Kiosks go to war to dispense spare parts

Copying the hotel minibar model, Dell Inc. has fielded a half-dozen parts kiosks that are traveling with military units in and around the Persian Gulf.

The military "has found that the dusty environment causes mechanical problems" with computer components such as mice and floppy disks, said Thomas S. Buchsbaum, Dell's federal vice president. "There are tens of thousands of notebook PCs fielded. They can use optical mice and USB key-chain storage," but Dell decided to build the parts kiosks instead for units on the move, out of reach of the supply chain.

The refrigerator-sized kiosk automatically tracks its inventory of spare parts ranging from replacement notebooks to storage area network drives. After a bar-coded part is taken out, the kiosk alerts Dell, the customer command or both whenever the kiosk next senses "any kind of Internet connection," Buchsbaum said. Replacements can be expressed to meet a ship at the next port if necessary, he said.

The kiosk program started with the Navy but has expanded to other military units, he said.

All the kiosks report to Dell's enterprise command center in Austin, Texas, where their status is visible on screen.

"We built the kiosks in large and small sizes for specific equipment requirements," Buchsbaum said. "But 80 percent of problems are related to software, and we can remotely resolve most of those over the phone.'

Dell also has packaged full SANs in deployable cases with uninterruptible power supplies for units "that need to pick up and move extremely quickly," he said.

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