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It wasn’t exactly a huge integration project. In fact, it was tiny, but not as tiny as its budget. I had to upgrade the computing environment in an office so that it would handle a lot bigger workload.

In this case, the job was to replace PCs with something much better to handle changing requirements, and to install a means of backup so that work the company produced wouldn’t be lost forever if something bad happened to the server.

Problem is, the budget I had to work with would handle only about half of what it would cost to head to the Web or a traditional reseller. But when visiting my Acura dealer to get an oil change, I got another idea. The Washington-area car dealer involved was located next door to a Lexus dealer. Both dealerships were pushing their certified pre-owned cars, this being mid-September when new car supplies were very low.

A certified pre-owned car is one that’s not new, but it carries a like-new warranty, and it’s been carefully checked out and made to look and run like new.

It’s not a bad solution if you want a great ride, but can’t afford the freight for a new one. I had known for years that a few computer manufacturers had found ways to deal with the problem of computers that were returned to them for any number of reasons from warranty issues to lease returns.

When I investigated the computer companies for their version of “certified pre-owned,” I found that two of the biggest have well-organized active sites for purchasing such computers, frequently at significant savings.

IBM, for example, gets thousands of computers of nearly every type back through its financing arm, and then resells them at an IBM Web site after a careful refurbishing at a plant in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Hewlett-Packard has a similar program and Web site.

The difference between the two sites is that IBM can sell you anything from ThinkPads to mainframes. HP can sell you a range of products from handhelds to ProLiant servers.

HP seems to have lower prices, but IBM can provide larger quantities of similar items. HP has a wide range of HP-branded accessories and add-ons, including second processors, memory and hard drives. Both will sell you current models of their computers at prices lower than you can find if you were buying new.

For my integration project, I picked up a pair of Xeon workstations from HP, along with a pair of additional hard drives and a couple of additional processors. While I was at it, I selected a tape backup drive for the HP server.

In the process, I learned a couple of important things about choosing refurbished equipment over new. First, you’ll save a ton of money. Equipment prices from HP were about half of what a new unit would be.

Second, you can plan on doing the final integration yourself. I had to install the second processors, the hard drives and the tape drive. If this had come new from HP, the processors and the hard drives would have been pre-installed. About 20 minutes per workstation took care of it.

The tape backup unit illustrated a different issue. Some refurbished equipment may not be current, meaning that details about the products may be impossible to come by. I found out after installing the tape drive that it wouldn’t work with the Novell NetWare that ran on the server. But HP only issued a bulletin to that effect three weeks after the drive had been installed.

Fortunately, both IBM and HP have satisfaction guarantees and warranties, so if you find out the product doesn’t work, you can get it replaced with something that does. Of course, you’re still out the integration effort.

Nevertheless, unless a bid requires new equipment, taking the refurbished route can pay big dividends. It might even be enough to beat some other company to the business.