by Laurianne McLaughlin

Five Reasons Your Next PC Refresh Could Be a Perfect Storm

Aug 03, 20075 mins
Computers and PeripheralsProject Management Tools

PC refreshes have become a routine job for IT, right? Wrong: Factors like virtualization, consumer IT and new manageability tools are converging to make your next refresh more complex and risky. Here’s advice on how to navigate it successfully.

CIOs and IT leaders approaching their next PC technology refresh had better do some serious preparation. Technology refreshes—when enterprises replace one-third to one-quarter of their PC fleets each year on a rolling basis—have become pretty routine in recent years. But several factors are coming together right now to make refresh decisions more complicated and more fraught with risk, says Bruce Michelson, Hewlett-Packard’s national lifecycle manager. “This refresh is kind of a perfect storm,” says Michelson, who travels to HP’s Fortune 500 customers to study and share best practices regarding PC lifecycles.

Think of the factors affecting your next refresh as simultaneous storm fronts bearing names like Consumer IT and Virtualization. (It almost goes without saying that Microsoft Vista upgrade plans, if you have them, will factor into this refresh cycle.)

What’s more, your technology refresh plans need to keep up with the pace of innovation at your business, says Michelson. This is a new challenge for IT. If your company is doing innovative work with PDAs, for example, the refresh plan must be broadened to include mobile devices. Otherwise, you could make short-sighted choices regarding your desktop PCs.

“If you look at [your next refresh] the same way you did 12 months ago, you’re missing a chance to embrace manageability and innovation,” he says. Michelson, an expert on total cost of ownership and planning issues, recently authored the book Closed Loop Lifecycle Planning (Addison-Wesley Professional). Here’s his advice on the five fronts of the perfect storm that IT teams should expect in their next technology refresh.

1. Manageability Tools

Built-in manageability tools have become commonplace. “The chip manufacturers are embedding intelligent manageability in their chips. The PC makers are embedding manageability and security into their products,” Michelson says. “The IT community now has to pick strategies. You sure didn’t have to make those choices last year.” CIOs must consider their manageability tools strategy carefully to make sure they don’t start with one vendor’s tools, then have to move to another in 18 months.

For example, do you encrypt all of your laptops, or some of them? Do you use an encryption tool from the notebook vendor or one from a third-party vendor? Do you want a tracking tool (for GPS location) in case the notebook gets lost? And, how will you handle patch management on the notebooks? This last question could overlap with your ITIL plans.

2. Virtualization

Virtualization changes your PC math. For CIOs who are considering virtualized desktop PCs—where end user applications live on a virtual machine image on a server instead of on the user’s PC hard drive—the decisions should be made before the next refresh. Because virtualization can use simpler, cheaper thin-client machines, it significantly affects how many full-strength PCs you need.

3. Consumer Technology

Consumer IT has invaded, and it’s here to stay. As the line between home and work PCs has blurred, CIOs face new expectations about where and how users want to access work applications. “CIOs are hearing requests like, ’Why don’t you IT folks webify the app so I can use it from my home office?’” Michelson says. “If you don’t tell the home users what they’re allowed [to access from outside the office], you’ll end up managing devices that you never planned on.” Give them the right machines during this refresh cycle, and you can keep a grip on security and management.

On the bright side, tech-savvy end users doing their own IT tasks are saving some CIOs money. For example, some HP customers have moved to what Michelson calls “touchless laptop deployment.” Before, a team like a sales department received new notebooks at a group meeting, and IT staff helped everyone through the setup process. Now, however, some companies are shipping notebooks to sales employees directly from the manufacturer. Michelson estimates this saves an enterprise about $100 every time a notebook is set up by the end user, without help or calls to IT. “The management tools are so mature by now. It’s step-by-step for the end user. It wasn’t that way two years ago,” he says.

4. Mobile Devices

Mobile devices pose new opportunities and risks. They have become so prevalent and so critical to employees that they must be part of your refresh decision. “Do you really need as many laptops? Or do you need wireless PDAs instead?” Michelson says. “Do you have a true refresh cycle for handheld devices? Think of them as little PCs because they can access the same information.”

5. Unofficial Applications

Users load more and more of their own applications. Your end users may load a Web-based app that’s free to consumers but could leave your company on the hook for $200 to $400 in licensing fees for corporate use. This next refresh is an excellent time to get the number of software manufacturers and titles within your fleet under control. When visiting HP customers, Michelson asks them how many software manufacturers and titles they have, then bets a box of Krispy Kreme donuts that the number is higher. “So far, I haven’t lost a bet,” he says.

Closing Tip: CRTs

Take a long, hard look at your cathode-ray tube monitors. Your next refresh is an opportune time to make the move to flat-panel displays instead of acquiring even more CRTs. Not only will you save on desk space and power bills but most likely on disposal costs too. Some 26 states have laws pending that, if passed, will make disposing of those bulky CRTs more expensive. Do the whole job now or face an unpleasant moment of truth later.