Recession extends hardware lifecycles

Change may be permanent for employees, users

The recession may have accelerated companies extending the lifecycles of PCs, laptops and servers, but that change may become permanent.

Two recent surveys point to changes in hardware buying . In one, IT decision makers at nearly 1,100 companies were asked what IT product they put off buying this year and 49% said PCs, the top item in the survey list. The survey, by hardware and systems vendor CDW, was conducted by an independent polling firm, Richard Day Research.

In this CDW survey, that data completely flips around for next year, with 55% ranking PCs as their top priority.

Although the CDW survey indicates that some of the hardware buying next year may be satisfying pent-up demand, it also shows flexibility in this buying. CDW didn't have data on the PC refresh cycle, but said from anecdotal feedback refresh cycle was extended although new PCs are high on the CIO wish list for next year.

"The recession is teaching a lot of CFOs that the lifecycle for this hardware can be longer than what the IT people have said in the past," Bob Houghton, president of Redemtech a company that resells, redeploys and recycles some several million PCs and servers annually.

Houghton said he's been seeing a trend of longer lifecycles for number of years, but says the recession has accelerated it. His firm conducted its own independent, general market survey of 179 companies, not necessarily customers of the firm.

The survey dismantles the notion that laptops, in particular, are more likely to be replaced every three years.

More than 40% of respondents said they were replacing their laptops in three years, more than 30% in four years, and about 20% are holding on to their laptops for five years or more.

Regarding desktop PCs, 39% said they are keeping these systems four years, and just over 30% for five or more years. With servers, 60.5% said they were using their machines for more than five years.

Redemtech works to extend the life of equipment with refurbishment, said Houghton, who attributed the four and five-plus years of useful life expectancies to better hardware.

Raphael Vasquez, an analyst at Gartner, believes the recession has been factor in extending PC lifetimes in the professional market, as well as home.

Vasquez said they are expecting PC spending to pick up in the next two years because of their increasing age, as well as expiring support for Microsoft Windows XP .

"I don't think there's a question about whether or not lifecycles are lengthening," Vasquez said by e-mail in response to questions. "I think there's a pretty strong case that they are. The question now is, are they lengthening because of the recession? Because people choose to buy media tablets? Or because existing mobile PCs are now simply being used less because of alternative platforms (like media tablets, smartphones )?"

John Spooner, of Technology Business Research, believes users are extending the lifecycle of their laptops from three years to four and even five years. The idea of a three-year lifecycle on laptops is ending, something the recession may have helped push away for good, he said. Many more firms are thinking about a four-year lifecycle. "The quality of the hardware is good enough," Spooner said.

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Tags Gartnerserversdesktop pcshardware systemsCDWlaptopsPCs

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Patrick Thibodeau

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