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Renting IT hardware on a subscription basis is bad for customers

We're back with another debate you can vote on as we argue back and forth – this time over cloud computing

Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you're in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

This week's motion is: Renting hardware on a subscription basis is bad for customers.

Call it leasing, equipment rental, or hardware as a service, the idea of NOT owning your computing devices has been around for years. However, many individuals and corporations have been distinctly ambivalent about the idea, feeling that the benefits tend to flow to the suppliers, and most of all, the financers.

Yet the cloud means many organisations have got used to not owning all of the server infrastructure their businesses depend on. And the shift to remote working over the past year or two means many IT departments don’t even meet their users – let alone physically touch the client equipment they’re using.

Lastly, sustainability and environmental concerns mean individuals and corporations are thinking harder about the broader costs of “owning” hardware. So, are hardware subscriptions the way forward?

Kicking off the debate, arguing FOR the motion, is Dominic Connor, a former head of IT in the City of London, and now a headhunter.

Not only are we in uncertain times, COVID-19 has taught us we don’t even know what to be uncertain about, which makes the idea of renting hardware on a subscription basis appear attractive. To some.

Just consider what this means for end user kit. Working at home has meant we are increasingly supporting home hardware, and although it might be nice for all our remote workers to have the same configuration as each other, the commercial reality is that our users have already bought their own equipment.

Whether this is capex, lease, or device-as-a-service, supplying home PCs for an organisation of any size amounts to a cost of anywhere from tens of thousands to millions. But the cheapest computer is one you don't have to pay for, and if we do then Amazon will deliver a laptop the next day. If our cloud/remote infrastructure is set up properly, it is simply a matter of telling the user to download the client. Over the past two years, users have had to become a lot less helpless when faced with minor tech tasks.

More broadly, both tech and finance management have been caught in the past by “flexible” terms that turn out not to be or have financial stings in the tail, meaning hardware rental requires more due diligence and personal exposure for technology management.

Yes, we can help a vendor understand our specific business needs, but that is time consuming and even if we can articulate what we want today, it will soon change and their pre-sales are always more clued up than post-.

Quietly, over the past decade we’ve gradually cut back on ops staffing and faced the reality that you can only save on people costs when you lose a whole one, not when they are more lightly loaded. The remainder of our people have been kept because of specific knowledge of our business and in-house applications so cannot realistically be replaced by generic outsourced resource, no matter how skilled.

The last thing we need is users being caught between in-house and outsourced IT blaming each other for why their system isn’t working, whether that’s on the desktop or in the data center. And although superficially attractive, the idea of simple reports means technology leadership doesn’t get the background hum of feedback until we are ambushed at a meeting by seriously unhappy users.

At an enterprise level, we are moving beyond merely monitoring our networks to proactively seeking out vulnerabilities and attacks where the biggest challenge is getting the various solutions to play nicely together, which frankly they don’t. Adding another monitoring package and vendor is not very attractive.

So, in the final analysis, renting hardware as a service is a solution to something that for many enterprises is not a problem.

We no longer need to replace desktops every two to three years to keep up since desktop apps have plateaued in hardware requirements even if not running on the cloud. We’re now just replacing them when they die which is rarer as they are much more reliable. And a fully depreciated computer is still a useful asset.

Renting infrastructure requires a great deal more confidence in the supplier, because a problem can affect the whole enterprise, not just a few users. And the integration challenges we face in delivering a robust yet flexible infrastructure requires that we deal with a vendor who understands components come from other vendors.

Are you certain you can trust one supplier to do all that? Thought so. ®

Cast your vote below. We'll close the poll on Thursday night and publish the final result on Friday. You can track the debate's progress here.

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