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Built to Last

Financial pressures combined with increased reliability have companies keeping systems longer than ever.

November 28, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Computer systems aren't what they used to be—and IT is taking full advantage of that fact. As the durability and reliability of servers, desktop PCs and laptops have improved, organizations are keeping equipment longer. The average time between refreshes for servers is now four to six years, up from just two to three years in the 1990s, according to Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc. In addition, tighter budgets have forced IT to consider extending those life cycles.


In some cases, organizations are keeping servers and desktops even longer. "Some of our machines are eight or nine years old," says Michael Dunham, information systems manager at Fun Sun Vacations Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta. He says that until recently, his company, which has about 60 servers, simply migrated older units to less critical tasks and ran them until they died. Now, he says, Fun Sun has settled on a five-year replacement schedule for all of its machines.


IT's life-cycle demands have raised the bar for vendors. "There's more pressure on us to make the boxes last a longer period of time," acknowledges Bill Owens, vice president of service and support at Lenovo Group Ltd. in Purchase, N.Y.


Cash-flow concerns are motivating companies to keep equipment longer, says David Phieler, vice president of IT outsourcing at Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano Texas. Budgets are "tighter than they were 10 years ago," he says. Systems are also better engineered to accommodate failures. Hot-swappable components, predictive failure analysis for subsystems such as disk drives, and redundancy in everything from proc?essors to power supplies are making failures less painful.


The move toward extended equipment life spans gained a foothold after the dot-com crash, says Jeff Wood, director of alliances at Dallas-based CompuCom Systems Inc., which maintains IT equipment for corporate clients. "The economy... forced a lot of companies to hold on to their equipment a little bit longer," he says. But even as the business climate has improved, organizations have come to expect longer life cycles from their equipment. Now, he says, "they hold on to servers for four to six years in many cases."


John Enck, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., also has observed that its clients are keeping servers longer. "I've seen somewhat of a trend to stretching usage more into the four-to-five-year range instead of the three-to-four-year range," he says.


New Software, Old Hardware


The life cycle of PCs is now three to four and a half years, says Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio. Operating system upgrades also must wait until hardware is refreshed—though many organizations are installing new operating systems on existing equipment rather than buying new hardware for the new software.



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