Often, IT departments shy away from replacing equipment because of the seemingly high initial investment and instead, choose to maintain older systems to save money. However, when the costs associated with older equipment such as support, efficiency, and downtime are taken into account, costs to maintain older systems can accumulate to be much more than initial replacement costs. Understand and measure the hidden costs of old equipment in the data center to make better decisions when it comes time for replacement.

Understanding Equipment Cost Items

Most data center equipment has an average lifespan of about 3-5 years. For instance batteries should be replaced every 2-3 years, servers every 4 years, and HVAC systems every 5-7 years. When equipment reaches its end of life, the decision must be made whether to continue supporting old equipment, or to replace with new equipment.

A Prime Example

Cooling infrastructure can consume as much as 50% of the power entering the data center facility. The average lifespan of a data center is between 10 and 15 years. During that period equipment and technology will likely change around two to three times (cooling, and IT equipment). A typical commercial AC unit (similar to those used in data center’s 10 to 15 years ago) would have a maximum capacity of 7 Watts/sq. ft. Today, basic data center CRACs operate at around 50 Watts/sq. ft. and more high-end precision and balanced solutions can achieve up to 250 Watts/sq. ft. Also, when considering air exchange, today’s precision systems pass more than 500 cubic feet per minute (CFM) per ton, while older technologies might pass as little as 350 CFM per ton; all of which leads to lowered OPEX for the entire facility. 

 

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To properly weigh the benefits of purchasing new equipment in the data center, an understanding of the costs associated with keeping existing equipment is necessary. Just because old equipment has been fully depreciated, it doesn't mean that it's free. Consider the following cost items in data center equipment that has been around for three years or longer.

  • Increased support costs. As equipment becomes older, support costs can begin to snowball and the needs of aging equipment increase. Reactive support duties begin to take time away from proactive maintenance, thus resulting in an increase in equipment failures and costs associated with additional upkeep.
  • Hardware costs. Equipment add-ons, regular maintenance, replacement parts, and system adjustments, can all increase the costs of old equipment.
  • Cost of integrating new applications with old hardware. In order to implement new software, systems may have to be updated to integrate properly, thus increasing costs.
  • Cost of system downtime. In most cases, the older that equipment gets, the less reliable it becomes. System downtime costs the business by lowering employee productivity, especially when mission critical applications are affected. Although it is difficult to quantify the costs associated with loss of productivity, it should still be factored into the costs of old equipment that consistently experience downtime.
  • Cost of efficiency. The older equipment gets, the less efficient it becomes. Older equipment such as server and HVACs, consume more energy than new equipment, thus increasing power costs in the data center along with the organization’s carbon footprint.

Recommendations

Although old equipment can incur additional costs, it is not always necessary to replace all of it. Old equipment can be out-of-date, yet functional and still provide some value to the business. Use the following advice to help determine when equipment requires replacement.

  1. Track problematic equipment. Equipment that exposes the organization to consistent downtime, or requires continuous support should be replaced. Record incidents and analyze repeated occurrences to help make the case for new equipment when needed.
  2. Accrue costs as they occur. Track the costs associated with individual pieces of hardware as they are incurred. Set an annual threshold for the amount of cost a piece of hardware can incur (as a percentage of the replacement cost) before being targeted for replacement. Also, develop a retirement strategy for old equipment to help plan cash outlays for new purchases.
  3. Identify interoperability issues. Determine how well old equipment integrates with newer parts of the organization’s systems? Does it cause system bottlenecks, crashes, or glitches? Also, look at the requirements of any new applications to be implemented. Is the old hardware adequate?

Bottom Line

Holding onto old equipment in the data center may appear to reduce IT spend, but can actually cost more in the long run. While there may be a gradual accumulation of costs associated with maintaining older systems, these costs can add up to a significant amount over time. Identify costs associated with old equipment in the data center, such as servers and HVACs, to help make the case for replacement.

© 1998-2010 Info-Tech Research Group. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission

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