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Buying Network Hardware

Shopping for network hardware can be like shopping for a used car in a foreign country. There a lot of decisions to be made and one of the toughest is choosing a brand. The natural instinct is to shop for the lowest price, and although price is a very important factor, others play a big role in the decision making process. computer-in-cart

Choosing a Hardware Vendor
Most large vendors negotiate pricing based not only on what you are immediately purchasing but also what you anticipate purchasing in the future, so it’s important to communicate your long term order goals. Often, you can achieve better pricing on a purchase today if your vendor can count on your purchase tomorrow as well.

Repair service and warranty options are critical with network hardware. Make sure you understand
the service your vendor offers in your area. If they offer on-site service, how far do the techs have to drive to get to you? Do they outsource onsite service?

Tech support and product life cycle assurances are very important as well. Once you purchase a widget, how long can you depend on such things as bios, firmware, and driver support?

For our practice, we chose Dell. Dell has very competitive pricing, product life cycles longer than we keep hardware, and has four-hour onsite service for servers and switches in our area. In addition, we get discounts based on volume. The more we order from them, the more our discount increases.

Once you’ve chosen a vendor, your hardware decisions break down into three components:

1) Switches. Switches are the backbone of your network and what all the cables plug into. Choosing the best switch for your office depends on how much capacity (traffic) your network needs and what media (copper cable or fiber optic) you will use. In some cases a network will use both copper and fiber optic and the switches will need to be set up accordingly.

2) Servers. When shopping for a server, look for redundant systems. Does it have redundant hot swap power supplies in case one fails? Does it have a RAID array of drives so the machine doesn’t go down if a hard drive fails? How many processors does it have and how much RAM? For both of these, more is better. And make sure you get a backup device (tape drive) that is both large enough to hold your data, and fast enough to backup during your down time (usually at night). Servers can be a tricky thing when they want to be, luckily most computer hardware from somewhere like Cks Global works with servers and might be helpful.

Don’t overlook the physical configurations of your network hardware. It might make sense to install a special rack to house the equipment, especially if you end up with multiple servers, as most EMR installations will require.

3) End-user devices. For EMR, are you going to use thin client terminals or actual computers? If thin clients, do you need legacy ports? Are they firmware upgradeable? Have you looked into articulated arms for the exam rooms? In our practice, we use a combination of all of the above, so we’ve agreed upon a minimum hardware configuration for each type of device (thin client, desktop, laptop, printer, or server) based upon our needs and performance expectations. This also means that the physicians have to check with our IT staff before they go out and purchase a fancy laptop to make sure it is compatible with our network. Every few months we re-examine to compensate for changes in technology. This ensures consistent performance across the board and streamlines support.

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