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Should a corporation build or buy OEM?

Posted on 2002-03-26
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Glad to increase points on this question for compelling answers. Should a small company (under 200 workstations) build their own, or buy their PCs?

Website references, white papers welcome!

Argument against buying OEM:
All in all, it takes a long time to fix problems! For example:

Proprietary drivers causing strange situations.
Warranties that require hours of often useless time on hold/talking to someone who knows less than you/running meaningless tests.
Can't replace a broken part (voids warranty - have to go through procedure to get an approved tech/part in to do the replacing).
Can't specify highest quality chipset, such as ASUS.
Can't mix and match some parts effectively.
Drivers/driver disks change from PC to PC for same model numbers.
Can't improve the PC build when problems and improvements are found
Etc.

Advice please!

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Question by:esc_toe_account
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Wakeup earned 125 total points
ID: 6897520
Well there are a few reasons to go either way.  

I used to work for a Ma and pa computer store, and we catered to the likes of Pacific Bell, Sacramento Bee, Burea of Land Management, and many more Large companies.  Over 100 computers in size and up.  But also catered to home based users and small companies as well.  So I think that this would fall in the category of Build their own.
The reason why the large companies bought computers from us, is the SUPPORT.  That was the big thing.  If your company has an inhouse IT department, or Desktop Tech support etc, this is a good way to go.  If you can find a good Computer store to buy from and will let you work on the computers without voiding warranty.  The other good feature that we had was that if there was a problem with the hardware any piece of it, the client Pacific Bell for example, if the Hard drive went out...Pacbell would have spare drives, so all they hard to do was get their own tech to replace the drive with a spare and bring us the bad one and we would replace it with same size or better if same size was not in stock.  Another good thing about this is that If the store provides good brands and high level support of equipment and non proprietary standards, then you get great equipment and an easy time upgrading PC's in the future.

So if you have a good relationship with a computer store such as that, that is a good route to go.  The minuses are if you do not have an inhouse Tech, If you have problems with the hardware you have to either bring it back or outsource your work.  Which could leave you without a PC for a day or maybe longer (Depending on the store's timeframe to work on it) if the company is too busy.  
A bad  thing is if you can't find the support from a company like that, IE: Wont let you touch the inside of the computer without voiding warranty, walk in bad parts, or tradein of bad parts.  A bad thing is that if the company can't supply the need for the demand.  If you need 100 computers and they can't supply that in a certain given time because of their size, some of the parts may have to be different or non standardized.  Say you want to buy 100 computers 1.2 GHZ Intel proc, 512 MB ram.  Well they have 70 1.2 GHZ proccessors.  But could substitue the last 30 for AMD.  Does your company decide well we go AMD for the 30?  or Wait for 30 Intel?  If you want it to be standardized within your company you may have to wait for the 30 intel chips.  If you can't wait do you go AMD for the 30?  IF you do that then your systems are not quite the same.  Which may prove to be a problem in the future, if you need to make images of systems for quick easy restore (Using Ghost) or some other type of program.  Because the systems are not standard you will need two different builds etc etc.  And can go on down the road the same way if you have to change other parts inside the computer.  Different Video Card, Sound card, nic cards etc.


Now buying their PC's:  The Pro's and con's.

I used to work for Portland General Electric in the Desktop Technical Support group.  We bought Compaq computers.  We almost went Dell, but the support wasn't there for us.  The company is made of 3000+ computers.  We "Vintage" oour computers every 3 years (vintage: is basically replacing the older computer if older than 3 years with the newest model and keep that for 3 years and vintage that out etc).  This worked for us as well as the one above, except that we were locked in to what Compaq could supply.  Their own systems.  However we were able to work on them.  Put our own products inside it and troubleshoot and fix our own computers.  They did have an onsite technician that was compaq certified that we could call on to come fix certain things we can't.  That is another reason why our company decided to go with Compaq and not Dell.  The other good thing about this is that all the computers were standardized.  We could Create a ghost image of one machine and ghost it onto all the machines that were of like build.  Makes for easy cleanup if an employee left the company we threw in a Ghost image of the system and wiped it that way.  The minuses of this route is that we payed lots of money to have the opportunity to work on the PC's ourselves, and to hire an onsite technician.  If we had bad PC's or parts we would have to wait a few days or so to get replacements.  Turnaround time could be slow sometimes.  

Other than that they are both different, and good.  But it all depends on the needs of your company.
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by:esc_toe_account
ID: 6898168
Clarification:

With too few techs of course it doesn't make sense to build and service our own - but we have more than one tech.

Would move to standardized build-our-own unless benefits are not there. Standard Ghosts, replacement parts, etc.

If build our own, would keep spare parts so we don't have to wait for replacements, and if we can't fix it easily, we'd replace it and work on it where it doesn't affect the user.

Have 70% Dell now. Very hard to see benefits of Dell, except have so many of their machines. Can't find a compelling reason to go all Dell, but would also need strong reasons to move away from Dell since we have so many of their machines now.
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by:Wakeup
ID: 6898200
Understandable.  If you are unhappy with Dell, then I would suggest that you move away from them and try someone else?  From the sounds of it, you are not seeing a good reason to stay with them.  If they are not providing the service or the cost for services rendered are not meeting the make so to speak, then you should go somewhere else.
Granted you have so many Dell machines, but if you start say a "Vintage" process and move away from Dell that would not be bad.  PGE, would sell or auction the Old vintaged Computers and replace them with new ones every three years.  It worked well for us that way.  If you start that process you would probably be done with Dell in almost 3 years.

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by:Wakeup
ID: 6898202
Understandable.  If you are unhappy with Dell, then I would suggest that you move away from them and try someone else?  From the sounds of it, you are not seeing a good reason to stay with them.  If they are not providing the service or the cost for services rendered are not meeting the make so to speak, then you should go somewhere else.
Granted you have so many Dell machines, but if you start say a "Vintage" process and move away from Dell that would not be bad.  PGE, would sell or auction the Old vintaged Computers and replace them with new ones every three years.  It worked well for us that way.  If you start that process you would probably be done with Dell in almost 3 years.

Just something to think about anyway...
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by:esc_toe_account
ID: 6898310
It's not a decision to be made by just one person, hence we need more information to support either course of action, hence this question.

Really, without more compelling reasons from outside sources supporting internal experience to move away from Dell, we probably won't. I am concerned this might be an error.
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by:wokboy
ID: 6900858
Sounds like you are going to need to really look hard at the pro's and con's of your current experience with DELL.

Establish what really are issues that would concern DELL (ie DELL hardware) and what issues are related to operating environment which may depend on hardware. Do you even require a standard operating environment?

Only if you establish what your current problems are now, can you make a reasonable assessment of how to go forward.

As you can tell from all the posts there are many considerations to be made because both scenarios can work but are dependent on what you require.

Write down what you require, then find out if DELL is currently providing these requirements. Can they ever be provided by DELL? If not then you have reason to look elsewhere.

Having a look at the list of concerns you had

>Proprietary drivers causing strange situations.

What strange situations? Were they solved via patches from the program vendor or windows patches? What was the fix do you think DELL should have released a patchfor your particular problem? Was DELL to blame?

>Warranties that require hours of often useless time on hold/talking to someone who knows less than you/running
meaningless tests.

This is known as information gathering, the technical support engineer at the other end will always ask you these questions to establish whether the issue is covered by warranty or not. Remember when 99.9 percent of people ring for help they are infintely more familiar with the problem than the support person hence they have to ask questions, they are not mind readers. As far as being less knowledgeable than you thats a debate that can go on forever.

>Can't replace a broken part (voids warranty - have to go through procedure to get an approved tech/part
in to do the replacing).

Is there a DELL certifcation program that allows you to expedite the replacement of parts. Can you get a contract service agreement with DELL that lets you replace parts. How important is this downtime? Can you upgrade your warranty to improve respnse times? You mentioned before you had potential to have replacement machines.

>Can't specify highest quality chipset, such as ASUS.

How important is the latest chipset ? How often are you changing your environment that requires the latest chipset? What is the business requirement to have the latest and greatest as soon as its invented?

>Can't mix and match some parts effectively.

How often are you changing hardware in the system? What parts are you mixing and matching? Are there 3rd party parts you need that simply don't work on a DELL?

>Drivers/driver disks change from PC to PC for same model numbers.

In a DELL scenario if the PCS are all the same the driver kits are the same. Not sure what you mean here. If its working why are we changing it?

>Can't improve the PC build when problems and improvements are found Etc.

Why not?

Gather the info and analyse it, once you know what you want find someone or something that can supply it.

Good Luck :)





 
 
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Author Comment

by:esc_toe_account
ID: 6903204
wokboy -

Strange situations include standard setups working improperly until duplicate TCP/IP entries are restored from driver disks; components in Device Manager in error until no-related-name drivers are loaded; machines working improperly that test as Okay with Dell test software (required by Dell) but fail other test software (such as RAM failures); a machine we felt needed replacement (strange short) that instead had all parts replaced one-by-one, then AGAIN Dell began replacing all parts one-by-one .. none of which fixed the machine (we finally negotiated a replacement).

No particular complaint about the information gathering portion of the call. That takes very little time compared to time on hold. Level of knowledge is NOT an endless debate. No complaint when a knowledgeable tech is reached. It is almost always clear whether the tech is as knowledgeable or more than I, or less knowledgeable. See previous regarding meaningless tests - tests that take over 5 hours that the PC passes when failure information is already available I consider problematic.

Can't get a contract service agreement with DELL that lets us replace parts. Downtime is very important, since we have phone service reps and developers who have no job function without their PC.

Highest quality doesn't mean latest and greatest .. it means highest quality. Buying quality is the number one way to prevent problems.

"In a DELL scenario if the PCS are all the same the driver kits are the same" Not correct if you mean "the same model number." Driver kits change from PC to PC, this information is straight from Dell tech support.

We can't improve the PC build because we can't change the PC build without voiding warranty, and because of proprietary driver situations that are undocumented (see above).
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by:Wakeup
ID: 6911211
esc,
Maybe it is time to move away from dell?  I know PGE uses Compaq, and the agreement we have with them is really a good deal and they beat Dell in price.  Start slowly replacing systems.  They let us do inhouse work on the PC's as well as troubleshooting them.  Turn around time is not too bad.  Specially since we get to do our own inhouse work on them.  
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by:wokboy
ID: 6911239
esc,

Good Stuff, taking all what you said in reply into account.

Do you think its of value to stay with DELL? Are they giving you what you want?
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Author Comment

by:esc_toe_account
ID: 6913206
Some feel we should stay with DELL, some don't. I'm trying to gather facts and opinions outside what we have internally to help resolve the debate.
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Author Comment

by:esc_toe_account
ID: 6915952
See also points for wokboy
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by:Wakeup
ID: 6916057
esc, thanks for the points.  Have you guys come up with any Ideas for the company?
Or is it still up in the air?
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by:Adm_Tronthor
ID: 9395801
I'd like to way in on this one.

I work for a small municipal government.  We have a staff of 2 and support 5 physical locations and that will potentially be expanded to include an additional 5 quai agency locations at least from the networking aspect.

We have in the neighborhood of 200-250 machines all tolled and they vary in manufacture.  I began work in April 2003 and that fell near the end of hte fiscal year and the flurry of buying that goes with it.  On day 2 we received 3 Compaq machines (evo 510 pc's if I recall corectly) wich were thrown into the mix of Compaq, Gateway, Dell, and previously contracted noname boxes (pentium I's that are phasing out finally)  So, I DO NOT have the 70% brand name consistency that the original esc_toe_account has.

So, the requests for new equipment came in for this and the other department, anbd the few capital progjects taht were not budget year contrained and the serch for fitting equipment began.

The results were interesting.  For same $$ I could always beat the box makers and have a suprior product.  I could match their machines for less.  Obvioulsy we were not paying for hte assembly and config time/labor.  However, when you look closer you find other issues.  Dell for instance, the name on the outside is the same, and the model number might be the same, but you have no assurance that the components, right down to the motherboard are the same, or even in the same family.  We would start with a likely candidate for the need and then tweak the config.  The result would be that changing small items 128->512 MB ram or even 256->512 MB Ram would jump the price far more than even 100% markup on the Dimms woudl account for.  The only explanation is that other unlisted components were changing as well.  In the case of memmory, motherboard is most likely candidate.

In contrast to this, if you hunt down the parts, you can be sure of who's components go into your machines.  Of the 13 machines that I built in this flurry, all have Seagate drives.  Be they best or worst is matter of opinion, but I, and my boss, who have to support them, like them the best. (if anyone has a better IDE drive maker to suggest, by all means let me know) I also have all the systems running off the same base mobo, in this case SOYO KT400's - being new and this my first major "thing" that I was putting neck on, I went with my comfort level....also happen to be nice boards.  I also selected cases taht are easy to get into and out of.  The sort of heat solutions used was taylored to suit the specific location of the pc - inthe case of hte Police Dispatch PC, this is a machine that is online and in use 24x7, in an inclosed space, with mulitple users, in the midsts of lots of other electronic gear, and if the dispatcher gets a little chily they turn UP the HEAT.  Thus I was able to ensure that this machine would not over heat....the machine is also running RAID-1 from onboad controllers....to get that in a Dell, you are looking at low end server machine - cost is no contest.

These are the sort of considerations that you cannot get with the big name box makers.

On going support IS an issue.  In our case we selected components based onthe manufacturer's support, in the case of the afore mentioned Seagate drives, a failed drive is RMAd with nearly no fuss from manufacturer.  The online Seatools, if they determine the drive is faulty will take you right the RMA generation page and you have the RMA in hand in minutes, replacement drive in hand within the week.  If you are lucky enough to have budget to have spares on the shelf, even better....I don't (yet)  BUT the fact that I built up 13 different machines with nearly identical components mean that I can steal from Peter to keep Pauline up and running if the need is there.

My suggestion would be to do your homework upfront and decide on some standardized items, HDD size and make for one.  Expandability (future) for another.  In our case, these machines wil be recycled and reallocated until they will not run the software du jour or melt to a blob of slag.  Look at your replacement policies and potential changes to those.  You may have to live with your decisions for a long time.

Lastly, I think it's fun to bulid the boxes ourselves.  Job satisfaction is a key part.  And I know, down to the wire, how my machines went together.

Good Luck.
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