Make Your Next Technology Move 10x Easier

Regular reader (and former co-worker from 8 years back) Matt Youell posted the following comment on my post about moving to Boston:

Do me a favor and post on how you move your tech stuff. I just did a modest 600 mile move back in January and it was a pain in the ass. My computers made it intact but then getting set back up, getting services, etc. was a real struggle. Of course I hadn’t moved in almost 7 years, so I was pretty entrenched. I’d love to know how you manage with all your moving.

Matt and I emailed a few more times on the subject, and he brought up some specific problems he ran into during his move that I’ll discuss below. Having moved 9 times in 7 years I’ve gotten pretty good at staying lean in the “stuff” department, and staying mobile with my technology.

Get Rid of Your Desktops
I used to host a few development “servers” at my house (in quotes because they were crappy, white-box desktops that my former employer called “development servers”). But once desktops (and now laptops) became powerful enough to run enterprise database software, an IDE, a browser with 15 open tabs, UltraEdit, NUnit, and a media player, I no longer had the need for an external machine. I also found that I spent more time and money than any sane person should spend keeping up with patches, defragmentation, replacing bad components, and keeping software up to date. It wound up costing several hundred dollars per year (which I could live with), and 40+ non-billable hours per year (which I couldn’t).

So I got rid of everything and I’m now a single-laptop developer. It’s a beefy dual-core Dell, but it handles the workload nicely and I don’t have to worry about hardware issues since everything’s under in-home warranty. Of course, the software issues haven’t gone away, as my virtual machines need patches and active anti-virus subscriptions.

At some point after that hardware cleansing Mike Taber turned me on to Windows Virtual Private Servers (VPSs). Linux has had VPSs for years, albeit through a different virtualization technology, but paying $40/month for your own Windows Server is a sweet deal.

If you’re a small software shop, check out HostMySite. I’ve been using their VPS for about 6 months and it makes a fabulous test and continuous integration server.

Use a KVM Switch
Ok, I lied when I said I don’t have any desktops. I have a single personal machine with a huge hard drive that I use exclusively for video editing.

For proper ergonomics my laptop sits on a Griffin laptop stand, meaning I need an external keyboard and mouse. In addition, I have two external monitors for the complete three-screen viewing experience, which means I have a lot of hardware sitting on my desk.

A few years ago I also had an additional keyboard, mouse and monitor for my video editing desktop, but this was before I discovered KVM switches. I use a $20 KVM switch I bought on Amazon. I hit a button and my keyboard, mouse and monitor are connected to my laptop. Hit the other button, and I’m controlling my desktop.

Bam! Half the hardware, half the crap to move, half the crap to re-cable and reconnect when I get to my new house.

Keep Your Packaging
Everyone doesn’t have the space for this, but I am a fiend about keeping boxes for my electronics. I have boxes inside of boxes inside of other boxes from 3 years back. I hate having “stuff” around, but having the original boxes and packaging for the stuff I do own has made moves much simpler. Keep what you can for the most fragile pieces, and before your next move head down to a local computer store and ask if they have any spare boxes.

Migrate Your Old Media
As recent as a few years ago I had two boxes of floppy disks lying around with data I didn’t want to toss. I still had a floppy drive at the time, so I moved the data from the floppies to a $20 Flash Drive and chucked the originals (it’s amazing to me that thumb drives can now hold thousands of floppies).

If you don’t have a floppy drive, look on Craigslist for an archiver who can burn your data onto CD or DVD. This is also a great way to get rid of old VHS tapes, which take up tons of room and don’t hold up over time.

Internet Connectivity at Your New Home
Matt mentioned a 3-week delay in getting FiOS connected at his new house since they had to dig a small trench in his driveway (FiOS is at-home fiber optic internet service). I ran into a similar delay during a 2003 move, and found a decent hack to get around it.

The phone company used to require 10 days from the time a phone line was active until DSL could be activated. They had a lame excuse about “vetting the line,” but I always assumed it was just a limitation of their software. Nowadays you don’t have to wait 10 days.

In any case, due to buyer/seller issues I couldn’t get a phone line installed before our move-in date, so I was facing 10-days without connectivity. At the time of this move I was nearing the end of a big project and being down for even a few days was not an option. I was a bit panicked at the prospect of having to hoof it into town every day and pay for wireless (at the time there wasn’t free wireless in Pasadena).

After some research I found that the cable company could activate their service instantly. Since cable was 2-3x more expensive I wanted to go with DSL long-term, but I hooked up cable internet for a month, and then disconnected it once DSL was in place. There was no delay and the transition was seamless, aside from an extra $30 I had to pay due to the overlapping days of service.

Other Suggestions?
Any suggestions from readers who’ve had a good or bad moving experience?

[tags]technology, moving, relocation, programming[/tags]

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#1 Danimal on 05.06.08 at 10:22 am

Lack of internet connectivity can be a real pain. These days it’s probably easiest to grab a wireless 3G adapter card and do it that way. Not exactly cheap, but you don’t have to worry about downtime.

#2 Gaurav on 05.06.08 at 10:57 am

Not really a technology move, but when moving across machines, I find using Foldershare (which is my backup solution as well) to be of immense help. I have all the documents / code etc. under one library. When new machine comes online, I just add the computer to the library and when the machine finishes synching, I just delete the old computer from the library before deleting the documents from the old machine.

#3 Matt on 05.06.08 at 1:17 pm

Thanks for the post Rob!

And you know, I thought of doing the cable thing and talked myself out of it. (We had just given up cable TV a few months prior and I was worried about the temptation of TV if we already had service.) Luckily the library was fairly close and their wifi was fantastic.

@danimal – I really wanted to do that. I actually tried before my move, but I couldn’t find a carrier who’d let me go for only 1 year. Everyone seems to want a 2 to 3 year commitment. I worry that what “broadband” means now isn’t what we’ll think it means in 2-3 years.

#4 Rob on 05.07.08 at 1:14 pm

Another option for temporary internet service, if you have a Treo with a data plan, is to buy the $30 PdaNet software ( that makes your Treo work as a cellular modem via your synch cable. It “just works” and in my life has paid for itself many times over.

However, there’s no way I could work full-time for 10 days on a cellular data connection. You lose too much productivity waiting for pages to load. I would either go with cable, or find a coffee shop / library with wireless.

#5 Matt on 05.07.08 at 1:27 pm

That would have been a great solution, but I’m an idiot and bought a Sidekick 3. T-mobile doesn’t like geeks or power users. None of that is allowed, even though the hardware could conceivably support it. 🙁

Happily my contract ends in a few months, maybe just in time for the 3G iPhone, if I can justify the cost. 🙂

#6 Ben on 06.02.08 at 7:29 am

I have my laptop sitting next to my dual screen PC setup. Instead of using a KVM switch I use “synergy”, great software that allows you to control both at the same time, and even copy and paste from one machine to the other.