A computer is just a computer, right?
You would think that, as they are everywhere; ubiquitous even. And we are used to using our personal computers to accomplish a range of tasks, everything from word processing, balancing financial spreadsheets, and keeping up on current events, to video chatting with family, friends, and colleagues thousands of miles away, watching movies, or playing games. Such computers are sometimes called general-purpose computers; and thanks to their versatility, it seems to many people that there's simply nothing they can't do.
However, computers are machines designed to do certain jobs under certain conditions. A general-purpose computer is suited for light-duty tasks like those listed above but is wholly inadequate for computationally-intensive tasks that one might have to do on large datasets. A machine that sits on a professor's desk for answering emails is completely inadequate for statistical model analysis of large datasets or sustained data processing. Likewise, browsing to Facebook on a dedicated database server and writing a post to the social network site is not only considered an inappropriate use of resources, it might actually require a Herculean effort to execute! These might seem like extreme examples, but they are actually quite common in a computational environment as diverse as ours here at the University of Texas at Austin.
Even the physical environments of research labs and university policies regulating workplace conditions and physical security place constraints on which computers are right for a given job, as well as where computers can be housed and how they must be maintained. Some labs here at UT have very harsh environments that require computers to have additional cooling or protective shielding from such factors as heat, debris, electromagnetic interference, or even explosions! Our networks provide services for authentication, backups, and security, thereby keeping machines in compliance; but the machines must still be properly placed, outfitted and configured.
In short, computers are diverse in their design, construction, and intended use; and as with other tools, when choosing a computer, you should select the right tool for the job.
When it comes to finding the right computers for your jobs, let CNS OIT sweat the details. We can get you a great state rate on a machine from Dell, or any other vendor you prefer. We can ensure 100% compatibility with UT's networks, compliance with university standards; and ensure that all user data gets backed up securely. We can ensure your software is legally licensed, properly installed, and kept in working order for the life of the machine. We order computers with warranties that cover anything that can happen. And if your data processing demands require a custom-built system, we can ensure, with our combined years of experience, that the hardware components will work together when the power comes on.
Have an optics program that requires a certain video board? We will ensure your CPU isn't going to create a conflict or a performance issue. Not sure of the amount of RAM you should get so that your finite element analyses run as you expect? Let us handle and support it.
Before you buy or build your next computer, please confer with us. We can save you time and money.
Written by Hampton Finger, Senior System Administrator
Questions or comments? The best and easiest way to contact us is via the CNS Help Desk form.