FHI 360 is an international nonprofit working to improve the health and well-being of people in the United States and around the world. They employ more than 4,000 workers in 60 countries and partner closely with governments and the private sector and civil society to bring about lifesaving health care, quality education, and social change opportunities for meaningful economic participation.

And like any organization (nonprofit or for-profit), they rely heavily on high-performance technologies—laptops, desktops, and mobile devices—to assist workers both in the field and in the office.

When the chip shortage first started to impact supply chains, the IT team at FHI360 had to quickly pivot and find a way to extend the lifecycle for most employee devices without jeopardizing their digital experience and efficiency.

By taking a digital-experience-first strategy, they were able to save nearly $400k from purchasing new hardware and divert their investment instead towards a cheaper (and smarter) RAM upgrade, extending device lifecycles.

I sat down with Len Curry (IT Manager) & Terry Brown (Director, Global IT Service Delivery) at FHI 360 to ask them how they managed to pull this off.

What type of pressure was your team under to find a solution during the chip shortage?

Len:

A lot of employees were looking for more powerful machines, running Power BI, Azure, etc. But we didn’t have the budget to purchase high-end machines that cost $3k – $5k for every employee—that was simply out of the question. I was wondering, how could we address the impact and be good fiscal fiduciaries of the budget for our non-profit.

Unlike the private sector, we don’t take the approach of replacing hardware as soon as the warranty is up, that’s not cost-effective at all.

Luckily, our vendor gave us a heads up early in the pandemic that the chip shortage was going to impact future supply chains and the availability of new equipment. We had a unique situation where we had some budget remaining in the final months of the fiscal year that we needed to spend. So, part of it came down to our strong relationship with our vendor, and part of it came down to us isolating exactly which laptops needed to be replaced and what devices we could still salvage and provide a strong UX for employees.

Wait—how did you get your hardware purchase order approved so quickly? For most organizations, this can be a real pain!

Terry:

Our CIO is driven by making decisions based on actual vs assumptions. Using Nexthink’s platform we were able to find that the offending factor impacting hardware performance came down to core count. We had the visibility to see that higher cores had lesser CPU utilization and relatively few cases of BSODs (Blue Screens Of Death), etc., and the data to back up our findings. This revelation saved us a huge amount of time and headaches and helped kickstart our strategy.

{Read the Report: Learn how processor speed & CPU core count impacts device startup time}

I also found that some machines simply needed more RAM (16 Gig to be precise) to perform better. After setting up a few stress tests, I was able to approach management with a solid hardware refresh plan.

We decided to stagger our purchase with some new hardware with the additional core configuration before the end of the year (and before the chip shortage really started to impact us), and in parallel, we’d approach several hundred users to install additional RAM (extending the performance of their current hardware).

What was the investment breakdown, new machines versus extending your old hardware?

Len:

So, our plan wasn’t to take one versus the other but to apply both strategies, selectively. I created a cost avoidance tracker tool, which currently reflects just under $400k is hardware cost avoidance and savings.  If we didn’t review our current situation carefully and given the challenges of the chip shortage, all of that money would have been spent on new machines versus the $60 investment on a stick of RAM per computer.

We are happy that we’ve been able to extend the lifecycle for most of our hardware, for a fraction of the cost of buying new equipment.

What’s the shelf-life currently for the average FHI 360 computer?

Terry:

Right now, it’s probably every 4 – 5 years. We really push it to at least five years if at all possible, and with the new configuration update with the additional core count, we’re aggressively looking into extending our hardware lifecycle to six years.

We just received the last 400 machines that we ordered in July, at the end of the year. It’s a good thing we were able to extend a good portion of the devices in our environment with the extra memory to address immediate performance issues.

{Tossing away old hardware? We found that only 2% of old hardware needs to be replaced}

The goal is to introduce more 8-core machines, which only cost us an additional $175 when we moved from four cores to eight, which helps us future-proof our hardware purchases. Even today, not all these cores are being used. Most apps need 3 or 4 cores to perform well, but we’re more strategic now about when to spend big on a new computer and when and how to get more performance out of older devices with less costly updates.

And I think our story is applicable for anyone in IT—not just the non-profit sector. The silver lining in all this is that yes, we’ve saved money, and while it wasn’t our original intent to be greener, we’re happy to also play a small but important role in being more sustainable, and that’s something every technology professional should take seriously.


Mary Anne Cacciola is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Nexthink. Learn More