Bring Your Own Confusion

Bring Your Own Confusion

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.