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Server depreciation cycles hold steady, Gartner attendees say

Despite a poor economy, Gartner Data Center Conference attendees say server refresh cycles still hover in the three-to-five-year range.

LAS VEGAS -- Gartner Data Center Conference attendees say their server refresh cycles have stayed about the same despite the poor economy.

Recent numbers from the research firm indicate that the IT industry in stabilizing, with server shipments increasing 13.8% in the third quarter compared with the second quarter of this year. Server shipments declined 17.1% year over year.

IT pros at the show this week said their server refresh cycles -- normally three to five years – haven't changed much, although some report that they're edging closer to the five-year end of the spectrum. "Three to five years is our average," said Greg Manahan, the deputy CIO of operations for Naval Air Systems Command. "They've definitely been stretching it out some. IT costs have been getting cut to pay for military environments and weapons systems. IT is certainly important, but not as important as that."

Greg Cleveland, an IT consultant for Net Active Media Inc. in Incline Village, Nev., said he sees clients at a 36-to-42-month cycle right now, with some shops extending the lives of their servers depending on which applications they run. If their application infrastructure is supported on several servers and load-balanced, then they might ride the servers into the ground knowing that other hardware will pick up the slack if one kicks the bucket.

Scott Rowe, a director in the CTO office at Emdeon, a Nashville, Tenn.-based healthcare company, said his company typically runs a three-year refresh cycle for laptops and four years for servers. That hasn't changed yet, despite a relatively flat IT budget.

"We've been working on a lot of cost optimization projects, so we've been able to keep costs level," he said. Some of those projects include server consolidation, virtualization and data center consolidation.

In a poll taken during the keynote, 34% of attendees said they expect their IT budget to be flat in 2010 compared with this year. Another one-quarter said they expect no more than a 5% change. That said, server upgrading isn't on the forefront of most minds. Only 5% think server updates will be their largest data center challenge in the coming year. For most, a portion of the IT budget is set for normal server refreshes, and despite the poor economy this year, that hasn't changed.

"It has been our typical business practice to stay with three years," said an enterprise infrastructure planning manager for a Canadian government agency. "We didn't see any reason to change that."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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