Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Sep 20 2010   7:33AM GMT

Guidelines for replacement of data center equipment

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

We have a lot of equipment in the data center—servers, storage boxes, SAN switches and network switches. Many of these are expensive, and bought with approvals that require a lot of justification. But like all equipment, these too age, and cry for a replacement.

The CIO is often in a dilemma, not knowing the right time to ask for a replacement. Unlike PCs, we cannot specify a time period for retirement of these equipment, since it will not be a wise decision. The need for replacement arises only if the equipment breaks down often, gets slow, shows funny results, or is incompatible with new software versions. So, what are the factors that a CIO should consider to determine if it is time to change or replace data center equipment?

  • When the server slows down processing and users start complaining.
  • If the server gives trouble and there are frequent interruptions. Or in cases when spare parts for the equipment are scarce and difficult to get. Yet another scenario is when the machine tends to get obsolete.
  • When the OS version is old and cannot accommodate new versions of software packages. Or consider replacement if the OS becomes incompatible with applications on other servers.
  • The manufacturer notifies end of support to the equipment.

There is another scene that I had come across a few times. For example, once we were in discussion for an enterprise storage server enhancement. The vendor suggested that instead of adding more disks, it would be prudent to buy a new storage server. I thought he was out of his mind, and chided him for the suggestion. He asked me to cool down and listen to him, and what he said made sense. His rough calculation went on these lines – the new equipment will be much faster, have larger capacity, fall into obsolescence much later, and come with a three year warranty. As against this, I would pay a higher amount for addition of the low capacity disks by retaining the old machine. I would run out of space much faster, be less prepared for the increasing demand for performance, and pay huge amount as AMC (which was a fixed percentage on the original purchase price).

It pained my heart to part with the reliable old box which had served me for over four years. Better sense prevailed, and I put a note to the management with ROI calculations and lo-behold, it received approval. I have now followed this principle in a few other cases. So the lesson is to make a sound business decision, and not carried away by emotional attachment to old assets.

CIOs often wait till the end when it becomes imperative to change, and that creates a panic situation. The explanation is usually on the lines of “Why should I disturb something, if it is running fine?” When I joined my current organization, I found systems that were over a decade old. Even the OS version was not disturbed—neither was it factored in the immediate plans. The organization had to make do with sub-optimal systems till it found alternative approaches. It is therefore important to continuously review the status, and carry out necessary replacements as appropriate.

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