striking a balance between the two factions can be a good approach to handling the obsolescence pattern, but is that enough to keep abreast of the rapidly changing environment? At what level of the innovation adoption lifecycle do you choose to live? Your answer probably depends on the technology and the characteristics of that technology utilized within your organization, the team employed to carry out the work, and the budget that limits your spending dollar.

Meeting the challenge

The challenges today are finding ways of increasing the industrious life cycles of systems, software, and equipment, and ensuring that the talent is keeping up their own skills as it relates to the latest trends in technology and design.

Increasing the productive life of assets means extracting every last dollar of computing power until it has to be replaced with new components, which could mean hard drives, SCSI boards, NIC cards, monitors, servers, operating systems, firewalls, and software.

Here are a few ways to improve your effectiveness:

  • Technology Lifecycle Management (TLM) tools are one way to control your technology assets. Using an approach that will help ensure your IT assets continue to support your business over their lifecycle.
  • Adopt and utilize the best practices approach with Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a resource for guidance in IT service support, service delivery, and infrastructure management. Certifications are also available for individuals and organizations who wish to further their expertise in this area.

Keeping your staff up to speed

The staff staying knowledgeable with latest technology and trends is the other piece of the puzzle.

  • Continuing education and training helps to keep employees abreast of the latest technology and trends, and several providers offer initial training to become familiar with new advances and updates.
  • Check with your vendors and suppliers for free training (or a reduced rate); some may offer these deals if you are testing out their new advances.
  • Local colleges typically offer computer-based training in labs and some even have options to bring the training to your facility.

Do you or does your organization have a game plan or strategy in place to beat the obsolescence challenge?

Additional TLM resources:

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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