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4 PC lifecycle management best practices

There isn't a perfect PC lifecycle plan for all organizations, so IT teams and management should ask themselves these four questions to shape their PC policy.

The principle behind a PC hardware lifecycle is quite simple: The longer you can prolong the life of a machine while maintaining productivity, the greater the financial benefits.

A PC lifecycle policy constitutes a systematic strategy to manage a computer's entire lifespan within an organization. This includes purchase planning, set up, maintenance and, ultimately, disposal of these machines. Such a policy helps organizations optimize their IT investments, lower costs, enhance operational efficiency and lessen their environmental footprint.

However, extending the lifecycle of a PC is not without its challenges. As hardware ages, it might not meet the performance requirements of users or new OSes and software, potentially leading to a decrease in productivity. Additionally, there's an increasing emphasis on sustainability within organizations as they strive to lessen the environmental impact of their operations. Striking a balance between extending hardware lifecycles and maintaining optimal performance and sustainability is therefore essential.

This green initiative makes the concept of prolonging the life of the PC an even more attractive notion. A green initiative often emphasizes the importance of resource conservation, which in this context means using hardware for as long as feasibly possible. Organizations can achieve this through regular maintenance, upgrading components or repurposing older machines for less demanding tasks.

There are numerous factors leading to a tighter PC market, including a semiconductor shortage and various supply-chain issues. Tech executives have predicted that this shortage could continue to limit the production of computer components for months at best, and years at worst​.

The task at hand is to find a successful balance among reducing costs, maintaining productivity and minimizing environmental impact. IT departments should answer the following key questions to shape their PC lifecycle.

1. Base the length of the PC lifecycle on PC workloads and user needs

PC lifecycle needs vary across organizations, with some industries -- such as oil and gas -- requiring access to current and high-performance hardware. In these sectors, employees often rely on robust workstations for intensive processing tasks. As a result, the lifecycles of PCs in these organizations tend to be shorter. The demanding nature of their work requires continuous access to cutting-edge hardware to ensure efficient and effective processing capabilities.

However, more and more companies are adopting desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offerings to ensure that more compute-heavy applications run on a hosted service and that users only require a light computer to access their DaaS and other applications.

For organizations that have not adopted DaaS offerings, longer PC lifecycles – some extending up to 10 years -- can result in performance issues with aging PCs.

For organizations that have not adopted DaaS offerings, longer PC lifecycles -- some extending up to 10 years -- can result in performance issues with aging PCs. However, the cost savings achieved by avoiding new PC purchases can help offset any productivity losses caused by outdated hardware.

It is not always easy to measure the productivity loss of a machine running outdated hardware. For example, a user with outdated hardware might only experience issues when starting their PC or opening applications, affecting overall performance by 30 seconds at boot time and another 30 seconds when using applications. But bigger delays could exist and affect performance.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that Microsoft now requires newer hardware for their latest OSes to maintain a strong security baseline. This requirement poses a challenge for organizations aiming to have a fully functional Windows device for an extended period, since the new OS-based security mechanisms and the hardware required might not be available on older machines.

2. Develop a uniform PC distribution infrastructure whenever possible

The most important part of shaping any end-user policy is to understand what users need, how they work and to then divide them into different groups based on those answers. Some workers might just need access to a DaaS OS from a specific office or location, which means they only need a thin client or a lightweight machine. The DaaS offering can scale up and down depending on performance needs. Organizations might also notice that many executives or other key staff only work with collaboration tools and reporting mechanisms, and do not need a high-performance computer. For them, a stable computer with an emphasis on battery capacity might be enough.

IT, on the other hand, might require more high-end machines for user groups performing compute-intensive tasks.

After considering each group, it is advisable to establish a collection of machines to be deployed throughout the organization. This approach lets IT provide spare parts or to assist with replacements in the event of issues with an employee's machine. Organizations can also effortlessly transform a machine operating on outdated hardware into a DaaS-enabled thin client using tools such as Google FlexOS, a platform that converts an existing machine into a thin client.

With a standard computer model assigned to each group, IT can reuse hardware components such as computer memory, which can be used to increase the performance of existing machines if there are some to spare.

3. Plan for warranties and post-warranty lifecycle

When formulating a policy for the lifecycle of computers, it is crucial to consider the warranty and support options available for the chosen computer models. Typically, most computers and laptops are equipped with a standard one-year warranty provided by OEMs such as Dell, HP and Lenovo. Vendors often offer the flexibility to extend the warranty and support for up to three years, a popular choice among many companies.

It is also possible to purchase support and warranty for up to five years, but the cost of these extended years can be twice as much as the price for one to three years. For example, a business laptop might have a starting price of $650 that includes a year of support. Adding a three-year extension would add $190 to the price, while an additional four years would increase the price by $380.

After three years, the likelihood of computer hardware failure increases significantly, depending on usage. Desktop-based computers, which are generally stationary and less prone to damage, can continue functioning without issues and typically do not necessitate any hardware changes for a long duration. On the other hand, laptops -- being more mobile in nature -- are more susceptible to external damage and might require attention or repairs more frequently.

After the warranty expires, organizations should ensure they have a stock of reserve laptops and computers in-house. This lets IT replace computers quickly when the hardware fails and the extended support is over.

IT should evaluate demand in terms of warranty and support needed for each user group. It is easier to replace faulty hardware components for DaaS users with cheaper desktop models, for example, so IT teams might not need the extended warranty since the cost and failure rate for these machines are quite low.

4. Find a sustainable and profitable way to dispose of PCs

At some point, certain machines become obsolete or require replacement due to new hardware and security requirements. So, what can organizations do with these machines?

Over time, various modifications to the underlying hardware can occur, making it impractical to use old hardware as spare parts for new machines. These modifications might involve changes in cable standards, such as the introduction of new USB or memory slots, or the addition of extension slots for cards.

The initial step is to ensure that all business-related data on the computers is thoroughly erased, adhering to the guidelines of the NIST 800-88 framework. Once IT has securely wiped the data, organizations essentially have the following two options:

  • If it's still in working order, the machine can be sold to another organization or repurposed as a thin client machine. These repurposed devices can serve as access points for DaaS or other virtual desktop environments. In some cases, these older devices can function as thin client machines for upwards of six years, even beyond the period of extended support. This suggests that, depending on the specific use case, older machines might still be useful to certain user groups.
  • Another possibility is mineral extraction. Many electronic devices contain trace amounts of precious metals such as gold, silver and copper. However, the process of extracting these metals can be intricate and requires specialized equipment and expertise. There are companies specializing in urban mining or e-waste mining that are dedicated to recovering these metals from old electronic devices.

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