In 1996 IDC asked corporate end-users how often they replaced their hardware. Eighteen per cent of respondents said they replaced their systems every two years, 46 per cent offered that they updated hardware systems every three years, and 19 per cent said they waited four years before making a change. When the same question was asked in 2004 only two per cent of respondents said they were on two-year buying cycles, with 50 per cent opting for three-year cycles, and 31 per cent pushing the life span of their systems out to four years.
And the word from the coal-face is that this trend will continue out to five-year buying cycles and beyond.
Given these statistics, whitebox resellers are discovering new found emphasis on future proofing, according to managing director of integrator and reseller Adler Training and Consulting, John Adler.
A reseller focused on the SME sector, Adler believes stocking whitebox brands has put the company on the front foot in recent times, because it has enabled him to offer customers cutting edge technology ahead of the large multinational manufacturers.
"While the large multinational manufacturers can offer you consistency of supply, the whitebox people can always offer you the latest product," he said. "For small business, when they make an investment in technology they don't want to have to reinvest in two years time, they want something that will still run their software four years down the track. It's the whitebox products that can offer that."
Adler believes many small companies are still running on the systems they bought as part of a mass upgrade precipitated by the Y2K bug and implementation of the GST. Many companies will expect similar longevity from any replacements, he said.
Moreover it would seem this trend is not limited to the SME market. Scheduling manager for whitebox systems manufacturer ASI Solutions, Craig Smither, said government and education customers are also pushing buying cycles out from two to five years.
“It is not that the end customer really wants the technology to survive that long, but we are seeing an increasing emphasis on longer support contracts," he explained. “Many just want to know that they will still be able to get the technology serviced, it is a kind of insurance.”
However, providing their customer base with that insurance is no mean feat, with whitebox manufacturers balancing the need to quickly adopt the latest technology, with the need to ensure supply of parts and replacements over increasingly lengthy periods.
Managing director of ASI Solutions, Maree Lowe, believes the key lies in establishing long-term relationships with suppliers so as to build up reliable supply lines and standardised parts.
According to Adler, whitebox manufacturers are also better able to provide such ongoing services than their multinational counterparts.
"The only reason we deal with multinationals is that they can get exactly the same machine in five months time," Adler said. "However, all the equipment requires proprietary components, which you can only get from the vendor. When a machine is out of warranty it becomes very expensive to service and repair."
The overarching concern for resellers given the end user push towards longer buying cycles is that this servicing requirement will fall on their shoulders.
"Replacement stock availability is now central to who we decide to work with," Adler said. "We sell multinational brands because we will sell what people ask for, but theirs are not the products we would recommend."