Tech

Computers are expensive when we manage them ourselves

Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you’re in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

This week’s motion is: Renting hardware on a subscription basis is bad for customers.

Call it leasing, equipment rental, or hardware as a service, the idea of NOT owning your computing devices has been around for years. However, many individuals and corporations have been distinctly ambivalent about the idea, feeling that the benefits tend to flow to the suppliers, and most of all, the financers.

Yet the cloud means many organisations have gotten used to not owning all of the server infrastructure their businesses depend on. And the shift to remote working over the last year or two means many IT departments don’t even meet their users – let alone physically touch the client equipment they’re using. Lastly, sustainability and environmental concerns mean individuals and corporations are thinking harder about the broader costs of “owning” hardware. So, are hardware subscriptions the way forward?

Writing AGAINST the motion today is Joe Fay, who has covered the technology business for 30 years.

It used to be a cliché back in the 1990s that a PC was the third most expensive purchase an individual would make, after our home, and our car.

Things have changed, haven’t they? Homes have got more expensive, while the proportion of renters has increased. With cars, leasing or personal contract plans have led to the proliferation of expensive elite models on the most modest of streets.

And computers? Well, the cost of an Apple Mac in 1984 was north of $2,500. Equivalent to over $6,000 in today’s money. By 1992, a ThinkPad came in at $2,375, or around $4,500 today.

So tech is clearly more affordable than it was in the past. But does that mean it makes sense to “own” it? Do we really need the “freedom” to choose whatever you want on your desktop, or laptop, or indeed, your data center?

The cloud has shown us that consumption-based models work. Of course, not every workload can be shifted to the cloud. But that doesn’t mean enterprises aren’t going to hanker after more flexibility than traditional ownership models offer.

So, vendors are beginning to offer consumption-based models that give companies more freedom to scale their on-prem infrastructure up – and down. More importantly, these models allow in-house IT to hand over the day-to-day headaches associated with monitoring and managing on-prem equipment – while still having it close to hand, and under their control.

Perhaps, as importantly, these non-ownership models should smooth the whole planning and budgeting process for infrastructure, both by shifting expenditure from capex to opex, and by making it more predictable and transparent.

When it comes to end-user devices, remote working means in-house IT is unlikely to even touch the kit workers depend on. Ever. So why not hand off responsibility for deployment, management, and crucially, end of life and upgrades. And have a bit of flexibility to hand out fresh laptops when there’s a sudden staffing surge, whether that’s kicking off a new project, or welcoming a fresh cohort of graduates.

Most of us are simply not very good at maintaining kits, getting it repaired, and ensuring it’s fully utilized

Let’s be realistic here. The biggest dust trap in any tech organisation is the cupboard bulging with laptops with missing keys and cracked screens, orphaned monitors, and desktops with missing screws and fluff clogged DIMM slots. And that’s just the end user stuff. Let’s not even think about what happens to dead servers. And how much of this is still sat on the books, being slowly depreciated, while delivering zero benefit?

Whether at a corporate or domestic level, most of us are simply not very good at maintaining kits, getting it repaired, and ensuring it’s fully utilized.

So surely it makes more sense to put the responsibility on someone else and getting on with our real jobs. Bearing in mind that a real job should involve paying close attention to exactly what your supplier really is offering in terms of monitoring, and by way of upgrades and when. And what their repair policy is. And what that end-of-life policy is.

It may be that you’re a rugged individualist, and want to go it alone, effectively off-grid. In which case, yes, being tied to any sort of tech provider doesn’t really make sense. But then again, if you’re really off-grid, having a PC or data center at all might not make particularly good sense either.

For the rest of us, it’s a case of doing our homework, making sure we know exactly what’s on offer, striking a deal, and saying, yes. Yes, to hardware on subscription that is, and to voting against this motion. ®

Cast your vote below. We’ll close the poll on Thursday night and publish the final result on Friday. You can track the debate’s progress here.

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