At BMC Software, older corporate desktops and laptops are given new life.
They’re rehabbed and repurposed, handed down to other employees or put into test and development roles.
“We basically recycle computers,” said Jim Grant, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at BMC. “We manage them as corporate assets. … We take older Intel machines and use them as test desktops.”
With a deepening recession fueling the rapid contraction of IT budgets, administrators overseeing increasingly aging fleets of PCs are faced with the question of what to do with them, since there is little or no money to spend on replacing them.
A decade ago, IT administrators routinely replaced-or refreshed-a third of their systems every three years. During the past few years, that refresh cycle was pushed out to four or five years for desktops and less for notebooks, said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.
The new economic realities are only increasing the pressure to save money, and for many enterprises, buying new systems is not always an option.
For those that have some money to spend, OEMs are offering a growing number of low-cost PCs and laptops, according to vendors and analysts. Those include mininotebooks, which research firm Gartner expects to grow from 5.2 million units shipped in 2008 to as many as 50 million 2012.
IT managers who can’t buy new systems need to squeeze as much cost as they can out of their entire PC environment-from reusing and repurposing their hardware to improving efficiencies through better use of management software.
“The basic business problems do not change, either in good times or bad,” said Matt Kohut, a competitive analyst with Lenovo. “People are still being asked to do more with less. … Now they’re asking, -How do we exploit the hardware we have better?'”
Many businesses are simply rehabbing the systems they have and squeezing more use out of them, by either-like BMC-giving them new roles within the business or handing them out to employees.
“Hardware is pretty resilient, and it can be put into service a lot longer” than the expected life spans outlined by OEMs, Endpoint’s Kay said.
“A lot of customers are very interested during these tough times in extending the life of their current systems,” said Erik Dithmer, vice president and general manager for Dell’s SMB Americas group. For example, “1G to 4G of memory can be added for as little as $30 and increase performance by up to 25 percent. These are steps businesses can take to get more out of their current systems until they have the dollars to invest in more up-to-date technology.”
Dithmer also recommended using external hard drives to increase hard drive storage space.
Moving to a Server-Based Computing Environment
Another option is moving to a server-based computing environment, using the older PCs as thin-client-like devices that sit on employee desks while the key components-from the operating system and applications to the processors, memory and data-are housed on centrally located servers. Using technology such as desktop virtualization, IT managers can then push the OS, applications and data to the desktop hardware.
“If you can put server technology in a data center that pushes images out to desktops and laptops, you can make thin clients out of the desktops and use them until they fail,” said Jeff Groudan, vice president for Hewlett-Packard’s Desktop Solutions Organization, which encompasses everything from thin clients to PC blades to virtualization.
Doing so would enable businesses to continue using the aging hardware while getting the security and manageability advantages that come with server-based PC environments. For example, having the key components on a central server would reduce the number of desktop visits by IT technicians to fix problems or push out new updates and patches, said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
Ideally, businesses will create these server-based environments by buying thin-client devices, with an ROI within years from money saved through greater efficiencies, according to Groudan.
However, Spooner said, while acquisition costs are low for thin clients, there’s a cost involved in installation, and businesses will need to balance those competing issues.
“The really tough part for IT managers is to really understand all the costs involved in this equation,” he said.
OEMs are aggressively rolling out products to enable server-based computing environments, from Dell’s Flexible Computing Solutions to Lenovo’s Secure Managed Client. Citrix Systems Feb. 4 rolled out XenDesktop 3, which offers greater desktop delivery capabilities through its new Desktop Streaming feature. The day before, VMware released the latest version of View Open Client, the new name for its virtual desktop infrastructure offering.
“What are you going to do when applications need to be rolled out but there are no new computers?” BMC’s Grant asked. “How are you going to do this? That’s where virtualization comes in.”
Jerry Chen, senior director of VMware’s enterprise desktop program, agreed.
“We’re seeing more and more people implement desktop virtualization in general for PC management, but this is also a good way to extend the life of the client,” Chen said.
In June 2008, Gartner issued a report on the small but growing popularity of employee-owned notebook programs, where enterprises put corporate virtual machines onto employees’ own laptops. The study showed that annual PC savings to companies could be as much as 44 percent, but also warned that, if not run correctly, such programs could cost enterprises more than traditional company-owned PC environments.
While keeping older desktops and laptops on hand can make sense in the short term, vendors and analysts warned that older PCs can cost more money in maintenance and management issues. To keep these costs down, enterprises need to invest in management software from the likes of BMC and HP, which offer a host of management solutions that can help businesses reduce the overall costs of their PC environments by automating functions and increasing efficiencies.
“The cost to manage the IT infrastructure is now growing four times faster than IT spending,” said Dell’s Dithmer.
Vendors also are instituting aggressive financing plans in hopes of persuading businesses-even in these cash-strapped times-to buy new systems. For example, HP Jan. 29 announced a 0 percent financing program for SMBs to lease or own new technology. For its part, Dell Feb. 9 began offering 0 percent financing for particular Latitude laptops and PowerEdge servers aimed at enticing businesses to refresh their systems.