Weighing when to upgrade

Organizations often fret about the cost of replacing computers.

That's certainly the case in government, where belt tightening is the rule of the day. But industry executives contend that agencies also should weigh the cost of not buying new hardware. Michael Friedlander, vice president of business development at Alinean LLC, said computer crashes and downtime may be the cost of sticking with outdated technology. Alinean develops return-on-investment tools.

"You need to look at not just the cost [of buying new equipment], but the productivity cost of not upgrading," he said.

To buy or not to buy — that is the question a number of agencies face this year. Desktops purchased to bolster Year 2000 readiness are well past their prime.

Tom Buchsbaum, vice president of federal systems at Dell Inc., said some customers are replacing computers purchased in the late 1990s. The older machines, he said, aren't

able to support new operating systems "that

offer security advantages over aging"operating systems.

Buchsbaum said organizations may expand their upgrade of aging hardware into a broader platform upgrade, including software and operating systems. The bigger replacements provide a consistent environment with a reduced number of system setups to support, he added. That translates into reduced maintenance and total cost of ownership.

A few customers are making a wholesale platform shift. Buchsbaum cited one customer who asked Dell to replace all of their desktop machines over a three-month period, a program involving tens of thousands of new machines. Other customers, he added, are making smaller buys tied to the availability of budget dollars.

Once the purchase decision has been made, agencies face another challenge: making sure their new purchases are as future-proof as possible. The key here, Friedlander said, is having some idea of the types of applications that will be running in the future. Applications involving graphics acceleration, for example, will tax a PC, he said.

Security considerations can also stress a CPU. Virtual private network requirements are a huge drain on processing, Friedlander said. Antivirus products gobble resources as well.

The cost of migration is another total-cost-of-ownership factor linked to the upgrade decision. But here, Friedlander said, management tools from vendors such as Altiris Inc., FullArmor Corp. and LANDesk Software Ltd. can "ease that pain of migration." The Altiris Migration Suite, for example, evaluates hardware and software before a Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000/XP migration and then handles operating system deployment and software installation.

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