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Patching or Replacing Your Technology

The business case for upgrading older equipment.

When small business managers consider the prospect of replacing older PCs and servers, some make the seemingly frugal and low-risk decision to upgrade on the installment plan. They add some memory, update the operating systems, and replace a few worn disks with new and larger drives over time. They hope the machines that have been so reliable will continue to serve dependably, with minimal service requirements for another year or more.

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But in practice, this piecemeal approach to upgrades is typically neither frugal nor low risk. Patchwork machines can be a nightmare for IT support staff, especially when your IT support team is small. Service calls can increase — affecting the support team’s productivity. Computer performance can decline significantly with the increased resource demands of newer operating systems, business applications, and more robust security mechanisms. When the true costs and benefits of patching and replacement are accurately compared, replacement comes out the clear winner.

First Compare the Capital Costs, Then Consider Maintenance Expense
Let’s say you choose to update an older desktop to extend its useful life. Your shopping list includes an upgrade to the latest operating system, a larger hard drive, additional memory, and a DVD burner. The combined costs fall in the range of US$460 to $970.

Today’s servers and PCs have performance, manageability, operating systems, and software that can actually lower total cost of ownership, not to mention improve your business resilience and security. New equipment will almost certainly include warranties that cover routine maintenance expenses (if any) for the first one to three years of service. In contrast, patchwork machines are typically not covered by hardware or software support agreements, and in reality are much more likely to require service.

Gartner also reports that shadow support — the technology troubleshooting that employees do for themselves or help each other with — adds up to 2 hours per employee per month. This shadow support is 4 times less effective than formal support. But by improving the reliability and support of the platforms, shadow support costs can be reduced by 15-25%.

Don’t Forget the Productivity Factor
Perhaps the area where the cost and benefits of piecemeal rebuilds vs. new, high-performance PCs diverge most dramatically is in productivity. Your employees use their PCs for hundreds of different tasks, and even a few seconds difference in execution time for each action can add up to several hours lost or gained each month. Fast processors can often let employees run multiple applications simultaneously, meaning you’ll likely get more productive work accomplished in every session.

Migration? Not a Problem
Some users avoid technology replacement, dreading the prospect of migrating data and applications to a new machine. While this may have been a realistic concern in the past, these days new and relatively inexpensive migration tools make this task a simple and trouble-free process. Often migration can be accomplished with one-click convenience using comprehensive data migration utilities for transporting user files, settings, applications, drivers and other software and data.

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The Bottom Line: Don’t Patch, Replace
In today’s market, new computers and servers are available with much higher performance than the older machines in the workplace — at virtually the same cost as a piecemeal upgrade. Make the comparison yourself, and then make the best investment possible in your firm’s future.

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