IT Hardware Lifecycle Management
What is a Hardware Lifecycle Management (HLM) plan? And why should I care? If you are responsible for requisitioning, and or purchasing,the technology tools used by your company and its staff, then you realize that these items have a built-in shelf life. On average, a cell phone can be expected to serve a useful purpose for a maximum of two years. For a desktop PC, or laptop/tablet, the lifespan extends out to approximately 3 years, and for servers 5 years is considered to be obsolete. Various factors come into play for each of these items of course, and I will address some of these later in this blog. Planning for obsolescence needs to extend across all levels of your company infrastructure (this includes routers, switches, UPS, etc…) but I will focus only on servers, desktops, and laptops.
The most important thing about a Hardware Lifecycle Management plan is to actually have one. Without a plan, an accurate asset inventory, and a functional budget, you will constantly get blindsided as systems fail and users complain about performance. A well thought out HLM will position you, and your IT budget, to most effectively manage limited resources.
Most of us want to squeeze all the value out of an asset that we can before replacing it… and in today’s economy this is more necessary than ever. The flip-side to this is that if we retain the asset beyond a realistic useful lifespan, problems will arise, such as: lowered productivity, unexpected downtime, increased tech support costs, and elevated user complaints. So how do we find the sweet spot when considering a plan that will work for our company, and still fit within budgetary constraints?
The good news is that the vendors who provide the hardware to us have already done most of the work. Why do you think that a three year warranty is the industry standard for laptops and desktops? Granted, they usually only come with a one year warranty, but the extended warranty is “encouraged” by all vendors. These companies know that anything beyond the thirty six month mark is going to cost them money, and that in most cases covering a given machine for three years will likely not cost them a cent. Let’s face it, the vendors are looking at their bottom line and if something isn’t going to generate revenue then they won’t offer it… unless they are Microsoft, at which point I just throw my hands in the air.
So, given that the industry standard is a thirty-six month warranty, then that should be our baseline for determining hardware replacement. This means that we should budget/plan for replacing one third of existing systems every year. Desktop and laptop hardware technology change so quickly that anything beyond the third year relegates the system to near uselessness. You might be able to find a niche for one as a dumb-terminal equivalent, but youraccountants certainly won’t be happy trying to do payroll on one.
Server lifespans are slightly longer in that you can expect to keep one in service for five years or so. Keep in mind that specialized applications such as Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint may require a new server sooner than this, especially since they tend to be resource intensive and will take advantage of new technologies as they become available. That being said, a standard file server should last at least five years, and even longer if it was fairly robust to begin with.
What are some factors that can impact the useful lifespan of a given piece of hardware? First of all, as with so much else in life, you get what you pay for. Sure, you could buy a $300 desktop computer to replace what you currently have in place, and it will seem like a major upgrade… for about a year. After that it is quickly going to become marginal as application updates occur, a new MS Office suite is deployed, or some other reason that has to do with system resources such as CPU speed and RAM. The same can be said of laptops, but even more so. Software is a major consideration when looking down the road as you are purchasing hardware. Most likely you will need to have at least two different standards for desktops and laptops- Executive/Power Users and general use. Obviously Power User requirements will be considerably higher than those of a standard user, and the costs per system will reflect this. Also, how the PC is used makes a difference. Is the machine in daily use by an accountant who routinely has multiple very large spreadsheets up simultaneously? Again, this will consume large amounts of the available system resources, so plan accordingly. After all, it might be your paycheck that gets delayed when he/she can’t work.
When it comes to servers, what role they assume will also impact the purchasing decision. Is it going to be a Domain Controller, with very minimal requirements? A large file server that will have redirected user folders and all shared drives? An application server such as SharePoint/Exchange? Each of these has specific needs to be viable in the long term, and if you don’t spend the money to make sure you have a robust piece of hardware that has “legs”, then you will be replacing it sooner, rather than later.
Of course you could take most of the guess work for servers out of the picture by going down the Virtualization path, but it too has its own set of requirements. You will need storage (SAN) and robust Host servers for all of the VM’s. This means generous amounts of RAM, fast (and multiple) CPU’s, etc…, and licensing considerations will also play a part here.
I’d like to leave you with a few rules of thumb that I usewhen purchasing hardware and planning the equipment lifecycle.
- Always buy as much horsepower as you can, it lasts longer and takes the guesswork out of the equation.
- Try to standardize. Models, Brand, user requirement levels, etc…
- Plan for future requirements. Software upgrades,new software, growth in disk space utilization to name just a few.
- Find the sweet spot in the pricing tiers. Thereis always that one model where everything after it jumps by several hundred dollars.
There are more criteria that can be used, but they will be specific to your environment and needs. Squeezing pennies now will almost always cost you dollars down the road. If you plan your hardware lifecycle appropriately you will have a much easier time staying ahead of the game and it will remove some of the stress from your already hectic IT life.