Air Force blades slice PC support time

CIO sees advantages in hardware's architecture for better security and ergonomics; users enjoy more desktop space

A three-month test at an Air Force medical clinic found that rackmounted blade PCs save support time compared with standard desktop clients.

Clinic IT officials don't yet have free rein to install the blade clients throughout the Air Force Medical Support Agency, but decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, said Air Force Capt. Timothy Ohrenberger, CIO of the 75th Medical Group at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

By Ohrenberger's analysis, the rackmount PCs saved 79 percent to 96 percent of the usual times for imaging the client software, swapping out failed PCs and making IT support calls.

On your mark

In a blade architecture, CPUs reside in a rack inside a locked data center instead of on users' desks. An Ethernet connects users to their CPUs. Last year the clinic's IT staff installed 44 blade PCs and one blade server in the 75th Medical Group's annex. ClearCube Technology Inc. of Austin, Texas, supplied the hardware.

For three months, Ohrenberger and his employees timed all their normal support tasks, from equipment arrival through setup, user support, breakdowns and warranty repairs.

The test ended in August, and Ohrenberger compared the duration of the blade-PC tasks with those for conventional desktop clients.

Imaging the blade PCs took 9 minutes compared with 3.5 hours for the standard systems, Ohrenberger said in a report to the Air Force Medical Support Agency.

Retrieving and swapping out a failed PC dropped from 43 minutes to 9 minutes. User downtime was slashed from 43 minutes to a couple of minutes, and IT staff spent 83 percent less time on support calls.

Based on his previous cost-of-ownership study using analysts' estimates, Ohrenberger said he had expected time savings from the blade computers, though not necessarily so much.

Get set, go

Ohrenberger's report praised the ClearCube architecture for better security and ergonomics and less disposable packing material than with conventional desktop PCs.

By and large, users and IT workers like the blade computers, he said, though 'of course you're going to run into some change management issues any time you change something.' What his users liked best was regaining desk space because of the blade's smaller footprint.

At first some users voiced concern about not having their own CD-ROM or floppy drives, Ohrenberger said.

Where necessary, such drives could be plugged into a Universal Serial Bus port on the small C/Port boxes that reside on ClearCube users' desks.

The medical support agency refreshes one-third of its computers annually. Ohrenberger recommended that Air Force medical clinic CIOs be given the choice of rackmount or distributed architecture in future buys.

The 44 ClearCube PCs that were part of the pilot are still running at the clinic. Ohrenberger said his department spent $76,000 on the pilot, instead of the estimated $101,715, by using existing monitors instead of new flat-panel displays.

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