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Question of the Month: Things Fall Apart

Nothing lasts forever, particularly at schools, which must be one of the toughest environments for computers to operate in. After all, they’re used by many different people, take a daily beating and need to last longer than those used in businesses. What technology items break the most in your district, what are the standard warranties enough to cover the repairs and are extended warranties worth the cost?

John Orbaugh (2) John Orbaugh
Director of Technology Services
Tyler Independent School District
Tyler, Texas

In our district, like most I am sure, have our biggest problems where we have the most equipment: our desktops. We typically purchase our PCs with a three-year warranty. Our district technicians are certified by our vendor to complete warranty repairs. Since we are certified in their warranty program not only does the vendor sends us our parts free of charge, but they also pay us for the cost of the repair.

The money we earn from doing warranty repairs is used to supplement the parts budget for our systems that are no longer in warranty. Given that we use our PCs well past their useful lifetime having these extra funds is important to our budget. There is a cost associated with being enrolled in the warranty program, but because we have been able to concentrate our PC purchases with one vendor we typically see that cost waived.

John Laws John Laws
Executive Director for Technology
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio

As a rule we purchase extended warranties on parts and labor for PCs, servers or network gear for between five and seven years. This typically pushes our responsibility for repairs into year six on PCs with servers and network gear going a full seven years. The standard plus extended warranties keep the machines humming along for their entire life and we take on the repair ourselves if forced to extend the PCs life into year six (our replacement cycle is set for five years on a PC).

Strangely enough, the most expensive (and painful to deal with) single item in our inventory is network ports. It is amazing how often staff or students pull on the cable, run over the cable with a cart or just forget they have it plugged in. All it takes is one good tug on the end of the cable and the face plate connection snaps off. Since many of the lines were installed in the late 1990s using Ohio SchoolNet funding we usually replace the entire line from the head-end.

The cost of copper cabling skyrocketed: our average drop costs $300. If I had to pick one thing that just “happens” it would be this one item. It costs us over $30,000 annually.
One odd note, we have 1,200 thin clients that each have a 50 cent battery that require replacement annually. Consider spreading 1,200 units across 24 buildings and you begin to realize that while it may be a fifty cent battery it costs significantly more in time just to go to the building, open the case and replace the tiny watch battery. Thin clients are great time and money savers, but I didn’t see this one coming when we decided to add these to our fleet.
If I have to complain about warranties it would be about AV equipment. Projectors come with a one or two year warranty and some even offer an optional third year for a price, but after that you’re on your own. Fortunately the bulk of our projectors are wall mounted 3M units and we’ve not had the problems with these compared to the cart units. Could be the cart units “fall” off once in awhile, but funny how this is never mentioned in the Service Request system by the teacher.
Again, our motto is better to be safe than sorry, so we spend the money upfront to ensure the machines have platinum level support throughout the live cycle. In the long run this allows us to have fewer on-site technicians and delivers consistent processes for everyone to follow across the enterprise.

Mark Weedy Mark Weedy
Retired Superintendent
Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools
Groveport, Ohio

The technology item that tends to break the most is the laptop. When the one-to-one laptop project was instituted two years ago, that was anticipated due to students carrying the laptop with them everywhere they went. Common occurrences include the laptop being dropped and falling off a desk or table. It was not a surprise to the administration and technology folks that the students had less of these occurrences than staff members. 

The research we did prior to implementing the one-to-one laptop project included talking with other districts that had already implemented a similar project. These districts told us that they had more issues with staff taking care of the laptops than the students, and that was our experience as well. 

As for warranties, we always tried to get a three-year warranty period if we did not have in-house repair services. When the one-to-one laptop project was initiated, we began in-house repair services. This helped greatly in the down time for broken laptops.


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