In most modern businesses, there are several vital pieces of equipment which enable the company to function and complete operations. Computer hardware usually falls into that category. Anything from servers to printers to network components to the basic desktop PC, there are many technological components which are important.
Another common thing to many modern companies is the desire to maximize return on investment. After all, you're in business to make money, and if you can maximize ROI then you maximize profit and how much you and your employees take home at the end of the day right? In some cases, maybe it's not even a business. Governments are often trying to maximize ROI due to limited tax revenue to spend each year. Whatever the reason, one of the more common things organizations try to wring every last penny out of is their computer hardware. But is that a good idea? Is doing so actually saving money or is it more costly at the end of the day?
The "lifespan" of IT hardware
The first thing to get out of the way is "how do I know if X is at the end of it's expected lifespan?". Many places treat PCs like an appliance and just run it until it breaks, then decide if it's cheaper to fix it or replace it. Unfortunately, doing this leads to extended downtime and lost productivity/revenue. Ideally, equipment should be replaced before it fails.
So what is the lifespan of a given piece of equipment. That depends on a couple of factors: how long will the vendor support it? What type of environment is it in? What is it being used for? Is it mission critical? Do you have a backup device/strategy in case of failure? The general rule of thumb for most IT hardware, whether it be servers, PCs or network equipment, is roughly 3-5 years before replacement should be on the radar. If it's a mission-critical unit which lives in a harsh environment, you're best off pushing that replacement schedule closer to the 3 year mark. If it's a basic office PC which the part-time book keeper uses, then send it closer to 5.
Shorter replacement cycles = more flexibility
One of the bigger benefits of a more consistent replacement schedule which is often overlooked is the flexibility it provides. We've seen many times where replacement of every system in the environment was put off for so long, it necessitated replacement of everything almost at the same time to keep things compatible. This usually winds up being a huge expenditure which for many organizations is a tough pill to swallow, especially during tougher economic times.
On the flip side, by consistently replacing equipment as it nears it's expected end of life not only allows you to budget more consistently, it also gives you flexibility for recycling systems for other purposes to squeeze a little more value out of them. Instead of trying to wring 5 years out of a workstation system, swap it every 3-4 years and then re-use the old system for people doing more basic, less mission critical tasks.
It also allows you the flexibility to push replacement projects if needed. Have a large expense coming up in another category this year? Keeping your systems fresh more consistently lets you push out replacement a year with confidence vs crossing fingers and hoping the 9-year-old holds on for one more year.
Newer devices are cheaper to fix
Most commercial IT equipment has either the option for, or comes standard with, a 3 year warranty. Some devices even go as far as 5 years. Keeping equipment on a regular upgrade cycle keeps warranty coverage on all of your equipment, thus making fixing devices that do happen to fail (it happens) much less expensive, and also quicker and easier than trying to source second-hand parts to fix an old system.
Even in situations like a few years ago during covid, when everyone was trying to find a way around the supply chain issues, we found most warranty fixes were an average of 4 business days quicker than trying to find and source a part to fix an older system. That's a lot of downtime for any system in a business.
Old/unsupported devices are a security risk
It's an unfortunate reality that cyber criminals today will look for any take any and every angle they can find to gain access to your company and cause whatever damage they deem most effective. Older and unsupported systems tend to be the unguarded back door in many cases for some of the largest cyber attacks out there. Even systems which aren't often used shouldn't be kept around if they no longer receive any sort of security updates (ie: if they're running an older version of Windows/MacOS). Do yourself and your organization a favor and plan on replacing it.
Starting a schedule
Getting started with a replacement schedule isn't difficult, but it can be a bit daunting. First, build a list of every IT device in the network. Be as thorough as possible. Next, mark down the approximate age of the items on your list. Pinning down exact dates isn't necessary, a quarter/year is usually good enough. Once you've got this taken care of, you'll want to review the list and determine what are the most mission critical items which are on the older (5+ years) side. Prioritize those items for replacement first. Once replaced, determine what type of cycle you'd like to replace them on. As mentioned previously, consider replacing mission critical items more frequently than less important devices.
A good IT services provider can also help with the creation and maintenance of not just a hardware replacement cycle, but a full-fledged IT budget which can be added to your organizations multi-year budgets and plans. If your organization needs some assistance in the IT department, give us a shout and we'd be happy to help.