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Computacenter, one of Europe's largest resellers, struggling with data centre kit, up to 6-month lead times

Customers pulling forward orders to mitigate mounting supply worries

The mood music in tech land isn't so much about workspace projects - that's so 2020 - it's more about biz customers again investing in data centre hardware, when they can get hold of it.

At least that's the view of one of Europe's largest resellers: Computacenter, which turns 40 next month, and today outlined results for the first half of 2021 with sales up 29.2 per cent to £3.18bn and profit before tax up 59.1 per cent to £115.2m.

Mike Norris, the colourful chief exec who has led the business since 1994, said the challenges facing the organisation and industry had shifted.

We are ... starting to see major problems in the supply of data center components [for Germany ops]... current backlog has been around 70-80 per cent above the average of recent years for several months

"The vast majority of our customers have returned to business as normal and, other than the reduction to our cost base due to the ability to travel and a continued improvement of our technical resources, COVID-19 is now having very little impact on our business."

Well, sort of. One thing still evident is that components shortages aren't easing any time soon, something that everyone from the makers of PCs, servers, networking gear and so on have highlighted. This trend began in anger last year when the world switched to remote working and learning, causing PC sales to shoot up. Since then, high demand for things like silicon has infected other product types.

HPE recently revealed it had raised prices of its servers and networks kit, and a raft of manufacturers from Arista, Juniper, Lenovo, Dell and other big name vendors have either tweaked their price list or are considering it.

"The ongoing supply shortages in the industry has risen to the top of our challenges," added Norris. "The effects on our business are difficult to fully quantify." He said this had and will continue to pressure sales but Computacenter has used its scale to beat rivals to buy in bulk.

Euro tech bellwether

Computacenter is something of a bellwether for corporate tech buyers, with its client list including household names such as BMW Group, British television station Channel 4, Telefonica and more.

A year ago its attention was on trying to provide as many laptops as it could to customers struggling to enable their entire workforce to WFH. In the last six months workplace contracts fell to be replaced by "more margin-significant enterprise product."

Notwithstanding "poor hardware supply in Q2", security, network, server and storage shipments rallied with customers themselves deciding to manage procurement more closely.

"The pandemic-related worldwide shortage of product has encouraged some customers to place orders earlier. As a consequence, our product order backlog is presently at its highest in the last eight months," said the company of its UK business.

Sectors such as tourism, hotels and restaurants "continue to suffer" but automotive, financial services and the public sector do not, Computacenter added.

"We are also starting to see major problems in the supply of data center components," the reseller added of its German ops. "The current backlog has been around 70-80 per cent above the average of recent years for several months."

Mirroring what Arista mentioned in July, Computacenter said manufacturers were giving "delayed lead times of up to six months."

Perceived wisdom is that things won't improve on the product supply front until the middle of next year, something that the company concurred with.

Indraneel Arampata, analyst at Megabuyte, said today:

"With the global supply chain shortages creating some tangible problems – we think Computacenter is particularly susceptible given its customer base, who will have clear technology / system preferences and are less flexible to take 'whatever is available' – causing project delays." ®

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