Into the world of Information Technology

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November 3, 2009

3:32 AM

When hard drives fail and blue screens abound, students with a myNotebook laptop have sought out the support services of Information Technology. But most students at the College of William and Mary have no knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in the basement of Jones Hall.

The College’s IT department maintains the campus computer labs, phone system, myWM, Banner and the e-mail servers.

Usually students only encounter the public face of the department when two student employees at the front desk attempt to diagnose a computer’s problem and repair it on the spot.

“Some things you’re replacing right here while you wait, so we do some keyboards, CD drives, AC adapters, hard drives,” Manager of Technology Support Center Brian Persinger said.

Of all of the computers brought to IT, around 20 percent of them are repaired at the front desk, within fifteen minutes. But if the damage is more serious, the computer is checked in and brought to the back room where staff technicians dismantle the computer to replace broken parts.

“Spills are a pain,” Technology Support Engineer Danny Clouser said. “I had one yesterday where I had to replace eight or 10 parts because somebody dumped a coke on it.”

The technicians can draw from numerous drawers filled with the parts for each computer model in the
myNotebook program.

“The way it works is that [the manufacturers] give us one computer for every 100 computers sold and we take that one computer and break it down into parts,” Persinger said.

Once the broken parts are replaced in a student’s laptop, the broken pieces are sent to the manufacturer, who then restocks the parts assembly in IT’s back room. When the computer is fixed, it heads to the front desk for the student to pickup.

Computers are usually returned within a day, with three days as the maximum. If a computer has multiple parts failures, the technicians will sometimes, reluctantly, send the computer back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement of the unit.

“We always want to get the computer back in the student’s hands as quickly as possible so they can do their schoolwork,” Persinger said.

Persinger said that IT has recently changed its support policy to stop backup and data retrieval for myNotebook computers because a single hard drive would take the staff hours to backup.

“Our turn-around time was always around three days, but we wanted that to be our maximum, not our norm,” he said. “So we decided to make some changes which was getting some repairs done up front and eliminating us being responsible for helping users restore data.”

Technicians will not only repair any myNotebook computer, but also will attempt to fix any student, staff and faculty Lenovo or Dell computer that has an active hardware warranty.

Though they are not directly involved, the department also provides consulting to the Tribe Apple Center in the ID Office.

The myNotebook program, established five years ago, was designed to have a consistent hardware in the student populace.

“It would have given the professors much more flexibility to incorporate technology into their teaching because everybody had [the same computer],” Chris Ward, Director of Systems and Support said. “But that didn’t work.”

The idea never truly took off as diversity in campus computers has increased over the years.
myNotebook laptops have declined in popularity, and now constitute only 50 percent of College’s computers, down from 80 percent five years ago.

IT strongly recommends that all students back up their hard drive. Ward said that one professor had to learn that the hard way when she paid $1,000 dollars to an outside company to extract her book off a failed hard drive.

“We have a tech that always says there are two kinds of people,” Ward said. “There are those who have lost data and those who will lose data. So back-up your data.”

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