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TCO: Why Businesses Need To Look Beyond The PC

With the right keyboard the iPad becomes much more than
a consumer device.
Buying a PC is really easy. Set yourself some key features and make your choice based on how the offerings stack up.

Buying PCs in the tens of thousands over a period of time is incredibly difficult and requires all kinds of complex calculations and scoring mechanisms to ensure that the organisation gets value of the lifetime of the contract you sign them up for.

You'll have heard of the phrase Total Cost of Ownership - TCO for short - if you've any interest in PCs at more than a home user level. This is a way of measuring the true cost of that PC from purchase to disposal and takes into account purchase, maintenance, support and disposal costs. For most organisations the cost of the PC itself is a very small component of that overall lifecycle cost.

The problem with a PC is that it is a hugely complex piece of equipment. Then once you get past the hardware complexity there's the whole issue of operating system and application software issues.

Most large enterprises have moved, are moving or are planning to move some or all of their end users to a thin client solution. This makes good sense. The end-user device can be a much cheaper, simpler and more reliable component. All the hard work is completed centrally on easy to manage servers that sit in a server room and utilise high availability and redundancy tricks to provide a resilient service.

New, updated or fixed software applications can be deployed once to the central server farm and made instantly available to everybody connected to the service. Version upgrades, new tools, even new applications easily shipped to users without downtime, complex remote installs or even having to send an engineer out to every user. In TCO terms it's a game changer.

For smaller organisations this is a difficult jump, the upfront investment costs of delivering the core platforms to enable this thin-client world make this a real risk in terms of balancing investment against income.

So what is the alternative?

Firstly the capability of modern tablet OSs means that end devices are available which meet the criteria of low maintenance and high reliability. A user equipped with a Chromebook, iPad or Surface instantly reduces the burden on support staff by a magnitude. In effect by locking down (or doing away with) the operating system a whole layer of potential failure is removed from the support stack. And whilst the iPad doesn't entirely lend itself to use as a desktop - although that doesn't mean it isn't usable as a desktop - both the Surface and Chromebook have that functionality.

Of course the Win32 applications which are most commonly used in medium sized businesses don't run on these cut-down operating systems. Or do they? Microsoft Office is available on both Windows RT and iPad, whilst Office 365 runs well on a Chromebook. Move a small business's email and file storage into the cloud and together with Office you've covered all of their support requirements. 
The Surface 2 has the power to run a full size desktop setup
with keyboard and mouse.

For those smaller businesses running one or more legacy Windows applications the path to a light touch IT environment (and hence lower TCO) will be blocked by one obstacle - the migration of that application into a more suitable form: a web app. Look around and it's possible to find web based applications that replace almost all of a business's legacy catalogue. 

In the current financial environment where gaining value from every penny invested is key, reducing IT costs is both desirable and achievable for even the smallest business.

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