Experts say aging PCs pose threats

Canadian businesses with aging fleets of desktop and notebook PCs subscribe to a false belief they are saving money by postponing capital expenditure on IT, according to a recent panel discussion.

The discussion, entitled Are you Getting the Most Out of Your IT Investment? was hosted by Intel of Canada and held in Toronto last month. Four panellists discussed several topics including increasing security challenges, decreasing support for older software and maximizing employee productivity by refreshing and updating IT within corporations.

Doug Cooper, country manager for Intel of Canada, said the current soft economy has caused a slowdown in the corporate client refresh cycle. By sharing best known methods of IT deployment, the group hoped to shed some light on the lifecycles of desktop and notebook PCs.

Cooper pointed to two main ideas around the refresh cycle. The first is making sure there is a plan in place to change over existing infrastructure. The second is to realize the consequences of both having a refresh cycle in place, and choosing to ignore the need to upgrade.

Intel follows a three-year refresh on its desktop PCs and a two-year refresh cycle on notebooks, he said. “What we found is that 25 per cent or less [of Canadian businesses] expect to refresh [PCs] on a three-year basis,” Cooper said. He said most of these companies expected to use their current IT systems for longer.

George Atis, partner with McMillian Binch LLP, and the founder and chair of the technology practice group, said his law firm went through a refresh cycle within the last two years. Among other issues, the company considered the future needs of the lawyers within the firm as a way to drive the upgraded infrastructure to a wireless LAN (WLAN).

He said the top three reasons his company required a refresh cycle was for support, interoperability and speed/reliability.

His company justified the refresh cycle with a few indices such as: happy customers with improved response time from the end users; happy workforce with lawyers who can work anywhere at any time; and the productivity potential, as the system users increased their use of applications through wireless access.

The panellists agreed that deferring the refresh cycle for PCs would only create larger challenges down the road.

Many Canadian businesses have been pushing the need to replace both infrastructure and software within their corporations from three years to as high as four years, said Vito Mabrucco, group vice-president for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

In many cases businesses are not moving fast enough to provide the enhancements corporate clients require, as well as providing them with flexible business needs, he added, citing research conducted by IDC.

“The latent pain needs to come forward,” Mabrucco said.

Some of that hidden pain might include that fact that PCs more than three-years old have increasing failure rates. Panellists also noted that security systems on older operating systems are not up to date, leaving them vulnerable to hackers and viruses. Support for older operating systems is starting to decline – Microsoft Corp., for instance, is no longer providing support for older systems. New software often doesn’t run on older systems. As well, there is an increasing demand for wireless technology.

Mabrucco said there are nine million installed units in the Canadian corporate market that are facing a refresh period, after being installed in 1998 or 1999. He estimated that 60 per cent of those desktops and notebooks are more than three-years old, if not older.

Within the next year, IDC is predicting that the Canadian economy will see a growth rate of 2.5 to 3.5 per cent for desktop and notebook PCs, which amounts to $5.4 billion, Mabrucco said.

“That represents a large market,” he said.

With larger global forces at play, not staying on the cusp of evolving technology could also be a disadvantage, Mabrucco said.

Cooper added that companies might be at a competitive disadvantage against others that are more proactive in the IT department. He also said companies that do not refresh within three years see increased spending for support.

Harry Zarek, president and CEO of Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Compugen Inc., said pushing the lifecycle of desktop and notebook PCs will start to impact overall employee productivity, and will also have a significant impact on security within companies.

All the panellists agreed that threatened security from not upgrading IT is a huge driving factor behind deploying a refresh cycle.

“Making the business case is tough because you can’t show cost savings or return on investment (ROI), but you can save down the line,” Mabrucco said. The panel also discussed the growing requirement of being wireless today.

“Being wireless and mobile takes corporations to a whole new level,” Cooper said. “Individuals are becoming more productive than they were before.”