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Laptops Will Always Be King Of The Portables

Posted on December 7th, 2015 by ScienceDude

Considering the tco premium most companies must pay for the care and feeding of notebook computers, you might expect Dan Barth to be looking to trade in his laptops for desktops the way sports memorabilia collectors are looking to unload their Latrell Sprewell trading cards.

But you’d be wrong.

Barth, CIO at Pinnacle Brands, a $200 million Dallas-based maker of trading cards, has shifted to buying laptops rather than desktop PCs exclusively, even though he knows that laptop total cost of ownership is higher–sometimes much higher. In fact, Meta Group Inc. estimates that because of the high cost of supporting remote users, higher purchase price and shorter life cycle, typical laptop computer capital and operational expenses are about 50% greater than for a typical desktop.

Laptops are still awesome.

Laptops are still awesome.

Still, Barth and many other IT managers continue to replace desktop PCs with laptops. Meta estimates that by the year 2000, half of all PC shipments will be laptops, up from 35 percent today. Increased business travel and telecommuting are driving much of that demand.

Given this commitment, IT managers such as Barth are looking for strategies to hold down laptop TCO. “It’s incumbent on us to find ways to manage the cost of ownership of a laptop,” Barth said. “We have to do things to reduce that cost down to where it’s marginal.”

On the road

Some companies, including Pinnacle, are turning to remote systems management tools to cut software upgrade costs and other expenses. Other companies are leasing laptops and looking to outsource laptop hardware distribution and upgrades. In addition, some are counting on standard laptop configurations and VPNs (virtual private networks) to cut down on laptop support and remote access costs.

Pinnacle, for example, has used RemoteWare remote systems management software from Atlanta-based XcelleNet Inc. for about two years. During that time, it has reduced TCO on its 50 laptops from about 80 percent to 30 percent more than that of desktops. As a result, the company has been able to increase the number of applications available to its sales force, Barth said.

RemoteWare allows IS officials to distribute software upgrades, manage remote users’ file systems and compress files as they are transmitted, reducing online time, said Cody Cleveland, IS director at Pinnacle, also based in Dallas. RemoteWare also helps Pinnacle deal with laptop users, who tend to install unauthorized applications more than desktop users do. That can drive up support costs.

“You can create a work object in RemoteWare that allows you to do a file status, so if [an application] is not part of the standard configuration any more, we can delete it,” Cleveland said. For example, Pinnacle uses a set of sales force automation databases in Lotus Development Corp.’s Notes. With RemoteWare, as a database becomes outdated it can be deleted remotely.

In the next few weeks, Pinnacle will start rolling out XcelleNet’s Remotely Possible upgrade, which will allow an administrator at corporate headquarters to see a remote user’s configuration once the user has connected to the network.

Although companies such as Pinnacle have used remote management tools to drive down laptop TCO, most large users have not followed suit. While most companies have a significant, if not a higher, number of laptops than desktops, “very few organizations are doing remote systems management,” said David Cearley, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

New lease

Other large users are attacking laptop TCO by turning to leasing and outsourcing of remote support services. The New York-based Big Six accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP has been leasing its 27,000 laptops, which account for 80 percent of its PC base, for a little over two years. Leasing has allowed the company to keep up with rapid laptop hardware upgrades and reduced the expense of the machines, according to Rich Mooney, newly named senior manager of Ernst & Young’s Supply Chain consulting practice, in New York. Mooney was most recently Ernst & Young’s national director of purchasing and contracts.

“We were able to better negotiate a leasing program and obtained very competitive pricing and favorable terms and conditions,” Mooney said. Those terms included technology refresh options, on-site hardware support from Dell Computer Corp. and an “interim rent” deal that allows Ernst & Young to take delivery of new laptops up to 15 days before the lease kicks in. This will save the company millions of dollars annually, Mooney said. Altogether, Ernst & Young is leasing between 5,000 and 6,000 laptops this year and plans to replace as many as 18,000 next year.

Leasing has also allowed Ernst & Young to maintain state-of-the-art laptop technology. The company has standardized on Dell’s 166MHz Pentium with MMX Latitudes and is currently moving to 233MHz Pentium with MMX Latitudes for all new leases. “By negotiating directly with the manufacturer, we drive down the price and forecast out a year in advance what we need,” Mooney said. That lowers support costs, since Ernst & Young can standardize on replacement parts. It also reduces the need for different types of IS training and certification.

Also considering a leasing strategy is Value Village Stores, in Bellevue, Wash. However, the company is still trying to get a handle on laptop costs. Overall, in fact, IT personnel at the thrift retailer are spending 30 percent of their time managing just over 75 laptops, with the other 70 percent of their time spent on 250 workstations, said Katherine Flower, Value Village’s IT manager. The company’s base of laptops is expected to grow by about 25 percent, while the company anticipates growing from 150 stores to 200 stores in the United States and Canada by 2000.

The most costly aspects of managing laptops, Flower said, are that most users are remote and more likely to make configuration changes. “Desktop systems are locked down, and users can’t get in and change configurations,” she said. “With laptops … the machines are more open, and it creates a higher-maintenance issue.” In addition, remote users’ machines often need to be sent to headquarters to be fixed. IS receives an average of about 10 troubleshooting calls a week from remote users.

Leasing will help Value Village standardize on laptops, which often go through upgrade cycles in a matter of months. About three years ago, Value Village officials purchased Zeos International Inc. laptops. But within three months, the model wasn’t available anymore. Then, in mid-1995, Value Village switched to NEC Corp. laptops. The company used six different NEC models before switching to IBM laptops last fall.

Flower thinks three-year leases might be the answer. Leasing “pretty much guarantees we can expense out the cost on a monthly basis, then when the technology gets old and the laptops are no longer functional, we can upgrade them all at the same time,” she said.

As another strategy for reducing laptop TCO, many organizations are looking to cut back on costly dial-up communication costs. Value Village, for example, is looking into using a VPN to line up local ISPs (Internet service providers), which then can provide low-cost access to remote users.

Pinnacle also recently began using local ISPs. That strategy is decreasing the cost of long-distance phone calls and providing faster, more reliable connections. Both Cleveland and Barth expect that Pinnacle’s long-distance charges will decrease from $8,000 a month to about $600.

Simply getting laptops to remote employees is another cost that many companies are trying to reduce. Ernst & Young is looking to outsource that headache. Its technical support organization just received approval to find a service provider that will act as a “PC depot” for centralized redistribution and redeployment of all equipment in the United States, Mooney said. “This will allow us to better manage our notebook inventory,” he added. With more than 100 U.S. offices, and a 20 percent industrywide employment turnover rate per year, the company will no longer end up with as many as 120 notebooks scattered around the country when people leave.

Such strategies aren’t likely to bring laptop TCO down to desktop levels. But, say IT managers, they’re essential, since users aren’t likely to be willing to trade in their laptop convenience anytime soon.

3 Responses to "Laptops Will Always Be King Of The Portables"

  1. The operating systems used for laptops are more reliable than those being used for other portable computers. For this reason, I will still opt for the king portables! That’s definitely the laptop!

  2. I still prefer laptops over other portable gadgets like tablet. I think laptops are more durable. I notice that tablets are easy to get damaged no matter how robust the protective case you use for it.

  3. I always go for a laptop because this device has more connections than the other portable devices. A gadget is more useful if it has Bluetooth, HDMI and if it has USB ports.

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