Most networking equipment is engineered to last 20 to 30 years. Although equipment is built for long life, OEMs will sell and support your equipment for just a fraction of the time. At the end-of-life date, you're forced to upgrade because your current equipment is now obsolete—and as many IT managers will agree, an upgrade requires a lot of time and money.
Understanding the end-of-life stages and knowing its implications is crucial as you plan and design your network. I've worked with our in-house experts to share the principles that guide our very own equipment upgrades.
1. OEM products are built for long life.
A product's life is determined by the mean time between failure (MTBF), a curve that predicts a level of failure in the product line. A product's MTBF is important to any network because it estimates how long you can safely use your equipment before it fails. Nowadays we're commonly seeing new network hardware design with an MTBF of 20-30 years. That's a long time.
This means your switches and routers are designed to last for much longer than the OEM is willing to support it. You’re compelled to upgrade to the new version when your equipment reaches the end-of-life milestone, despite the fact that it is still working.
Take the Cisco Catalyst 3750G-24TS for instance. This 24-port switch reached its end of life March 15, 2014, and now "all support services for the product is unavailable, and the product has become obsolete." While this switch is engineered to last for over 20 years, Cisco only sells them for around 5 years and supports them for around 10 years in an effort to push users toward the 3750X.
The good news is that regardless of the OEM's end-of-life agenda, your equipment is still useful and relevant before it reaches the end of its MTBF time (assuming that there are no technical advances that require you to upgrade).
» I suggest: Only upgrade or replace network equipment when the risks become unacceptable or significant new technical requirements arise. Keep in your network the equipment with no negative side effects—you'll increase the value of your existing hardware. Operation costs would go down as equipment refresh cycles are spread over a longer cycle that reflects the equipment's MTBF, not the OEM's end-of-life agenda.
2. Vendor end-of-life agendas (not technical requirements) currently drive refresh cycles.
End-of-life announcements prompt a series of events that ultimately lead to the end of support from the OEM. Although the lack of a support contract is an issue, it doesn't result in a mandatory requirement to replace the equipment.
In a survey of 304 IT decision-makers, Forrester Consulting asked how often firms determine when to upgrade their network infrastructure. The majority claimed to refresh equipment every three to five years—a timespan that reflects an OEM's end-of-life agenda but not equipment MTBF.
How are IT decision makers reaching this conclusion? Forrester Consulting asked what information sources influence upgrade decisions. Respondents said that upgrades are mostly driven by new technical requirements forced upon them by the OEMs.
These stats imply that the IT community refreshes their equipment even when there is no new technology. Most retired equipment still carries high market value and has not reached its MTBF. Therefore, businesses are missing a large savings opportunity by not challenging the OEMs.
Don't let end of life announcements dictate an upgrade.
» I suggest: Avoid replacing on a regular schedule. Rather, ask yourself these questions to decide whether to upgrade:
1) Does your network require new technical advances?
3. There are support options that defy OEM end-of-support dates.
While some IT decision-makers are under the assumption that end-of-life equipment can't be reliable without a maintenance contract from the OEM, others are challenging this false notion. This latter group is instead opting for maintenance contracts from a third party in order to cut operational costs by a significant amount.
That's why there's been an emerging market for third-party maintenance, which shouldn't come as a surprise since 76% of IT decision-makers are concerned with the pressure to reduce costs. To shine some light on third-party maintenance, IT managers should know that maintenance contracts from a third-party directly benefits the business as well as the end user:
- It makes sense for the business: By extending the life of your network equipment, you're maximizing the value of your capital while avoiding large and unnecessary capital expenditures on new equipment. This instantly affects your business' bottom line. (Note: Your CFO will be pleased.)
- It makes life easier for the network engineer: By keeping your working end-of-life equipment, you minimize the number of times end users are tasked with redesigning the network, relearning technology, retraining the team, and reconfiguring systems.
» I suggest: Keep your end-of-life equipment under the support of a third-party vendor. There are viable third-party options in the market that offer the same expert maintenance, regardless of whether your equipment is previous-generation or current-generation. By doing so, you'll improve the overall value of your hardware and will have a positive impact on your ROI.
 Challenging the Status Quo on Maintenance Contracts and Refresh Cycles to Lower Costs, a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Curvature, May 2013.