PC Upgrade in Full Full Swing

by Noel Laam
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Early in the morning, piles of cardboard boxes lined the corridor and staff running up and down were busy checking the machines to make sure that they were in good condition and ready for use. Then the staff wheeled them to different locations lot by lot for the scheduled replacement, and the real hard work had just begun.

The setting was not the aircraft depot of the Hong Kong International Airport. It was the campus of the CityU in which the PC upgrade exercise was well underway. After months of discussion, the University finally made the decision in November 1999 to embark on the large-scale PC upgrade exercise.

Funding Sources and PC Configurations

There were 3 sources of funding for this exercise:

  1. Central University Fund - for the PCs in the academic departments and requires the departments to allocate a matching fund for this exercise. The funds were looked after by the CSC.

  2. Central IT Fund - for the student PCs for open access in various departments, and was provided by the VP/PI.

  3. Individual Fund - for the PCs in non-academic departments and was supported by the respective line managers.

The CSC was commissioned to be the central co-ordinator for this exercise and a tender was offered to Dell Computer, the world's largest direct computer systems company, after careful evaluation of several PC models.

Almost all departments (22 academic and 19 non-academic) were involved in this campus-wide exercise and apart from the standard configurations, many departments have also opted for a change of their monitors as well. Below is a glance of the advanced models selected for you:

 
 

Model Selected

Number of PCs

Number of Monitors

Staff PCs in academic departments

Dell Precision WS200 - Pentium III 866MHZ, 30GB Hard disk, 128MB RAM, Sound Card, Speakers/headset, DVD

961

732

Staff PCs in non-academic departments

Dell Optiplex GX200 - Pentium III 800MHZ, 30GB Hard disk, 128MB RAM, Sound Card, Speakers/headset, DVD

497

254

Student PCs in various departments

Dell Optiplex GX200 -Pentium III 800MHZ, 30GB Hard disk, 128MB RAM, Sound Card, Speakers/headset, DVD

795

436

On top of this, other peripherals such as reborn card, modem and zip drive were supplied upon individual request. Currently, there are still some 700 student and staff PCs in the CSC and the Library (LIB) pending for the final approval of funding before they can be replaced.

Upgrade Preparation & the Installation Team

This largest ever PC upgrade exercise since the foundation of the University naturally required a thorough and meticulous preparation before the actual installation took place. The CSC has overseen the whole process: liaison with all the participating departments via the CSC representatives, labelling all the PCs that were to be upgraded, drawing up the installation schedule while taking into account the departments' requests, holding numerous meetings with the Dell engineers and users to finalise all the details and following up the shipment of new machines to make sure that they would arrive on time.

The actual installation work was carried out by a designated team of the Dell Computer with the supervision and assistance of the CSC. This installation team of 40 technicians was divided into group of 10 and they headed towards various departments starting from early August. On average, each technician could upgrade 2 machines a day as the installation work was more complicated than it might appear: all data and systems/programmes have to be transferred from the old machine to the new one and careful configuration of the latter was needed to ensure the network compatibility, which was tedious and time-consuming.

The team was working diligently to try to meet the timetable, and 1,000 machines were already done by mid-August. Hopefully, the installation will be completed by the end of August 2000 as scheduled.

Problems Encountered

Problems would be inevitable for such a large scale campus-wide exercise, and below were just some prominent ones:

  • Some old devices such as writing pad, modem cards etc. took much longer time to be transferred to the new machines.

  • Installation scheduling was rather complicated as some departments changed their time slots from time to time, and their requests for deferral of installation also affected the smooth operation as planned.

  • The CSC provided temporary storage for machines for some particular departments, as they simply did not have the space to pile up the PCs.

  • Death on Arrival (DOA) - the phenomenon that the PCs were not in working condition when they arrived - was found due to transportation failure, and replacement was ordered immediately to try to make up for the time lost.

  • Some hard disks in the old machines were not compatible to the ones in the new PCs, and this ended up in great difficulties for the technicians as much more time and effort was needed to upgrade such computers.

  • Since the installation team was not familiar with the campus network and the environment in general, the CSC staff have to provide ad hoc hardware and software support whenever needed to avoid any unnecessary delay.

  • Some users failed to backup their hard disk or clear up their data in their old machines, which might lead to serious consequences.

Destinations of Old Machines

One may be curious about where the old machines will go, as there are really quite a lot of them (over 2,000). For the better models, either the departments concerned will retain them after giving full explanation and given proper approval, or the CSC will collect them to run the "Computer for Student-in-need Programme 2000" for the benefit of our students. For the rest, however, they will be disposed of by the FO and then wait for the open sale later.

The success of the PC upgrade exercise depends not only on the advanced models chosen, but also on the complementary campus devices and network that support them. Therefore, the latter will need to be upgraded accordingly in order to guarantee the jump in performance as envisaged. The CSC will, as usual, pay heed to every aspect to ensure all things intact and done to users' satisfaction.