When To Call It Quits

Concept of stress with businessman sleeping on a laptop

So you’re sitting there, in front of that old XP workstation that is used by someone rather important, and the machine just won’t boot. Or it takes 20 minutes to boot. Or it boots but it’s been infected by a virus that has taken out Microsoft Word. You’re 3 hours into the troubleshooting, you’ve tried lots of things. Maybe you’ve done something a little creative like pull the hard drive, stuck it in a working machine to try to copy over a non-corrupted DLL. Or you’ve booted to a Linux live CD to try to hack the registry into doing what you want, but nothing has helped. You’re at square one.

Where do you go from here?

It illustrates a question we all face over the course of our lives: “How much work do I put into this thing before it becomes no longer worth it?” This can be said of computers just as easily as vehicles, or carpet cleaners that you picked up off the side of the road for free. It is a delicate balancing act. The value that something has as it is VERSUS the expense of getting something to replace it. With computers, there are a number of factors to take into account, and the Managed Service Provider’s perspective can be somewhat unique.

Labor costs money.

No matter what form it takes, the person doing the work to fix the broken thing is more than likely getting paid to do it. Computers that don’t boot, or have had serious system damage from either hardware failure or viral infection can be serious time sinks. No matter how many “free” resources or tools there are available for assistance it will take time to resolve. It is then that we must evaluate the value of the machine in question. There are a few simple questions we can ask that help out a great deal.

  • Whose machine is it?
  • How old is it?
  • Is there vendor support?
  • Is there critical data on it that is not backed up? (You should never have to say “yes” to this question).
  • Is there a known fix for this issue?
  • Even if the issue is resolved, how well will the machine perform, or is the machine in otherwise poor health?

These factors all play into a computer’s current value to a company. Most workstation PCs should not need to have a high value placed upon them. They should be fairly easy to replace. If it takes one or two hours of work and the machine is restored to working order, then that probably can be considered a good use of time in most scenarios.

Most IT professionals will begin to develop a sense for how close they are to resolving an issue. When we work on a machine we can, for lack of a better word, “feel” the overall health of a machine. We also have a similar sense of what it looks like to gain traction on an issue. It is one thing to be working on a machine for a few hours and to see improvement in the situation. It is quite another thing to work on a machine for that same few hours and have the machine is more or less the same state it was when we started.

It is a very real possibility that the cost of labor to fix a machine will outweigh the cost of replacing the machine.

At the point of a few hours, whether we’ve made some improvements or not, we need to evaluate how close we are to the end goal. It is a very real possibility that the cost of labor to fix a machine will outweigh the cost of replacing the machine. When you factor in the fact that a new PC’s better performance will also enhance the user’s productivity, it can easily begin to look like the better option. A hybrid option is also sometimes available. If we have a machine where the operating system won’t load, but the disk itself is healthy, we can get a new PC for the user, pull the drive from the old machine and connect it with USB to the new machine. We now have access to the user’s files. Maybe it’s not the most elegant migration ever, but it sure beats having to start from scratch (especially if you answered yes to bullet point number 4 up there).

It is very important for the Managed Service Provider to not waste time; not our time, not our clients’ time. Rest assured that when our engineers get the “feeling” that the cost of the labor is beginning to tip the value scale, they will stop and discuss your options with you. We know that one part of being good IT consultants is knowing when to call it quits.