Extending the life of IT equipment

Raising the retirement age of high-tech hardware makes economical and environmental sense, writes Paul Timms, operations director at Maindec.

Raising the retirement age of high-tech hardware makes economical and environmental sense, writes Paul Timms, operations director at Maindec.

computers001.jpgWith government drives for public sector efficiency and private sector organisations facing continued capital expenditure freezes, no organisation should be embarking on hardware replacement without excellent business reasons.
Yet vendor policies of increasing support costs by upwards of 150% after the initial warranty period and refusing to support products outside of a sometimes unreasonably small service life window is leaving many organisations feeling they do not have a choice.

But there is no need to replace this reliable, efficient business- critical hardware; or to incur the costs and business risk associated with platform migration, including application development and recertification.
Opting for a mature, third-party support service will not only drive down costs, but by extending the life of IT equipment organisations improve their green credentials and meet efficiency targets.

Efficiency drive
With the current economic uncertainty and growing government pressure for public sector efficiency improvements it would seem extraordinary for any organisation to embark upon unnecessary hardware replacement. Yet every day across the country in both public and private sector organisations, IT teams are ripping out equipment that is performing well, is stable and is continuing to meet business needs.

Is this simply another example of the throwaway society, reinforcing the perception that technologists are obsessed by the latest equipment, from the smallest PDAs to the most powerful servers?
Or is it a response to the vendor strategy of hiking support/maintenance costs by up to 150% as soon as a product comes out of the three-year warranty period? Or that vendors are actually choosing not to support equipment that is more than five years old? In the face of these strategies, it is perhaps no surprise that many organisations perceive the only option is to move to new hardware under warranty.

Realistic business
Is it really necessary to replace a machine that is reliable, delivers the performance required and has a stable operating system/application environment?
The cost is not simply associated with upgrading the hardware. More often than not the new hardware will be running on a different operating system, requiring changes to the underlying application. The organisation will have to embark upon a development and migration project, incur the risk associated with environment change, and, if a financial institution, meet the demands of application recertification to achieve regulatory compliance.

From a vendor perspective it makes sense to encourage customers to upgrade every few years. Not only does this strategy generate a strong revenue stream, but by limiting the range of equipment that has to be supported to the most recent product set, vendors can carry a smaller range of spare parts and provide engineers with training only on the latest kit.

But no business should be embarking on major capital expenditure and significant business risk simply at the behest of a hardware vendor. Even if the product is end of life or end of support life, upgrading is not the only option.

Understanding choice
There is a strong market of third-party support organisations, as well as excellent international supply of spare and refurbished parts. Opting for a third-party support contract instead of the supplier's out of warranty tariff can save any organisation 50% on service costs. In addition, by not upgrading to the new software infrastructure, there is no need to continue paying software licence fees, further reducing costs.

But how does the quality of service compare? With ageing kit running business-critical applications, organisations will be understandably concerned about reliability, the speed of availability of spare parts and the responsiveness of any support operation. No business will want to delay hardware upgrade if it will jeopardise uptime or compromise operational performance. The business cost will be too high.

This third-party support market is well established, with mature organisations supporting a range of legacy equipment, including 25-year-old machines still running reliably and effectively in banks, power stations and government departments.
To offer the exceptional level of service required by these critical systems, support companies need highly skilled engineers with experience in a raft of different hardware platforms of very different ages. They need regional distribution centres, with spare parts always available to meet customers' specific hardware requirements, and they need a support process that provides customers with rapid access to experienced engineering expertise as soon as a problem occurs.
This depth of engineering skill combined with excellent support processes will allow organisations to confidently assume that a four-hour response, six-hour fix service level agreement (SLA) will be delivered.

Business decision
Of course organisations need to upgrade systems, but should these replacements really be carried out every three years simply in response to the vendor's hike in support costs?
Or is the argument that each successive generation of hardware, from servers to storage devices, is being developed to support the environmental agenda enough to encourage the regular upgrade strategy? Yes, the new equipment will consume less power, but is it really greener to scrap an entire system every three years in favour of one that uses a few less Amps and perhaps demands less datacentre space and air-conditioning? Surely it is better for the environment to extend the life of existing equipment, even by a couple of years, than continually rip out and replace.

Irrespective of pressure to reduce capital expenditure and improve green credentials, organisations should be making upgrade decisions based purely on business need. Is the system performing effectively? Can it efficiently support additional storage? Will the organisation incur less business risk by augmenting the robust, stable application rather than embarking on a complete redevelopment programme that will destabilise its environment and incur huge additional costs, from development to recertification?

Add in the demands for more efficiency, especially in the public sector, and the very real environmental benefits associated with extending the life of hardware, and it is clear that simply upgrading in response to the vendor's support pricing policy does not make good business sense. Organisations have a choice: so why not raise the retirement age of IT equipment? 

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