The role of manageability in cutting the total cost of owning a computer is widely accepted among corporate buyers. But it’s not well-known in education circles, where administrators are loath to spend money on computer maintenance. As educators get smarter about networking, however, that’s changing.

“Concern about manageability is gaining a foothold in education,” says Phil Atwood, IBM’s manager for PC strategy and marketing programs in the North American education industry unit.

Manageability is a combination of hardware and software. To be manageable, a computer’s hardware must be designed so it can be managed remotely. Essential is what the industry calls “Wake Up on LAN” (Local Area Network), which means that when the computer is turned off, the network administrator can power it up from a remote location and work on it. “Wake Up on LAN” requires a specially designed network card, motherboard, and power supply.

Also, says John Abrams, product marketing manager for Dell Computer’s Optiplex systems software, management features must be built into a computer’s BIOS. And special components might be needed. For instance, if you want the computer to warn network administrators before its hard drive crashes, you must have a SMART drive. SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.

Using IBM/Intel “Alert on LAN” technology, manageable computers can warn administrators when a student is inappropriately changing settings or when the hardware is being tampered with, which helps avoid unnecessary downtime and theft.

The technology can also advise when disk space is low, allowing the problem to be resolved before kids find they can’t save their work. And it can alert you when your hard drive is about to crash. Software is also available that will automatically back up local drives to the more-secure network server.

Most computers from top-tier manufacturers are manageable, although at higher cost than their cheapest models. If you’re buying from a smaller manufacturer, be sure the hardware will do what you want. Abrams says that to be manageable, a computer should meet DMI (Desktop Management Interface) 2.0 standards.

“Most major vendors are on the DMI bandwagon,” says Abrams. “Buying systems that are standards-based allows you to use the management software of your choice.”

“Spending more on hardware can reduce overall cost of ownership through system management features on newer computers,” says technology consultant Scott Garren, president of Garren Shay Associates. “It is usually relatively easy to convince the district to spend money on hardware for computers, but it is difficult to add adequate headcount for technical support. So it makes sense to look for ways to spend capital allocations to limit the amount of technical support you will need.”