Consolidated Management, not Computers


In a refresh of an idea that has been making the rounds since the first time-share computer, HP announced that they will start selling a blade PC system that keep disks and CPUs in a central facility and push only screens, keyboards, etc. to the user's desks. The idea is that if you have 10,000 employees but only 7,000 of them need to access computers at any one time, you save that same percentage of your hardware costs. Of course, the real savings would be in managing a cluster of blades instead of 10,000 PCs on desks. Anyone who's read this blog for any amount of time will know that I've long been an advocate of consolidated desktop management. My fervor doesn't extend to consolidating the PCs themselves, however because it flies in the face of something else I think is important: mobile devices.

I use a notebook computer exclusively. I want a single computing device with me wherever I am that not only has access to my data, but also is set up for how I use it, has the right applications, and a form factor I'm comfortable with. My computer is my work environment. Laptops are more expensive than desktop machines and not as powerful, but I think you have to focus on the entire value equation when considering what to deploy, not just the raw MIPS/$ ratio. I think many employees are more productive in an environment that is equipped for mobile computing.

I think that the end result of consolidated desktop management ought to more flexible not less. Business managers ought to have more options about how they equip their employees. The business manager, not the IT shop ought to be deciding whether an employee gets a laptop or a desktop. Mac or PC? That choice ought ot be there. I've argued before that enterprise desktop management can more easily support choice than a fragmented management approach can.

HP's product takes this kind of flexibility away for a limited savings. As the article says, 80% of the cost of putting desktops on employee desks is managing them, not buying them. So, even if HP's product can save 30%, which I would question, its only saving 30% of 20% or 6%. Giving up all your flexibility for 6% seems like a big price to pay. You can consolidate the management of PCs using software from great (Utah-based) companies like Altiris and LANDesk without consolidating the actual hardware and realize significant benefits.