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John G. Spooner

Staff Writer, CNET

IBM wants to turn more customers on to pay-as-you-go PC ownership.

The company’s Global Services division this month began offering a new menu-based service that will enable companies to treat PCs as they would utilities such as electricity, paying by the month for PC hardware, PC services or both.

Although IBM and others have been offering monthly payment plans for PCs for some time, Big Blue says the new plan offers more flexibility. Instead of requiring customers to sign up for the technological equivalent of a five-course meal, IBM Global Services lets customers choose from an a la carte selection of PC hardware and services, said Dale Moegling, international desktop executive for IBM Global Services.

“We wanted…to work with a customer that had 50 seats all the way up to a customer with 500,000 seats,” Moegling said.

IBM, which has aimed to offer a range of computing services as part of its on-demand strategy, commissioned a survey of 750 information technology and business executives, and found that 55 percent of large companies either would consider paying for their PCs as part of an IT services contract rather than maintaining them themselves, or already have an IT services contract.

The survey, conducted by Knowledge Systems & Research, also found that 38 percent of large companies that manage their PCs in-house would consider having an IT services provider do it for them.

Under the terms of the program, IBM will acquire PC hardware from any vendor the customer requires and essentially lease that hardware to the customer. That customer can select from a menu of services paid for on a per-PC, per-month basis and can also add new services as they see fit, he said.

Besides delivering PC hardware, IBM will offer services such as image management and maintaining companies’ custom software. It will also offer an application deployment and update service; a data backup and recovery service; data migration from old systems to new ones; and security services such as antivirus protection and firewalls. In addition, Big Blue will provide a PC help desk service, along with asset reporting and PC disposal.

Some of the more basic services will cost as little as $3 to $4 per seat per month, Moegling said, while the full suite could cost up to about $50 per seat per month. Hardware costs are computed separately for each customer, depending on a customer’s needs, he said, making it difficult to quote a typical monthly rate for a single PC.

In addition to touting IBM Global Services as a way to make life easier for IT staff, IBM says it aims to save customers money. The company says the program will save customers about 20 percent from what it would cost them to procure and maintain their own PCs.

IBM Global Services cited numbers from Meta Group to highlight its cost savings claim. Desktop PC maintenance costs a business between $2,000 and $5,000 per PC per year per person, Meta data shows.

IBM will offer its services to smaller companies operating as few as 50 PCs, but paying by the month makes the most sense for customers with 3,000 or more PCs, Moegling said.