PC makers tackle user ROI concerns

While the desktop PC is far from becoming an endangered species, the notion of “good enough” computing – the idea that the power of current hardware and software is suitable to run all business applications – seems to be proliferating within a maturing IT sector.

Desktops still represent the bulk of new PC shipments for organizations, but as indicated in Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada’s The Future of the Canadian IT and Communications Market Forecasts 2003-07 report last month, enterprises have been in cutting-back mode and seeking new strategies towards PC ownership and lifecycle management.

In 2002, the desktop-notebook ratio for the business segment was 2.7 to 1, IDC stats show, and according to Eddie Chan, hardware research analyst for IDC Canada, this ratio will continue to decline as “notebook PC deployments grow and decision makers realize the productivity gains made possible by enabling communication and collaboration amongst its increasingly mobile workforce.”

But desktops will remain the form factor of choice for certain verticals, in part due to enterprise concerns surrounding security and asset management, Chan said. “Vendors are attempting to address those concerns through product positioning and education along with an attuned sense of ergonomic design and construction in their products,” he added.

Case in point: Heavyweights IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.(HP) recently released PC solutions that attempt to address enterprise concerns over PC migration, maintenance and upgrades. IBM unveiled last month its new ThinkCentre desktop PC line, touting the compact footprint models – 62 per cent smaller than average IBM PCs – to improve security and simplify PC “fleet management” for IT organizations.

The ThinkCentre S50, M50 and A50p feature an easy access “tool-free steel chassis design” making it easier to service and upgrade, IBM said, adding that the models also feature IBM ThinkVantage Technologies such as Rapid Restore Ultra, a one-button backup and recovery solution that can restore previously saved data, settings and applications after a software failure, the firm added. The offerings are designed to cut the number of employee desk-side service visits and help-desk calls, said Peter Sturm, ThinkCentre representative at IBM Canada in Markham, Ont.

Last month also saw HP roll out its HP Business PC Solutions, an ambitious suite of services – HP Lifecycle Solutions (HPLS), HP Security Solutions and HP Mobility and Wireless Solutions – targeted at medium- to large-sized organizations. For example, HPLS includes an assessment of best practices that can improve the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a customer’s IT infrastructure, HP said. When the time comes to purchase new hardware, HP enables users to test new products through a HP Early Evaluation program, and reduce purchase costs with asset buy back and disposal services, with HP providing migration help.

Ken Price, marketing manager of commercial PCs at Mississauga, Ont.-based HP Canada, said the services focus on PC migration – he estimated that in Canada more than 2 million enterprise PCs have reached or are nearing the end of their lifecycle. These PCs are “exposed” to security, productivity and support costs, Price continued, adding that the concept of “good enough” computing is challenged by the fact that operating systems, productivity needs, and application and security patches are constantly evolving.

The City of Edmonton has stuck by a three-year lifecycle for PCs since 1998, according to Richard Thompson, a corporate services IT client relations manager for the City of Edmonton.

“Three years appears to be the sweet spot…shorter leases tend to be a lot more expensive, and with longer leases the support costs start to rise,” Thompson said. Edmonton has about 3,600 networked PCs running a variety of ERP and business-related applications. The City also runs a standardized environment managed by policy to prevent unauthorized changes to configuration.

“Our vendor deploys the imaged PCs right to our customer desktop and handles any hardware problems. City staff support the software using remote control tools with desk-side visits where necessary,” Thompson said.

The benefits are that the City’s PCs are reliable and can handle the demands of the software and replacements can be purchased at a lower cost because they don’t have to be the “latest and greatest” – users do not have to put up with poor performance or an unreliable PC before replacement, Thompson said.

The mobile computer environment is in very early stages and currently isn’t a policy. “Lots of handheld devices are appearing throughout…we have limited knowledge of the products and while ultimately we would look to use

a similar management model to PCs, things are less well controlled,” Thompson said.

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