Hardware is one of the biggest capital investments any IT department makes. Even at a time when more businesses are turning to cloud services that reduce their reliance on traditional in-house data centers, there’ll always be a need for servers, switches, routers and other networking equipment, in addition to the end-user devices such as desktop and laptop PCs and mobile devices.
But these need to be carefully managed to ensure you're getting the most out of them throughout their entire lifespan. Therefore, an effective hardware lifecycle management strategy is essential for any business.
This should cover everything from identifying the most suitable equipment for your operations, how to maintain them throughout their deployment and a clear strategy for upgrading or replacing items when they reach the end of their lifecycle.
Why you need an effective lifecycle management plan
Having a plan in place has a couple of major benefits. The first is keeping your costs down. This is achieved in a number of ways, from ensuring you're not overspending on the wrong hardware at the procurement stage, to a greater ability to repair and refresh items to extend their lifespan.
The second key advantage of a clear plan is in improved productivity. For instance, having a clear schedule for upgrading items ensures you won't force hardware to operate beyond its useful life, where its level of performance degrades to a point where it’s actively hampering the work of employees.
An effective plan can also reduce the risk of unplanned outages. By monitoring and maintaining key hardware assets, this makes them less likely to fail and leave businesses unable to work at all. While even the most effective plan can't reduce the risk of hardware failures completely, it can ensure there are contingencies in place to ensure firms can quickly get back up and running should something unexpected occur.
4 steps to manage your hardware lifecycle
So what does a comprehensive hardware lifecycle management plan look like? There are a few vital steps you should include to make the most of your hardware, which will take you through an item's entire lifespan, from selection to disposal. Here are the key factors to keep in mind:
The first part of a lifecycle management program is to have a comprehensive plan that details exactly what hardware you need, how long you expect it to last, and how it’ll be replaced while causing minimal disruption.
You should set out a clear schedule for the replacement of items. For example, servers generally have a three to five-year lifespan, but this may vary depending on the components they use and the stress they're put under.
Having this knowledge also allows you to organize bulk purchases for your equipment, which can lower your overall costs. You should also evaluate vendors and even consider engaging with a managed services provider to handle some of the work for you.
The procurement stage is viewed by many as the most crucial, as it's often one of the biggest single outlays an IT department will make. However, there are a few best practices to follow that should reduce the risk of a poor return on investment.
These measures will help you develop a clear strategy, from creating detailed requests for proposals to involving the right stakeholders and ensuring the assets you choose are fit for future needs as well as today's.
Another key decision may be whether to buy or lease hardware. Leasing has a number of benefits, such as:
- No upfront fees,
- Predictable costs
- Clear lifespan
However, the total cost of ownership will usually work out more expensive, while buying outright is often easier and gives you more control.
Once deployed, a good maintenance strategy is vital in extending the lifespan of your equipment and keeping it performing as optimally as possible. This ranges from ensuring equipment is configured correctly to ongoing monitoring that can spot telltale signs of imminent failure, so repairs or replacements can be made before work is interrupted.
In addition to this, day-to-day work such as deploying firmware patches and backups for storage equipment will also need to be completed. This is an area where specialist service providers can prove hugely useful, especially for firms that don’t have the in-house resources to keep up with 24/7 demands of their IT estate.
When the time does come to replace outdated hardware, a clear plan for disposing old equipment is vital, as there may well be environmental or security rules that mean items can't simply be disposed of.
For example, having a plan to donate or recycle equipment could be essential in meeting your firm's social and environmental policies, rather than sending them to landfill. But however you're disposing of your equipment, you'll have to ensure that any storage hardware has been thoroughly wiped of data, as any sensitive information that's left on hard drives could pose serious security risks if discovered, as well as leading to fines under data protection rules.