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A trio of new surveys indicates that SMBs will: (a) be reducing their budgets 4 percent this year (Forrester Research); (b) make significant investments in new hardware and software over the next six months (Spiceworks); and (c) believe the economy will improve moderately by the end of the year (PartnerUp). So basically, pick your survey and plan (pray) accordingly.

The most upbeat — and detailed — results were from Spiceworks. It found that SMBs are squeezing an extra year out of their hardware, but they plan on opening their IT budgets over the next six months. The survey of over 1,000 IT professionals, fielded in July and August, found that the average planned lifespan of hardware, including desktops, laptops and servers, increased 26 percent from 40 months to 50 months.

The good news is that despite using hardware for a longer period of time, 68 percent of SMBs plan to add new hardware to their networks within the next six months. Among hardware purchasing priorities, 56 percent plan to buy desktops, 55 percent plan to purchases laptops, 45 percent plan new server purchases, 31 percent plan to add printers, and 27 percent plan to add new network devices. Only 13 percent have their eyes on netbooks.

The average new hardware order is expected to include 13 desktops, 10 laptops and 2 servers. Hardware remains the biggest IT budget item with SMBs expecting to spend 37 percent of their annual budgets refreshing and expanding physical infrastructure. 51 percent are planning new software purchases. Security and anti-spam solutions top the list with 32 percent of SMBs planning such purchases within the next six months. Of these, 35 percent plan to buy cloud-based security and anti-spam offerings.

Virtualization is also big: 44 percent are using virtualization solutions. Within SMB networks, 21 percent of their total server computing capacity is virtualized. Over the next six months, 30 percent of SMBs plan to deploy or expand virtualization in their networks.

25 percent are planning backup and recovery purchases within the next six months. Of these, 75 percent plan to store data on premise and 25 percent plan to utilize cloud-based storage solutions. 42 percent of data is slated to be stored on network-attached storage (NAS) or storage area network (SAN) devices. 38 percent will be stored in direct-attached and local storage, 7 percent is planned to be hosted offsite, and 13 percent on tape and other media.

57 percent currently use one or more ‘cloud computing’ services. The three most popular cloud computing services in use or on the purchase list include anti-spam (43 percent), hosted email (25 percent), and online backup (20 percent).

The survey found that IT budgets took a beating this year, with 39 percent cutting 2009 budgets an average of 22 percent; 31 percent kept budgets the same, and 30 percent actually grew their budgets this year by 27 percent. Most did feel some impact from the economy this year with 60 percent having delayed or canceled at least one project so far in 2009.

As reported in eWEEK, analysts from Forrester Research found that in addition to reducing IT budgets, North American SMBs were scaling back IT projects in favor of maintaining and running what already is in place, and that improving IT efficiency and streamlining business processes are their top priorities.

For SMBs, software spending would focus most on security, while server and networking would be the top focus in hardware spending. In addition, SMBs said they were more carefully tracking IT energy costs and expected to find ways to lower them in 2009.

The quarterly survey of more than 800 SMBs from PartnerUp found that they expect to invest more in their businesses while taking measures to offset the economy’s impact. In addition to reducing staff and cutting expenses, more owners are also contemplating selling their business. Sixty-four percent of respondents are considering selling their business, citing burn-out as the main reason for selling.

"Even in the current economic climate, the majority of small business owners are cautiously optimistic and confident," said Brian Kennett, Director of Community at PartnerUp. "The results of this survey show that small business owners are taking proactive steps to weather the continuing economic downturn, while simultaneously preparing for the impending economic recovery."

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