Companies ready to spend on IT hardware again

The recent IT spending slowdown, caused by enterprises assessing cloud computing services, is about to end, Morgan Stanley says. Investors could see double-digit earnings growth from the IT hardware sector in 2018.

Companies ready to spend on IT hardware again
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In-house IT hardware spending has been on hold thanks to executives flip-flopping on whether to move to cloud computing. It hasn't been because they've actually shifted to cloud services.

The problem has been merely inertia caused in companies by "decision-making around the cloud," says Morgan Stanley in a new financial research note published this week. The financial services firm suggests that once enterprises complete their cloud assessments, their checkbooks will open once more.

In fact, Morgan Stanley, which advises people on industry investments, says investors could see double-digit earnings growth from the IT hardware sector in 2018. And it has upgraded its fiscal view from "cautious" to "attractive."

Several catalysts are converging to give IT hardware a new lease on life,” writes Katy L. Huberty, head of North American Technology Hardware Equity Research, on Morgan Stanley's website.

In-house computing isn’t being dumped, she says. It’s just been on hold while managers figure out how much computing to move to the cloud and how much should remain onsite.

Huberty says the past three years have been problematic for IT hardware firms because of this dithering.

Why IT hardware spending will increase

While undoubtedly enterprises are moving software applications from “on-premises data centers to the cloud,” that’s not the whole story, Huberty says. Currently, 21 percent of computing is accomplished in the cloud. That number will indeed rise, as we expect, and should be 44 percent by 2021. However, because enterprise cloud plans are beginning to solidify, or become less vague, firms are now ready to upgrade the IT gear they are retaining or think they’ll need.

“They aren't abandoning on-premises computing. Instead, many are adopting a hybrid IT model in which applications move between a public cloud and their own internal data centers,” she explains.

Other factors coming into play and contributing to the optimism, according to Morgan Stanley, include more cash being available because of tax law changes in the U.S. and advantages to depreciating equipment costs in the first year due to economic growth. A weak dollar and lower memory costs are also helping the shift.

Interestingly, the firm also writes of a shift overall away from consumer-oriented tech cycles to “an era of industrial innovation.” It’s talking about artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and so on.

And indeed we saw global smartphone shipments lower in 2017 for the first time, according to IDC. (Although the market researcher says that decline will be short-lived.)

One could also mention edge computing in the context of pro-in-house technology investments and a further reason to be bullish on in-house computing. I’ve written before about how future requirements for minimal-latency instant access to number crunching data may become more important as robots and the IoT take hold — robotic surgery, for example, will probably need to be latency-free. One way latency can be reduced is by shortening geographic distance in the data pipe.

One fly in the ointment, however, is the increasing complexity of managing in-house data centers. With cloud, enterprise managers can hand over what could become increasingly intricate processes to specialists. For example, some businesses don’t think they have the right skills for IoT. As a result, they are increasing their use of collaborators, IoT service provider Vodafone claims.

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