by Guest Author

Thinking Evergreen: Is Your Hardware Aging Faster Than Your Christmas Tree?

One of the highlights of the holiday season is bringing home the tree. Whether you chop it down yourself or purchase it from the local tree lot, when your Christmas tree was new it filled your home with the sweet scent of evergreen boughs. It’s a similar experience when you get new hardware in your office or data center—it’s fresh, new, and does just what you need it to. But then it gets old. Like your Christmas tree, which drops pine needles and starts turning brown by January, your hardware can age just as quickly. A few technology vendors now offer “evergreen” hardware programs, plans that replace products at scheduled intervals for a cost lower than purchasing replacements outright. But are those programs worth the cost? And do they deliver on their promises of lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) and increasing uptime?

The answer differs depending on your business’s goals and the type of product. If uptime and business continuity are important to your organization, you may prioritize an evergreen hardware program for an all-in-one backup appliance. However, for other hardware like user laptops, which are easier to replace and less business critical, you may forgo a replacement program. To decide whether an evergreen hardware program is right for your business, consider the same factors you used to select a Christmas tree—size, smell, and cost.

Size

For Christmas trees, I like to go big. One that scrapes the ceiling is not too tall. But for storage hardware, you’re looking at two factors—the storage size, as measured in terabytes, and the physical size, as measured in inches or rack U space. Many organizations are now choosing larger storage sizes to keep pace with growing data volumes. Bonus sizing tip: To keep your options open as data grows and compliance requirements change, you may also want to consider hardware that has built-in options for long-term retention in the cloud, relieving the pressure on your on-premises storage. But while bigger is better for storage size, a smaller physical footprint is advantageous. Gartner Inc. recently calculated the cost of just 1U of rack space in the data center at $1135 - $2270, which includes, environmental requirements like power, cooling, and infrastructure expenses.

As hardware manufacturers continue to refactor components into smaller yet more powerful formats, an evergreen hardware program lets you benefit from new engineering at a predetermined cost without price increases. As component sizes shrink, refreshing your rack with higher density storage hardware can provide operating cost (OpEx) savings that offset or cover the enrollment cost of the hardware replacement program. But before enrolling, research the vendor’s track record and learn whether they are continuously improving their products. If you’re not sure, look for a company news section on their web site or ask your sales representative or reseller about past product releases. Seek out concrete details about improvements, such as incorporating solid state drives (SSD) or higher density storage, and also look for statistics on performance enhancements. If a vendor is an innovator, these answers will be easy to find and may make their hardware replacement program well worth it.

Smell

When choosing a live Christmas tree, smell is one of the most important qualities to consider. A tree may look great, but if it doesn’t have that fresh, evergreen scent it’s going to dry up before Christmas Eve. When evaluating a vendor’s hardware replacement program, one of the most important criteria is the figurative smell test. In other words, a gut check—do you trust the vendor will deliver refreshed hardware that lowers your overall TCO and increases uptime? The first thing to “smell” is the vendor’s service level agreement or SLA. Does one exist, and does it clearly detail replacement schedules and any actions you need to take, such as requesting the new unit and returning old hardware. To determine if a vendor smells good or smells like trouble, you should ask: Does the vendor have a track record of investing in research and development (R&D) and offering new and improved models for sale on a regular basis? Do they design and engineer their own products, like a purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA)? Or are they delivering a loose collection of components for you to set up and maintain, in which case a hardware replacement program won’t bring you much benefit as it won’t be a complete solution. What about their support team? If a vendor has a high satisfaction rate in customer service and a reputation for supporting the entire solution (the tried-and-true “one throat to choke” approach), chances are their hardware replacement program also passes the sniff test.

Finally, consider the product at hand and whether it’s is critical to your operations. Any appliance or device that’s key to business continuity and disaster recovery plans is a strong case for an evergreen hardware program if your business, like most, has little tolerance for downtime. Bonus smell test tip: look for a solution that offers proactive monitoring and predictive analytics to prevent hardware failures before they occur. You may even find that pairing a specific technology’s proactive hardware monitoring and hardware replacement program gets you extra benefits, like faster shipping times for replacement hardware as part of the company’s pledge to providing evergreen hardware.

Cost

If the only expense you had at Christmastime was to buy the tree, you’d probably get the biggest and best one on the lot. But there are many other demands on your money this time of year—presents, parties, and travel, just to name a few. It’s the same with your IT and hardware budget. You have to pick and choose. An IT organization’s budget should plan for both operating expenses (OpEx) and capital expenditures (CapEx). As mentioned earlier in this article, an evergreen hardware program can lower OpEx costs over time as hardware components get smaller and take up less space. A good hardware replacement program will also save CapEx budget by providing refreshed hardware at a lower cost than buying new. Evaluate the terms and length of the hardware replacement program, including the interval at which updated hardware will be available to you, and compare this to your historical purchases and plans for future replacements. If you determine you would be likely to purchase new equipment in that timeframe, an evergreen hardware program will save you CapEx dollars by providing replacements at a low, fixed cost that is also shielded from price increases. Finally, consider the cost of downtime to your business. Evergreen hardware programs for products that ensure business continuity or the ability to recover from a disaster are often worth the cost. This is especially true considering that unexpected downtime for even a short period can result in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars lost to your business; much less than the cost of hardware replacement program.

Regardless of whether you’re shopping for a Christmas tree or planning hardware purchases for the coming year, think evergreen. Use the size, smell, and cost test to determine if an evergreen hardware program is right for your business. A well designed hardware replacement program will lower your TCO and increase uptime for your business. And, the right evergreen hardware program will keep your hardware fresh long past January, when you’re hauling that old, tired Christmas tree to the curb.

About the Author:

Brooke Bullman is a Product Marketing Manager at Unitrends, providers of an all-in-one enterprise backup and continuity solutions. Visit www.unitrends.com for more information or follow the company on Twitter @Unitrends.

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