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.