Internaut: IT habits change with the times

Shawn P. McCarthy

Some interesting trends have developed in recent months that reflect the changing IT priorities of federal agencies. Handheld PCs are hot, powerful servers are not. Linux is making major inroads, but the three-year PC cycle is a thing of the past. Is your agency catching these waves?

Government spending on personal computers is flattening out. This year will be the peak for spending on PCs, at about $1.01 billion for civilian agencies and $1.05 billion for the Defense Department. Spending in both government sectors will drop below the billion-dollar mark over the next few years. This doesn't mean fewer PCs in the federal workforce. The drop in spending mainly reflects a drop in the price of computers. But because new PCs are so powerful, they last longer. Systems used for routine office work have a longer work life'up to four years in some cases.

As PC spending declines, spending on wireless handhelds is increasing. This includes everything from Palm systems and BlackBerry devices to radio frequency identification scanners used in warehouses. Spending per year will nearly double by 2008, to $235 million for civilian agencies and $450 million for DOD.

More devices on the edges of government networks mean a need for more bandwidth, which is also reflected in federal spending priorities. Network spending will jump by an average of 10.3 percent per year for the next three years. Much of that will be invested in raw bandwidth, plus routers, switches and wireless hubs.

Federal mandates for sharing data across agencies are also driving network spending. It has prompted a spike in the purchase of application development tools.

IT service providers are having an ever-greater influence on the federal IT dollar. Spending on services will exceed $23.4 billion across the federal government by 2008. Partnering with large IT service providers has become a major way for vendors to target the federal space without selling directly to government buyers.

The government is buying fewer high-end servers, but when agencies do buy, they tend to go for powerful blade servers that can be scaled up as needed. Most popular are so-called 'volume servers.' These are low-cost, commodity units that can be configured in multiple ways, as application servers, Web servers and e-mail servers. Spending on volume servers should increase an average of 6.4 percent per year over the next three years.

Meanwhile, Linux is making serious headway in the government's server market. In some agencies, more than 50 percent of new servers come installed with Linux.
These trends, taken as a whole, will continue to have a profound influence on the federal IT market in the months and years ahead. Technology priorities are changing, but one thing remains certain: Agencies will continue to spend more on IT in the coming years.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

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