Preparing new computers for deployment used to be a very time-consuming task for information technology support consultants. When the time came for a large refresh, it could take a consultant weeks to configure the machines and get them up and running in offices, labs, or classrooms.
The Extended Technical Support (ETS) Service Center has made that process far more efficient, providing 48 network connections and a team of student employees who handle tasks like computer imaging and deployment, freeing up IT consultants to spend more time helping customers in their units.
Located in the basement of Jessup Hall, the center is staffed with 10 students and two full-time employees who help manage it. They handle a host of duties: receiving new equipment, inventory records and audits, wiping or shredding drives, and redistributing or disposing of equipment. Previously the same work was performed by IT support staff all over campus.
“My primary support group, the Vice President for Research Organization, has departments all over campus, including at Oakdale. Preparing and moving equipment used to take a significant portion of my day,” says Chris Clough, who leads a team of support consultants in ETS. “Utilizing service center students to help with that gives me more time to focus on the in-person support ETS strives to provide.”
Methods for tracking equipment varied when each unit handled its own. Establishing the ETS Service Center helped to standardize processes, improving accuracy and reliability and creating efficiency.
“Some things that previously may have taken weeks can now be done quickly,” says ETS Manager Shawn Potter. “Using imaging new machines as an example, we can image up to 144 computers in a day, whereas a consultant working with a couple data ports at their desk might get through one or two.”
The meticulously organized space, which previously housed the university’s now-retired mainframe computer, has staging areas and workstations for specific purposes. There’s a check-in area for equipment drop-off and a spot for creating inventory records and labels. A bench work area is used for hardware repair, wiping drives, and imaging. There’s also plenty of shelving and storage, necessary for housing large shipments as well as surplus and backup equipment.
The service has been especially valuable to Andy Jenkins, IT director for the Graduate College, which has units distributed all over campus. The college never had a good space to have 20 or 50 machines delivered—not to mentioned imaged, inventoried, and readied for delivery to the end users.
“When we did big orders, we would have to clear out space in the offices of our IT staff, stack boxes to the ceiling, and then work to get them imaged one or two machines at a time with all the associated hassles of unboxing, inventorying, and disposing of packing materials,” Jenkins says. “Now we deal with none of that; I order computers delivered to the ETS Service Center, and it’s between them and the ETS consultant to manage the things that need to happen to get them onto the desks of our users.”
Equipment that goes through the service center can come from or go to any location on campus supported by ETS, including faculty or staff offices, research labs, museums, facilities such as Hancher, conference rooms, or classrooms. Having a central location where equipment is funneled for surplus has helped ETS identify equipment that still has life and match it with areas that have a need.
“Often times we will arrange to hold on to equipment and have it transferred to another department,” Potter says. “A good example of this is recently as part of a domain-migration project with the State Hygienic Lab they had a need for 150 devices with TPM chips. We were able to identify computers newer than what they had with the needed TPM chips and transfer ownership to the lab.”
Clough, the team lead in ETS, agrees that having dedicated staff who know what equipment exists in storage is invaluable.
“It has helped tremendously,” Clough says. “We frequently look for equipment that can be repurposed—for example, I recently needed to replace a fax machine for a user. The ETS Service Center found and signed over an old device from another group that was slated for UI Surplus. Reusing equipment in this manner saves the University of Iowa money and is eco-friendly.”