Computers and network hardware wear out. It’s a fact. Trouble is, it’s difficult to know when they've reached the end of their useful life.
Human nature tends to embrace the adage “if it isn't broke, don’t fix it.” While that sounds good at a gut level, it’s not the best way to run a business or an IT department. More than almost any equipment your company uses, IT hardware gets outdated very quickly by advances in technology and ever-more-demanding software applications. So paying attention to the lifecycle of your IT infrastructure is key to staying secure and productive as an organization.
About the IT Lifecycle
Computers and network hardware reach a time in their lifecycle when they become a disabler vs. an enabler on production. Over time, they also become security risks as companies quit developing security patches as they shift resources to new products and the maintenance of those items.
There are two main ways technology becomes outdated:
- New software or hardware simply outpaces the capabilities of the current device which means the users are affected negatively vs. positively in terms of employee production
- The manufacturer’s simply stop supporting the devices for “new versions” of software, and they also stop fixing security or software bugs because they are focused on the newer versions.
A 3rd item to think about in Lifecycle Management is Warranty. Often technology is sold with 36 months of warranty/support. And although you can pay to extend those warranties to 60 months it’s important to understand the business impact when technology is not working. Take a customer that has gone paperless with their ordering system, if their network or servers go offline for even two days while trying to get a replacement device that’s no longer under four hour warranty, the business impact would 10x or more the cost of maintaining equipment new enough to stay under warranty.
Once we get beyond the conversation of “it’s still working so why do I have to replace it?” we can start talking numbers. Take your PCs and laptops first. They should be replaced roughly every three to five years.
I was working with one client who had an older, outdated computer. When working on a weekly, data-intensive task, she spent about an hour and 15 minutes to complete the project. I thought that seemed too long and suggested they replace the PC with a more current model. After updating, she was able to complete the task in about 20 minutes and made her much more productive. That computer paid for itself in eight months.
The lifecycle for servers used to be simple. A physical server would have a three-year warranty and then you could extend it with the vendor to five years. After that period of time, the server might be OK, but those parts would be prohibitively more expensive. Because manufactures create and manufacture new technology in mass quantities, the cost is driven down. So over time, the cost to manufacture the older technology in smaller batches goes up, causing five year old parts to be 5-10x more expensive than the new stuff that is currently shipping.
The manufacturers typically stop making replacement parts after five years and no longer support the hardware. You also need to take into account the operating system. Microsoft’s operating systems are on about a three-year cycle as new ones replace older versions. They would support the older operating system for about three years after the new one comes out, so it's important to factor that into your server replacement considerations.
Blade servers help minimize your footprint (reducing heat and power consumption) and gives you the ability to expand the capacity of the server continuously. Virtual servers are software-driven computer servers that duplicate what happens on a physical machine in a virtualized state. They don’t really wear out, but they are subject to ongoing upgrades in the virtual software.
Routers, switches and firewalls
For routers, switches and firewalls, plan on a replacement cycle of every seven years or so. It’s important to remember that just because a piece of hardware doesn’t appear to have any moving parts, the interior components still degrade over time. And since you can’t tell how worn out they are for the most part, it's important to be proactive in replacing them if you want to avoid system failure. IT hardware can go from working perfectly to perfectly broken in the blink of an eye, and usually without much warning.
You may want to work with an expert to perform a system assessment for network health. These can be very eye-opening.
Finally, I always recommend that IT managers and business managers build IT lifecycle into the yearly budget. I recommend a budget to replace about one third of your equipment every year. The alternative could include getting hit with a huge bill when components of your IT infrastructure fails unexpectedly. We have options like moving companies to a Marco Rental agreement. This simply allows users to pay as they use on a three to five year cycle, thus allowing them to never have that “HUGE BILL” when everything needs to be replaced all at the same time.
Just remember, computers and servers look fine until they fail. Don’t trust your gut or your human nature. Trust your lifecycle replacement plan and stick to it. In an upcoming blog we'll talk more about using IT lifecycle software to more efficiently manage your software subscriptions and renewals.