Several members of eWEEKs corporate Partner Advisory Board recently met with eWEEK Labs Jason Brooks, Peter Coffee and Debra Donston to discuss their organizations client-side hardware experience and plans.
Theres a lot going on right now in the client hardware space, with 64-bit systems, Tablet PCs, expanded Wi-Fi in laptops, some changes in handhelds and so on. Whats happening on the desktop and in terms of mobile computing at your organizations?
Gunnerson: In general, were looking at early next year as being a very conservative time for buying. And well do what we always do, which is go after the best-bang-for-the-buck machines. We dont usually buy the high-end stuff, and we dont usually buy the low-end stuff. We go for whatever the highest-performing, best package is for the price. Thats in the $1,000 range these days, where we would have been talking $2,000 or $3,000 a couple of years ago.
Youre talking about desktop systems?
Will you be purchasing any laptops this year?
Gunnerson: We will continue to purchase laptops where it makes sense, and then we try to make sure its a desktop replacement machine.
On the new-technology front, I personally really like the Treo 600. I think they finally have a telephone/PDA combo thats just about right as far as form factor is concerned. But I find it fascinating that whats called a “smart telephone” is now moving into the e-mail appliance area. People are looking at gateways to make that happen for them.
Nowicke: Last year, we took a severe budget cut, so we could not do the cyclical [system] replacement we usually do. We are looking to do it this year—at least one-third [of systems], if we can—but we stick with pretty much best-buy PCs.
Whats different is that were not buying monitors, which seem to last forever now. When we do buy monitors, we buy flat panels.
We do use laptops, but they make up only about 4 percent of our total installation. Weve got every kind under the sun.
Baradet: Generally, weve been recommending to folks that they plan on, at minimum, a three-year replacement cycle. Some departments that use their systems mostly for word processing are looking at going on a five-year cycle. Laptops are usually on two- to three-year cycles, especially for people who travel.
Were also using VMware. Were looking to take some legacy Windows NT systems that we cant get rid of quite yet and wrap them on Windows Server 2003 so we can at least get some measure of protection on the network side that NT doesnt offer. Weve also been using VMware to prototype some systems. The performance isnt always the greatest, but it lets us install the software and the patches and see what the interaction between them is.
Were also kicking around the idea [of using] telephony-over-802.11b devices.
Schwedhelm: Our organization typically does a one-third-per-year cycle, going through and replacing systems. This year, that part of our maintenance budget was cut in half. For those systems that do have to be replaced, we dont purchase any new computers; we build our own. When we build them ourselves, they rarely go down. Weve done that for the last few years.
And thats for how many end users?
Calabrese: It looks like we will be phasing out about 18 percent of our PC population.
During the last couple of years, weve sent out reports on an annual basis that break our PC population down into five categories—everything from Category 1, which is essentially, You bought it this current year, and therefore its a very viable computer, to Category 5, which is, You bought it four years ago, and its now a security risk and it needs to come off the network.
This year, we found there were no Category 5 machines. And there were fewer Category 4 machines than there have been in years past. Were a little bit ahead of the curve.
Defining the Category 5
Is there a simple way of defining the Category 5 boundary?
Calabrese: Below 300MHz and typically below a 4GB hard drive. By security risk, we mean systems that will not take the latest security releases. The other thing we do is take all Category 4 machines off maintenance agreements.
Our standard business desktop is also our standard engineering desktop these days. The only exception is when an ultra-high-end video card might be required. Our entry-level standard desktop—for which we are paying, with monitor and everything else, less than $1,000—makes a suitable standard engineering box. Wed be paying three to four times that two years ago.
So the computers are getting better, but, at the same time, the business applications are requiring the same type of horsepower that we would have normally needed for an engineering application.
Siconolfi: Im involved in the business application side; however, I understand we have no plans to upgrade our PC platform beyond the completion of the XP migration next year. There are obviously pockets of projects that may require new hardware. Most of our PCs are leased, which allows us to maintain technological currency through lease replacement.
In addition, Aetna maintains a re-deployment pool of PCs returned by employees that are still under lease. This allows us to extend the life of these units and keep our costs down. As our redeployment pool is exhausted, we will upgrade our users to the latest PC standard that Aetna has established.
Wilson: Like Francine, were in a leasing environment, and were continuing through normal refreshes. Thats one of the good things about leasing—it keeps you on those refresh cycles as the economy does go up and down.
The ultralight laptops are the only ones were putting integrated wireless into right now.
We continue to use the microtower form factor. We havent found any small PCs that are cheaper. The small ones are nice, but theyre never cheaper. Were really liking the shuttle form factor and are encouraging our manufacturers to pursue that type of mechanical design going forward. Its more of a scaled-down, shoe-box-style microtower that fits well in the office environment.
Memory configurations will probably increase next year. Were at 256MB and 512MB [RAM] base for our two desktop configurations, and well probably take that up next year.
Rosen: On the desktop, we do about one-third renewals a year. We tend to buy in the top part of the performance curve because we keep the systems for about three years. The only significant change were seeing in the desktops is that memory is going up. Theres that famous quote: “What the hardware designers give us, the software developers throw away.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the nature of the beast.
Milkovich: One thing I see changing on the client side is a lot more use of USB flash memory devices. They seem to be everywhere now.
Here, internally at Lockheed, we use a lot of IBM and Dell notebooks. And the refresh cycle just seems to be going on as normal. I guess over time theyre drawing that refresh cycle out a bit because of the increased capabilities of the new notebooks.
Has there been any call at any of your organizations for 64-bit technology on the desktop?
Rosen: Some of our researchers, especially in the Macintosh community, are hopping on the Power Mac G5 bandwagon. They think its going to help them a lot in their work.
For any particular applications?
Rosen: I think its mostly internally developed stuff. Its not, as far as Im aware, for any commercial applications.
In the course of your refresh cycles, are you seeing Linux, Unix or Macintosh platforms going up against Windows?
Schwedhelm: Weve been trying to get Linux onto the desktop, but all of the suppliers of the specialized banking software that we use are only putting the software out only for Windows.
Gunnerson: Were already 30 percent Macintosh, mainly because were in the publishing business, but the idea that a single incident might bring down a lot of computers has already got us concerned a bit. We are looking at not necessarily creating a Linux desktop for day-to-day use but creating a Linux desktop as an emergency reboot procedure. The idea that were working on and looking at is booting from the network or the SAN or something else—an Intel/Linux image that we could bring up and use to replace the basic processes that we use on a day-to-day basis.
Anyone thinking about Tablet PCs this year?
Rosen: We might get one or two, but just to experiment with.
Is anyone finding that the industry has finally figured out how to provide something youve always wanted?
Gunnerson: Were starting to see some things in wireless access points, adding security thats been missing since wireless first came out.
Is that important to the proliferation of wireless in your use?
Gunnerson: I think its important to its use for almost anyone.