What slowdown? Users are ready to buy

A slow economy may have put the squeeze on IT budgets, but many users at the Comdex Fall trade show last week were still in a buying mood, on the lookout for storage, wireless technology and Microsoft Corp.’s recently released Windows XP operating system.

While IT professionals are feeling the pressure to keep their company’s infrastructure up to date, they have seen their budgets tightened. This has produced some interesting changes to user buying trends.

In particular, users are on the hunt for low prices and bargains on hardware – both new and used – to fill holes in their back-end infrastructure, while waiting for better times to return before they embark on major IT upgrades. At the same time, however, many IT buyers are ready to roll out wireless networking projects and want to put Windows XP on as many PCs as possible.

On the hardware side, storage was a hot topic at Comdex. Many users have shied away from the latest products to be released by big name vendors and are instead scouring the used equipment market for bargains.

“In this type of climate, you don’t need the latest and greatest products,” said Larry Fischer, president of consulting firm Show & Tell Inc. “People are looking at refurbished stuff. You can save 50 per cent or more right now.”

Fischer’s comments were echoed by a number of users on the hunt for used storage equipment and servers to act as a stop gap until better economic times return. The slowdown in hardware sales coupled with the demise of so many dot-coms has created a hardware glut in the refurbushed equipment market that benefits users willing to buy recycled wares.

While some users stretch their budgets with used IT equipment, others have been able show the cost benefits of using leading-edge storage systems and are rolling out new storage systems.

Perry Passin, manager of local area network operations at Olympus America Inc. is connecting about 50 Intel-based servers to a SAN (storage area network) and is currently looking at IBM’s high-end data warehouse system, Shark.

“It was rough selling it to the executive management, but we came up with solid ROI (return on investment) numbers, and they pushed it through” Passin said.

By consolidating its storage on a large system, Olympus hopes to decrease management costs and open up data to more servers via the SAN. Passin estimated his company could save more than US$300,000 over the next four years by investing in the Shark system now.

Users with their storage needs taken care of were looking for ways to push data out to workers and were launching various type of wireless projects.

While St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., has cut capital spending by 25 per cent, its data warehouse manager, Stephen Anderson, is buying software and devices to give doctors wireless access to patient files and each other. “Times are tough, but we have been asked to move our technology forward,” Anderson said.

Smaller companies are also looking to wireless technology, either for an edge over their competition or just greater convenience.

“I am all about going mobile,” said Steve DeMeo, president of THSPhoto.com in East Aurora, N.Y. “I am looking for anything that can take me the next step up.”

DeMeo’s company sends photographers to cover a variety of sporting events and could use wireless technology and wearable computing gear to send photos shot on the road to wireless devices, reducing the time required to deliver pictures.

In a small stroke of luck, DeMeo will be able to upgrade one of his PCs after winning a free copy of Windows XP at the Microsoft booth. While Microsoft’s generosity did not extend to all Comdex attendees, many users said they are taking advantage of lower PC prices to get their companies up and running on XP.

“Prices on new PCs are down right now and service is good,” said Rich Skowronski, president of Restech Inc. in North Hampton, N.H. “Smart people are buying now.”