Wandering Thoughts archives


A peculiarity of hardware at universities

One of the peculiar things you find at universities (and probably almost nowhere else) is expensive hardware without any sort of maintenance contract. This is usually not the result of insanity combined with cheapness, but instead the result of companies donating hardware to researchers.

Computer makers love to donate hardware, because the cost to them is just the manufacturing cost (at most), but they get credit (probably including tax writeoffs) for the full list price, even if no one is actually buying the hardware at that price. But throwing in maintenance would cost them actual real money, so you almost never get that included in the deal.

(The cost to the company can be less than the manufacturing cost if the company is sitting on slow-moving excess inventory.)

Now, in theory researchers could then buy maintenance with their own money. In theory. In practice, maintenance on this sort of donation is quite expensive and few researchers have that kind of spare cash floating around. And no researcher or university can afford to turn down a large hardware donation without an ironclad reason.

(In practice universities will go to pretty great lengths to accept donations, even at not insubstantial costs to themselves for things like site preparation.)

So researchers and universities accept the hardware, plan to make do, and hope nothing breaks. Then when things do break, we get to fish around deep in the depths of expensive hardware and try to kludge things together using anything that works. This can be horrifying to ordinary rational people, who don't understand why the graduate student is using twist-ties and eBay'd parts to patch up a million dollar IMoon machine instead of calling in the professionals.

(Such machines also often lack real system administrators and/or real backups, because there wasn't money for them either.)

tech/UniversityHardwareOddity written at 23:28:14; Add Comment

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