Selecting a vendor to supply your IT networking hardware often feels like trying to buy a used automobile in another country. The most difficult part may be choosing a brand from an unrecognizable set of manufacturers. There are many choices to make, and although the common reaction is to look for the cheapest price, we all know that there are many other factors which play important roles in good decision-making.

Selecting a Vendor of Hardware

The majority of large-sized vendors of hardware base their prices on not just the first purchase but on probable future purchases as well. It’s often possible to get better deals on today’s sale if the vendor can anticipate future sales and growth from your account. For this reason it’s a good idea to express your long-term goals to the vendor.

Your opt-in repair and service warranties are also important when selecting hardware for your network. Do you have a clear understanding of the services your vendor is offering in your location? For service at your location, what is the maximum distance technical support will travel? Are there extra costs associated, and do they outsource these services to another company? Phone-in technical support and warranty assurances are important, too. After making the initial purchase, what can you count on in terms of firmware, upgrades, and support. Find out in advance, and get it on paper.

Our practice has selected Dell. With good pricing, a life cycle for their product which lasts longer than we like to keep our hardware, it is a good match. Additionally, Dell offers onsite service in four hours for server and switch issues. There are volume discounts offered, so the more we purchase from them, the better our discount becomes.

After selecting a particular hardware vendor, your top decisions form several primary components

Switches – As the spinal cord of the network, this is where you’ll be plugging all the cables in. Selecting the right switch for your practice is dependent on the amount of traffic capacity you anticipate and the media used, be it fiber optic or cable. Often a network will have both copper cable and fiber optic, and in this case the switch will need to be set up to accommodate both.

Servers – Look for redundancy when selecting servers. Will a redundant machine swap power in the case of the failure of the other? Are there RAID drive arrays so the system won’t crash if the hard-drive does? How much RAM and how many processors does the server system have? More is better. Be sure to choose a backup tape drive device which is big enough to store your information and quick enough to back it all up during system down time at night. Try not to look past the physical setup of your hardware on the network. Perhaps a special housing unit or secure rack should contain the machines; this is particularly the case if you have a series of servers as many EMR system solutions do.

Devices for End-Users – Will you be using client terminals or real computers? Is the firmware able to be upgraded? If selecting thin client terminals, will they need a legacy port? For the exam rooms, will you be using an articulated arm? Our practices uses all of the above, and as a result we’ve come to an agreement about the minimum hardware configuration per device, be it desktop, laptop, server, printer or thin client. These choices have been based upon our expectations of performance. A physician must check in with the IT department before going out to buy a slick laptop computer, in order to be sure it will work well on the network. We examine the network every few months or so to keep in sync with the changes to our system and technology in general. This continual system of maintenance and improvement helps ensure optimal performance, streamlining the need for technical support.