Intel pushes for return of a 3-year PC refresh cycle

Intel pointed to a pair of Canadian customers as examples of the kind of organizations that are bucking economic trends and choosing to upgrade their business desktops within less than four years.

The chipmaker held a Webcast on Tuesday where Robert Crooke, vice-president and general manager of its business client group, released results of a survey conducted in March of about 106 organizations in North America and Europe with about 33,000 desktops. While the global recession has led a number of IT managers and CIOs to talk about delaying upgrades and extending PC refresh cycles for five years or more, Intel claims two thirds of its survey respondents are refreshing their fleet. Specifically, he said eight per cent are shortening the time period between upgrades and 60 per cent are keeping it the same.

Intel is arguing that frequent upgrades, particularly using its vPro business desktop platform of processors and chipsets, can provide better security and major cost savings. For example, Crooke cited Calgary Health, a network of hospitals in Alberta which he said used to take five days to patch 70 per cent of its PC fleet with the latest security updates. After using vPro on newer PCs, he said Calgary Health is managing to patch 98 per cent of its machines in about four hours.

“This is lower total cost of ownership,” he said. “It’s less effort to get this done, but it’s also a security benefit.”

The Intel survey indicated that there tends to be a 53 per cent increase in security-related incidents on PCs that are four years old or more, either through denial of service attacks or accidental mis-configurations. Crooke also mentioned an estimated 50 per cent reduction on annual support costs for newer PCs, and a 60 per cent reduction in help desk diagnostics, based on the survey results.

Another Canadian user cited in the Webcast was Georgian College, a post-secondary institution with campuses in Barrie, Orillia and Owen Sound. “They’re running about 2,500 PCs and laptops for their admin staff,” Crooke said. “(By using newer hardware) they’re expecting to save US$85,000 over four years on help desk and travel costs.”

Neither Calgary Health nor Georgian College officials were available for comment at press time.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64 who was on the Webcast, told ComputerWorld Canada the message of shorter refresh cycles is not a new one, particularly from this chipmaker.

“It’s always the right time to upgrade if you’re talking about Intel,” he said. “Anecdotally, it makes a lot of sense. The big question mark is yes, we know it makes a lot of sense and we know we can save a lot by upgrading, but then you go your CFO with your business plan and he says ‘What? We’re not going to spend on that.’”

Paul Rummell, a former federal CIO for the Canadian government and now a senior executive with Infosys Technologies, said in a message via Twitter that more frequent upgrades are not unheard of.

“The cycle is getting shorter… prices are down, and function is inreasing very fast,” he wrote.

Crooke said Intel took the data from the survey and created a “conceptual company” that was able to save US$3 million a year by upgrading on a three to four-year cycle. Using vPro technology would double that savings, he said. Intel also claimed that desktop customers could expect to cover their PC investments in 17 months with Intel Core 2 Duo machines, and in only 10 months with vPro-based PCs.

In the Webcast, Brookwood made mention of a program underway at IBM that would allow customers to defer payment for a six to nine-month period until the return on investment started to kick in. When he pressed Crooke on whether Intel would make a similar offer, however, he demurred.

“We are very focused on our area of value-add, which is new technology and products,” he said, adding he admired IBM’s efforts. “I think it’s a great example of being creative in an economic downturn.”

Crooke also said Intel is expecting to see considerable upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7, and that Microsoft’s focus on manageability and security in its next-generation OS corresponded to Intel’s own priorities from a processor standpoint.

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