Information managers in architecture firms are taking stock, looking at ways to get more hardware for their money, from cell phones to servers, and deciding what can wait in slow times. “We’ve seen architects hold off on most major upgrades for the first two quarters of this year,” reports Colin O’Donnell, a partner at Control Group, a New York City–based information technology (IT) consultancy. “They’re looking for solutions with low capital investment, low recurring costs, and high flexibility.” Still, some purchases can’t be pushed off. And with hopes that the economy is twitching back to life, firms want to be ready for the next wave. Here’s how several IT managers are making even this long lull count.

Jenna Geigerman, Chief Operations Officer
BJAC, Raleigh, N.C.
32 employees Strategy: Housekeeping—it’s a great time for it. Starting all new projects on Autodesk’s Revit software, which requires fast machines.

What’s essential: Just replaced one-third of the workstations with new Dell Precision T3500s. Also purchased a new Dell PowerVault MD3000i server to blow up the e-mail storage. New Iwatsu office phones arrived last December, before a tax perk expired; construction admins and senior staff pocketed BlackBerry Curve 8330s. Big print jobs go out, but in-house, there’s a new 36-inch KIP 3102 with 600 dpi for black-and-white images and a 36-inch Canon iPF720 for color plotting. Wish list: Wii game console for an employee rec room that’s under way.

Brian Thomas, Associate
Selser Schaefer Architects, Tulsa, Okla.
33 employees Strategy: The current workload, Thomas says, allows the firm time to size up its systems and look for ways to improve them. Software upgrades and BIM are “increasing the demand on our infrastructure and staff.”

What’s essential: Server capacity expanded to 2.5 TB (up from 1 TB) with a Buffalo 4 Unit HD RAID. Thomas goosed workstations’ RAM from 1 GB to 4 GB; administrative desktop machines with 512 MB were brought up to 1 GB. New printer and copier leases allowed an upgrade to a Minolta BizHub Pro production color copier. (Less outsourced printing!) Wish list: New workstations; n-standard wireless; large flat-panel screens with SmartBoard technology for viewing BIM models in conference rooms.

Nirva Fereshetian, Chief Information Officer
CBT Architects, Boston
150 employees Strategy: “More efficiency,” Fereshetian says. CBT is reviewing and renegotiating IT contracts, software licenses, and maintenance agreements. “We are continuing to fund strategic technologies that increase productivity and better serve our clients,” she adds, emphasizing collaboration tools, network performance, and digital information management.

What’s essential: For storage, a NetApp FAS2050 storage area network scales up for exponential data growth. Dell PowerEdge 2950 servers with Intel Quad-Core Xeon processors virtualize and consolidate servers for better management, disaster recovery, and power savings. For security, CBT relies on multipurpose appliances from Palo Alto Networks and Barracuda Networks. High-end Dell workstations support heavy-duty computing. Wish list: “Getting back to our regular hardware refresh cycles,” which means 30 to 36 months for computers, 12 to 15 months for BlackBerrys.

Sean Coy, Senior Systems and Network Engineer
Cooper Carry, Atlanta
150 employees Strategy: The rise in 3D modeling and low-cost, high-quality color output—not to mention a move toward a less paper-centric workflow—means larger files, so Coy is upping server storage and increasing network bandwidth for file sharing.

What’s essential: Cooper Carry’s main file servers are designed for redundancy with commodity hardware—namely, Hitachi hard drives (HDP725050GLA360) for easy expansion on tight budgets. For networking, Coy is adding more SMC8824M edge switches with four-port trunking back to its Cisco 3750G/E backbone. ASUSTeK P5N-T Deluxe Quad/Core workstations are beefing up from 4 GB to 8 GB Kingston Unbuffered ECC 667-MHz memory modules to boost performance without crushing costs. Wish list: A WAN accelerator, which would increase interoffice and mobile collaborative efficiency.

Nancy J. Schmidt, Director of Information Technology
HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis
521 employees Strategy: Investing heavily in IT when times are fat. Since the slowdown began, spending has been focused on items with a less-than-18-month return on investment. “Budgets and purchases are qualified on a quarterly basis instead of an annual basis” for fluidity, Schmidt says. HGA is re-evaluating contracts for price, value, and service, including those for telecom, conferencing (video, audio, web), and data vault backup systems.

What’s essential: ?Blade servers—for HGA, that means the HP BladeSystem C3000 Enclosure, populated with ProLiant BL460c G1 blades. Also, running Windows 2003 R2 servers atop VMware ESX servers. Wish list: Virtualizing the desktop environment for consolidating data locally and easier control and backup.