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Real World Computing

Bring Your Own Confusion

Posted on 6 Dec 2012 at 11:43

Steve Cassidy is surprised at the unsuitability of laptops being sold as business-ready, but at least he’s making money out of it

I’m beginning to suspect that the current fad for bring your own device (BYOD) is a plot thought up by Mike Myers’ character Dr Evil, to double IT staff requirements.

The upsides – choice; faster provisioning; avoidance of unhealthy intimacy between purchasing department and reseller; user care and involvement; and so forth – are all promised with no attempt to enumerate the corresponding downsides. As with other articles of religious faith, the conditions under which those promises might be delivered are never explored, either in the nerd-speak you and I use or in plain English for everyone else.

You’ve guessed right, I’m smarting from recent painful experiences – although it hasn’t always been my own ego that was bruised: others have shared my pain, but it’s my brain that got an Olympic-class workout.

Wi-Fi woes

Let’s take the easiest case first. A client suffered a palace revolution in which its IT users renounced the old school and stormed the steps of the nearest high-street PC retailer to replace their irritatingly nasty home-built workstations (that’s their description: sorry Asus and Gigabyte). The users had spoken, although in my opinion they were dead wrong. They were quite sure that nice mid-range Sony VAIOs would cure all perceived ills and do a far better job than these ageing and annoying deskside self-builds. (Okay, you self-builders, please wait for the punchline before you start venting spleen over Twitter in support of your team.)

They were quite sure that nice mid-range Sony VAIOs would cure all perceived ills and do a far better job than these ageing and annoying deskside self-builds

I listened to the client’s catalogue of woes. The chief gripe with the shiny-new laptops was that after a meeting they would all emerge from the room to discover their units were all running slow – horribly slow; verging on unusable. I became increasingly suspicious of their pattern of activity vis-a-vis this pattern of systematic slowdowns. It sounded uncomfortably like their previous complaints about those old desktop PCs, so I resolved to go forensic on them. It wasn’t so much about how much RAM was in their machines but more about precisely how they were working inside that meeting room.

“We love our VAIOs,” they all said, “we all take them into the meeting on wireless so we can check our calendars and set up any to-dos that arise.” Not much wrong with that, except that I already knew the impressive size of their average mailboxes in the IMAP store, and guessed they might see performance issues when half-a-dozen people in the same room wielded both VAIO and BlackBerry through the same antenna.

Their reply was mildly peevish: “Yes, we appreciated that at an early stage, so we run the web-based access to our mail server in the meeting room, then let the machines do a full reconcile back at our desks.” That offered me a glimmer of a hint, but it wasn’t until my next visit that the full horror of the situation sank in.

Bring Your Own Confusion

Their VAIOs – very nice machines, to be sure – had all been bought with port replicators, and they all had secondary monitors, Ethernet cables, proper keyboards and mice hanging off those ports. These almost-portless, slim Ultrabooks docked smoothly into their replicators, with none of the grinding of plastic and tedious flashing of LEDs during new device detection that I remember from the last time I had a job posh enough to warrant a port replicator. (I recall it was a 486/66 ThinkPad – that long ago.)

Each VAIO replicator dock shows a glowing LED on its cabled Ethernet port, regardless of whether or not the VAIO is in it, and when half-a-dozen people came out of the meeting and plugged in their laptops, these LEDs remained stubbornly on. By squinting (I’m getting old) at the tiny pixels making up the taskbar dock in Windows 7 on a super-hi-res VAIO screen, I could just see that the usual wired network connection glyph, a square with a mouse top-right, wasn’t visible. Despite sitting in their docks, all these laptops were still stuck on the Wi-Fi! I walked around the whole lot, looking at their LEDs to verify I wasn’t going potty.

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User comments

64 bit?

I can remember page after page of editorial on PCPro about why we should all be using 64 bit XP. Now people are using 64 bit OS versions we are told the rare 32 bit version of W7 is preferable.

In fairness it is about time MS delivered a functional 64 bit version of Office, and I can only agree about the benefits of buying quality hardware.

By tirons1 on 6 Dec 2012

Excellent piece

@Mr Cassidy
A true piece of "Real World" computing!

You've nailed the main problem with all the hype surrounding BYO kit. If 'IT' was a simple as nipping down to Dixons, buying 30\300\3000 laptops and plugging them in, then everybody would be doing it. Sadly it seems many are.

The obvious pitfall\pratfalls scale exponentially with both numbers and diversity of BYO 'solutions' installed.

As you suggest, there's a pretty good reason why we nasty 'IT people' want to standardise on certain kit.
Not the least is that having a standard build on tested hardware can be optimised and supported rather more cheaply than a multiplicity of 'cool' hardware configurations sporting the crapware rich software environments foisted onto punters by consumer retailers.

Of course sorting this mess out comes before dealing with the potential security nightmare that comes with plugging 'any old' stuff into the workplace \ corporate \ enterprise network.

I'm not a big supporter of actual, nor metaphorical patriarchy, but sometimes 'Daddy' really does know best.....

By wittgenfrog on 7 Dec 2012

Flexible Working

Hi Steve,

Great piece on BYOD. As someone who has read and analysed a lot about BYOD, and who runs a company that specialises in Flexible Working and Move Management, it's amazing how people get the wrong impression about it.

Companies (and even some of the IT press, though not this establishment!) seem to think BYOD is a silver bullet to reduce IT cost, increase flexibility and employee choice. Some of this might be true, but what seems to be forgotten is that it's not a simple change but one which needs tobe incorporated into a larger piece around ensuring infrastructure, mindset and process are in place. If not, then stories like your will become more and more common.

Your customer was very fortunate in that they had someone with expertise who they could call on to fix their issues. Not everyone will be quite so lucky

C

By Chatan on 7 Dec 2012

Toshiba

At one of our sites we have a cafe and I needed to get a laptop for use in there. Given that it's rather a hostile environment for a computer (steam, grease in the air, etc) it was a case of buy the cheapest I could find and see how long it lasts! (it's actually done 3 years now). I ended up with a Toshiba one, I forget the model, and in addition to a ton of crapware it had utilities duplicating Windows functionality. I fiddled around with the Toshiba WiFi utility for ages and couldn't get it to connect to the Belkin access point. Eventually, I disabled the utility and let Windows do it, and it worked first time!

There really is no need for these unreliable programs doing things which Windows does anyway - particularly when they don't actually do it as well as Windows!

I've learnt my lesson from that, and now always buy Dell equipment which I have never had any problems with - the business models are also blessedly free of crapware and pointless utilities.

By valeofyork on 7 Dec 2012

Business Config's

Oh yeah. I've just finished working for a Canadian business and local government IT consultancy, where the boss insisted on supplying only Lenovo to all businesses (fine, up to a point), but also insisted on the cheapest prices for a given spec' - also fine, except that included selecting from Lenovo's consumer range - as a result, many of the machines we supplied to clients were supplied to us with gigabytes of crapware on them and required best part of two days per PC to set-up for the various business environments. Because they were almost never the same hardware base, imaging was inappropriate, and we only ever invoiced the client for half the time we spent setting up each PC, because it was costing two or three times the price of a cheap consumer PC in order to set it up for the business... crazy. Still, I'm doing my PhD now and only go back for projects every few weeks.

By PaulDGodden on 20 Dec 2012

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Steve Cassidy

Steve Cassidy

Steve is a networks expert and a contributing editor to PC Pro for more years than he cares to remember. He mixes network technologies, particularly wide-area communications and thin-client computing, with human resources consultancy.

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