Restraint may be the wise path to economic recovery

Pick up a newspaper and you can't avoid reading that we are in the midst

of an economic recovery. Though the numbers are apparently hinting at

this, I haven't seen much evidence of this -- yet.

In talking to integrators and solution providers, there are no stories

about the opening of any IT spending floodgates. If there is a recovery

in progress, the increases in spending are likely to be gradual, small

enough in the beginning that we may not even know it has begun.

So where will IT spend its dollars? I've asked a dozen people for

answers, and, you guessed it, have gotten a dozen different answers.

Desktops. Servers. Security. Support. Development. And on and on. Your

mileage may vary.

The challenge of dealing with a prolonged period of no spending is that

IT departments have to make do with what they have, squeezing extra

months -- or sometimes years -- out of equipment deployed long ago and

past its depreciable life. But the stuff works. And it continues to

work. Equipment that might have been on an automatic three-year

replacement cycle is, all of a sudden, on a three-and-a-half year or

four-year cycle.

The IT department has been tripped up by "good enoughness," wherein

hardware can wait just a little longer for replacement because, well,

it's good enough. In more slang terms, it ain't broke, so they ain't

fixin' it.

But hard drives will fail and support costs will inevitably rise,

pushing back against good enoughness. Servers running Windows 2000 will

want their operating systems upgraded to Windows Server 2003 or even

Linux. "That," as the embattled Martha would say, "is a good thing."

Though I don't have much hand-on experience with Linux, I have seen a

dramatic rise in serious interest, long past the mere curiosity stage.

And Microsoft is offering a slew of collaborative Web services that are

powerful, but require, not surprisingly, Windows Server 2003 and its

ancillary products such as Team services.

The wonderful thing about upgrading a server's operating system is that

it's usually a whole lot simpler to buy and install a new server than it

is to take an existing server offline and spend hours or days doing an

upgrade. It's often less expensive to bring in a new piece of iron with

a much faster processor and faster-bigger-cheaper hard drives.

One area where spending is likely to open up is security. IT directors

live with the daily fear that their networks are going to be broken

into, either from the outside or, worse, from someone on the inside.

Even during these past years of little spending, I've seen lots of

firewall upgrades, spam control, virus control, and other system-health

products installed.

I recently had a lengthy discussion with a project manager in a

multinational enterprise corporation that has deployed third-party

disk-defragmentation software to thousands of desktops and laptops. Over

three or more years of daily use, practically none of these systems has

ever been defragged.

Configured to run automatically, this off-the-shelf utility software has

been something of a miracle worker. Complaints about horribly slow

systems have diminished drastically. The burden on the tech support

group (usually where the first job cuts are made) has lightened. And for

the IT department, it turns out to be a way to keep users happy with

their aging systems for just a little bit longer.

As spending increases, we'll keep an eye on the trends and report what

we see in the trenches. Slow and steady is the way to go.

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