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30 Macs, 30 PCs, 9 Mountain Dews, & 1 Cherry Coke

30 Macs, 30 PCs, 9 Mountain Dews, & 1 Cherry Coke

by , 9:00 AM EDT, August 15th, 2001

Have you ever wondered why the typical PC systems administrator is absolutely addicted to coffee and Mountain Dew? I would suggest that it's the caffeine required to keep them on the move all day and all night that drives them to such beverage decisions. Me personally? I'm a Cherry Coke drinker and stay away from Mountain Dew as much as possible. I don't need that extra push to get me through the day. I'm a Macintosh systems technician for my local K-12 school district.

There is nothing more frustrating to a systems administrator than spending all day setting up a computer lab or two, especially when there are twenty more identical labs to be installed elsewhere before the school year starts. With the school year starting next week for many districts, the stockpile of Dew is at its highest point.

My Cherry Coke supply, however, is at normal levels.

With the Mac side of things in the district drawing to a standstill, I recently decided to go lend a hand to our Windows specialist (who was going to set up a lab of 30 brand new Dells). I arrive at the school at 8 AM and the un-boxing begins. There are thirty computer boxes and thirty monitor boxes — twice as many boxes as with iMacs. We get all the computers out on the table and begin to set monitors on top of each machine. Next we go back around the tables and plug in the monitors and keyboards (which all have to be plugged in at the back). By this time, the two of us have spent about 30 minutes to accomplish these tasks.

One empty Mountain Dew can in the recycling bin...

Right about now, most people would want to boot the computers up and be done with it, but alas, that is not to be. We must first customize one machine with all of our standard software. That’s one-single machine, in case any of you missed that the first time around. This begins with a complete wipe of the internal hard drive and a clean install of Windows 2000 Professional Edition (if there are such things as clean installs in the Windows world). On top of this install we add custom system settings and drivers that are specific to that lab of computers. There's another 45 minutes spent.

Two empty Mountain Dew cans in the recycling bin...

Oh, wait! This is the CAD lab. We need to install more software. "Brad, go grab me another Mountain Dew." I go find the vending machines while he starts installing software specific for CAD labs (usually about three pieces of software). When I come back three minutes later we're still on install one of three. I hand him the Dew and wait.

20 minutes later there are three empty Mountain Dew cans in the recycling bin...

Alright! The installs on this single machine are finished. Now we have to create an image of this master machine so we can make the other machines in the lab identical. He fires up a program called ImageCast and we wait for another ten minutes while the computer creates an image of itself, then another 20 minutes while it sends the image over the network to a server with a CD burner attached to it. Once the image is successfully sent across the network it can then be burned to CDs.
On average, the image created is about 2 GB of data (with all the additional applications and the general bulk of Windows), or about three CDs worth of information. The image is split up across those three CDs and then each disk is burned one by one (about ten minutes a disc). Are you keeping track of the total minutes spent in this lab so far? I lost count so I'm just counting Dew cans now.

I take the first disc and place it in the first machine, making sure I first adjust the boot disk in the F2 Setup menu upon startup. The image begins copying to the hard drive of the machine. Ten minutes later the machine asks for disc two. I insert disc 2 and start the next machine with disc one. Ten more minutes and all three discs are chugging away at placing our master image on each machine in the lab. After 30 minutes the first machine is done.

I can't see the bottom of the recycling bin anymore!

The remaining 29 machines finish at twenty-minute increments, thus bringing the total time spent on three CD restores to approximately three hours. Now they all have the same network name, so we have to shut them all down and boot them up one at a time to name each machine accordingly. This process takes approximately another 45 minute to an hour.

I think we have eight or nine Mountain Dew cans in the recycling bin now, but we're done. The grand total of time spent in that one lab of Dells? Over six hours!!!!!!

The next morning I arrive (alone) at a school in which we are installing 30 iMacs. My only refreshment? One Cherry Coke. I only have 30 boxes instead of 60, and I have all the iMacs out on the tables and plugged in within 20 minutes of my arrival. Did I mention that the ports are on the SIDE of the iMacs? That sure makes it easier.

I take a couple sips of my Cherry Coke and grab a spindle of 30 iMac restore CDs. We already had created (using Apple's software restore program) a district-wide restore CD for this type of iMac when we started receiving those models. This CD includes all the standard preferences and settings, as well as all the standard applications (and it fits on one CD!). The CDs are set to force itself as the boot disc, so I place one CD in every computer and boot them up. I click restore and wait...

I am taking a couple sips of Cherry Coke when I'm so rudely disturbed by alert messages telling me the restores are complete. That was only five minutes! I reboot the machines and enter the file sharing name (note that there are no conflicts in naming, so this process goes really smoothly). This takes another five minutes.

On the master iMac in the lab I install any custom software (such as Office or keyboarding software, both of which are drag installs). I then fire up Apple Network Assistant and send out those apps all at one time to the other 29 machines. The copy takes about ten minutes.

Then with one click all machines in the lab shut off. I turn the lights out and lock the door. Grand total of time spent in the iMac lab? About 70 minutes.

As I walk to my car I realize I still have half of my Cherry Coke remaining.

Brad would recommend that, if money is a problem, you set up iMacs for a living. Drinking eight Mountain Dews a day not only makes you go crazy, but it drains every last cent you have in a slow, but sugary fashion. Brad is a contributing editor to The Mac Observer, and you can read him regularly in his iQT column.

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