Determining the Useful Life of Your IT Network

2/27/15 3:01 PM iCorps Technologies

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The age of the technology components in your IT network matters when it comes to system reliability, security, and of course, your budget. But with so many moving parts and business drivers that vary from company to company, there is no clear-cut measure for the “useful life” of these assets.

That vagueness, in fact, appears to be driving many IT pros to refresh “their IT infrastructure assets prematurely,” notes a Networks Asia article, Why It’s Time CIOs, Not Vendors, Set IT Assets’ Useful Life. The article references insightful findings in reports from Forrester and Gartner: “Close to 80% of respondents in the Forrester study refresh their wired network infrastructure every three to five years guided by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)." But Gartner’s research found that the useful life of most network equipment is closer to seven to 10 years.”

Manufacturer support for a component often ends long before an asset “shows any sign of outliving its usefulness,” according to the article. Useful life, it seems, is more a matter of perspective.

Why Assets Age Out

Some technology – mainframes, for instance – can run solidly for years. “Even with new machines available for a fraction of the cost,” says Network World editor-in-chief John Dix, organizations “are reluctant to replace this gear because the operating systems and applications are dyed-in-the-wool.” In other words, companies may opt not to fix what isn’t broken, particularly when that “fix” could incur significant costs in terms of IT services, budget, and time.

Other assets don’t fare as well. “In our fast paced world, there are constantly new technologies that let us crank it up,” says Dix, allowing “us to do things faster, cheaper, and/or better.” But you can’t “crank it up” if your existing infrastructure doesn’t support these new technologies. For components such as servers, desktops, and laptops, aging-out occurs because these assets simply don’t have the required computing power for a new application or can’t support the latest operating system.

Server software also is aging. The end-of-life (EOL) for Microsoft Windows Server 2003, for example, is set for July 2015. After that date, Spiceworks notes in its 2015 State of the IT Budget report, “IT teams will be living dangerously and on their own in the event of an OS [issue] with no new patches in sight.” With 65% of the companies that Spiceworks’ sampled still using Windows Server 2003, this particular EOL will be far-reaching.

Ultimately, the Spiceworks report predicts that aging hardware and software will force many IT pros to spend more on IT refreshes than on new projects this year. Top priorities for 2015 budgets are laptop/desktops (44%) and software (42%). The report also notes that at 67%, EOL is the top reason why companies plan to spend on new hardware, software, and IT services.

With fast-paced innovation that responds to an emerging and increasingly aggressive threat landscape, security is yet another area that can impact an asset’s life expectancy. Patches and regular component upgrades or swap-outs may be essential to addressing identified vulnerabilities and maximizing the protection of your systems and data – particularly for components such as routers and switches that manage access to your network.

The Matter of Perspective

Today’s IT pros are challenged to support the business effectively with innovative technology and to maintain a reliable and secure network – all within the constraints of an IT budget that remains static with last year’s numbers. Only a third of the IT pros surveyed for the Spiceworks report are expecting an increase in budget in 2015.

While there are potential cost savings of eking out surplus “life” from your existing network assets, it’s critical to balance these savings with the downsides of using aging equipment, including reduced performance and agility and increased risks and operational costs.

That balance, though, should be driven less by vendors and more by priorities based on your individual company, IT priorities, and business objectives. For instance, your business demands for enterprise mobility may require refreshing your infrastructure to support wireless connectivity for mobile devices and cloud-based services.

In the end, you know more about where you need to spend your IT budget than the vendors that supply your network equipment. Assessing what you can let slide and what is downright risky to your IT network performance and security should be based on your business drivers – enabling you to apply your IT budget dollars where they will count most.

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