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For a number of years now, we’ve all been looking for the mythical refresh of the enterprise desktop.

By any measure, we’re theoretically overdue for this event by at least two to three years. But a quick look at the financial numbers for both Dell and Hewlett-Packard would suggest that the primary growth engine for the systems market remains the consumer market and the small business segment of the small and midsize business market.

Unfortunately for the channel, the vast majority of this business tends to be driven through direct sales, retail or direct marketers. That tends to leave the channel on the outside looking in, but maybe not forever.

In a study published last month by CIO Insight, client systems were ranked the No. 1 technology priority for 2006. You’ll need to register before you can download a copy, but overall this study would suggest that not only the number of active projects in the enterprise is about to increase, but the actual amount of spending taking place there will be up about 5.4 percent on average.

This is a significant shift compared to the overall corporate market, where the survey finds that spending is expected to be relatively flat, which would suggest the small business portion of the market for systems may soon be approaching saturation, while the enterprise is at the early stages of a spending pickup.

Click here to read more from a CIOI survey on IT spending.

Given recent history, a solution provider may want to approach that conclusion with some amount of skepticism, but there are other market forces at work that would tend to support this theory:

1. The number of active applications, including browser windows, that any user has open simultaneously has increased steadily over the past two years. Those applications are requiring more system resources to run.

2. The types of applications that users are running in the enterprise are changing significantly, with everything from XML to multimedia applications consuming more resources.

3. The number of security applications running on any given client system has increased dramatically.

4. In this study, security dropped to seventh as a spending priority, which should mean that there is more actual dollars available for client systems.

5. As IT organizations look forward to the Vista upgrade of Windows, many IT organizations are going to realize that they will need to buy higher-end systems in 2006 if they want those systems to be able to run the more secure version of the Windows operating system that Microsoft will roll out in the fourth quarter. Most IT organizations traditionally lag when it comes to operating system upgrades, but there are a number of security and browser-related features in Vista that will push a fair number of larger enterprises to embrace Vista early.

6. Even if they don’t embrace Vista early, the hardware they purchase in 2006 will probably lean toward the higher end, so these machines will be capable of running Vista some time during their three-year life cycle.

7. The newer systems today, especially displays, consume a lot less power than their predecessors, and with rising energy costs, this is now a much more important purchasing consideration.

Now to be fair, client systems were supposed to be the second biggest spending priority in the 2005 version of this study. I think it’s fair to say that a number of rising costs around energy and security helped retard client system spending a bit in 2005, but going into 2006, many of the reasons that retarded spending last year are becoming drivers in 2006.

For solution providers focused on the enterprise, this means the time has come to remind their end customers of the economic and technological issues affecting client system costs and end user productivity.

Otherwise, it’s still a little too easy for end-user organizations to approach client upgrades in a piecemeal fashion, as opposed to having a real upgrade and deployment strategy that is driven in concert with their solution provider partners.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at