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Your at-a-glance guide to key stages; terminology and to identifying best fit scenarios for alternatives to OEM network maintenance

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It’s a minefield out there in terms of networking support terminology, so let’s get to grips with that first. End of Life (EoL) sounds pretty terminal and basically means no further hardware support will be forthcoming from your manufacturer. The acronyms that manufacturers use to identify various milestones differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. The essence of what they are all attempting to communicate is when they stop selling a device; when they stop updating software codes; and when they stop supporting the hardware with maintenance contracts. While the sequence does not vary, the timeline can, and anywhere between 3-5 years is the typical timeframe in the life of an asset. Therefore, when it comes to ‘EoL’ definitively triggering alternative maintenance options for networking assets, it is definitely the case that one size does not fit all.

Perhaps a better anchor is to identify the age of the equipment? There is, of course, a direct correlation between asset age and your maintenance options opening up. Generally, this range is 3 to 5 years after the End of Sale announcement to really start exploring options for significant contract savings. And here’s why it is worth doing the groundwork to note the dates. According to Gartner in their 2019 Market Guide for Data Center and Network Third-Party Hardware Maintenance, “TPM contracts can offer customers 50% to 70% savings off OEM support net prices.”1

Some networking kit should never be outsourced:

Regardless of age, there a few clear no-go’s for contracting out of networking maintenance direct from your manufacturer and beware of any organisation that tells you otherwise. Curvature’s methodology has been designed to help customers manage the total cost for support and maintenance of its networking assets while mitigating risk. Curvature’s hybrid approach suggests only placing items under Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) maintenance that are heavily dependent on subscription services and/or software updates that are only available with an OEM support contract and migrating the remainder of equipment to Curvature’s NetSure maintenance program. This method will result in significant cost savings without degradation of support, and in most cases, will provide a far superior experience. A no-obligation consultation with Curvature will quickly result in a clear definition of which support model matches your organisation’s current equipment and technology roadmap. This will be achieved via Curvature’s ClearView report.

Setting the stage for networking maintenance options:

Avoiding the above scenarios, how do you begin to understand the state of your network assets? The first step in any hardware lifecycle management process is to set the stage with a complete understanding of all components. At Curvature, for example, our ClearView hardware support assessment service rapidly ascertains at what lifecycle stage the networking asset sits noting key milestones. These milestones usually take the form of logging End of Sales dates (EoS) and End of Software Maintenance (EoSW) release dates (this is where no new updates of software will be released and the OEMs only response to a maintenance request for hardware is routed through a Technical Assistance Centre to send a replacement). Manufacturers typically also throw in end of support terminology including Last Date of Support (LDoS), End of New Service, End of Service Life (EoSL) – usually after this date, you are on your own.

Alternatively, the Curvature hybrid approach is aimed at examining the customers’ network and making a maintenance decision based on the type of product, SLA required, and long term business needs of the customer (not a product release roadmap).

So without an asset assessment tool, such as ClearView, to guide you through the chronology and support options, will you be made aware of these critical dates and support options in advance by your OEM? Unlikely. OEMs prefer to have a constant cycle of product releases, coupled with forced maintenance support; issuance of EoL notices; issuance of End of Software Maintenance; issuance of End of New Service notices, and finally, a forced equipment upgrade. If you are able to identify EoL milestones and support options in advance, then you have a greater freedom of choice. When you have visibility of the approaching milestones and support options, your organisation is in a position to make an educated choice going forward. You will be in a position to understand where it makes sense to pay the premium fees for manufacturer support, and where you have the opportunity to extend the product lifecycles, reduce OpEx, and delay/defer CapEx by leveraging Third-Party Maintenance (TPM).

So what does Curvature’s ClearView analysis look like and will it provide the answers to alternate networking maintenance?

We believe strongly so! The ClearView tool uses a clear identification system to highlight the most optimal networking devices in a holistic overview of networking assets, right across the estate. The end analysis provides an unbiased view of risks and recommendations to either stay with manufacturer support or, go ahead and consider an independent support strategy derived from a complete maintenance audit. It is free, conducted remotely, and presented without obligation.

We include information on the individual item’s lifecycle status as well as item eligibility notes that speak to why an item is best suited for Curvature (green), optional for Curvature (amber), or recommended for manufacturer support (red). Think of it like a traffic signal – green means go, red means a TPM stop. While sometimes it is safe to proceed on an amber light, sometimes it is inadvisable, the choice differs from driver to driver and from intersection to intersection.  The same applies in the Network TPM world.  An amber flagged item for Customer A may be an absolute move to TPM; while Customer B would never think of moving the same item to TPM.

In detail, the ClearView process starts with an asset inventory list, uploaded by part number or description into Curvature’s proximity analysis and database matching portal to deliver a secure support feasibility listing. The list is audited at a line level, checking inventory logs where required for specific items to generate a detailed strategy recommendation for each device. In the resultant asset report, shows the traffic-light colour coding for networking devices, flagging which should stay under manufacturer support versus which can, and should be, moved to a more cost-effective, independent support plan, with any risk levels detailed for consideration.

The next step of ClearView is a detailed exploration to determine together how you currently use your equipment and what your future IT strategy looks like. This detail helps Curvature recommend, without bias, the right manufacturer-neutral strategy for your IT hardware assets. Lastly, we quantify and identify an immediate reduction in OpEx and flag known scenarios or “gotchas” that we frequently see where the manufacturer may be suggesting premature hardware upgrades. Only now, armed with this level of data and recommendations, can you decide on the best strategy moving forward.

Typical Traffic-Light Results and Recommendations from the ClearView analysis:

Green light go-ahead means that Curvature Support is viable and suggested: Networking assets in this category appear to be prime candidates for TPM support without forfeiting any critical element of OEM support. On green status, you stand to gain greater support options at a far lower cost. Likely these networking assets will either be end of support, devices where software updates have ceased or devices where software updates may be available without an OEM Support contract. Your elected TPM can now take this task on for you. In effect, under green status, the TPM will be able to provide support on devices way beyond the manufacturers’ stated EoL date – often by a timescale factor of x3. Not only does this provide an OpEx reduction in challenging budgeting times, but also you get to control refresh dates, not the manufacturer. It should be noted that not all items that have passed the End of Support date (LDoS) naturally fall into the green light category, some are tethered to the OEM and connection to the profiles within ClearView analysis quickly discovers that. It is also worth checking if software updates are available to download free from your existing vendor, (a classic example being updates for IP based LAN switches).

On flexibility, if solutions fall into the green category, your choices also open up to flexi SLAs that can be largely designed to suit your business and operational needs. Suddenly, you can integrate services without uniformity – to individual sites or to central locations – and flexi SLAs can cover, parts delivery and/or engineer onsite, with same day and next business day service! It is worth highlighting spares management here. Curvature stages spare hardware in accordance with the contracted service level, effectively offering true same day or next business day service levels. Where those commitments cannot be met, Curvature will identify that upfront and work with you to offer custom sparing options. If you read the fine print of many OEM service levels, you will notice that guaranteed same-day or next business day delivery is not always promised.

An amber result from the ClearView analysis for networking assets likely might mean that the networking devices have reached a steady-state in terms of firmware updates, although further updates could be released. Otherwise, an obvious gotcha to avoid is continuing with manufacturer premium support without using updates.

And obviously, a red result from the line item analysis dictates a continued and complete reliance on the manufacturer for critical elements of service such as license, features, updates, or niche technical support. Needless to say, as these red items progress through their lifecycle, they may transition into amber or green status.

To upgrade Hardware or not to upgrade?

Manufacturers are constantly pushing hardware upgrades whether they’re technically required or not. Many buyers are looking to consolidate contracts or vendors then realising that they’re paying for a premium for manufacturer support that might not be delivering everything that they’re paying for, i.e., access to software updates on items that are passed the software support milestone. Other buyers are questioning why they are decommissioning hardware that is more than capable of meeting the technical demand placed on it simply to maintain eligibility for a manufacturers’ support contract. As items approach their end of support milestone, the manufacturer will begin to suggest hardware upgrades whether you have a technical reason to upgrade, or not. This may be occurring already. If so, you now know you have viable choices with an established process of how to get there. And the end result? Curvature helps your organisation immediately reduce CapEx and extend product lifecycles to reduce and/or delay massive CapEx spend.

With the visibility enabled by a ClearView Assessment, you’ll have the time, information, and insight you need to better plan for upgrades. You’ll be able to decide which assets to use for a longer period and which will require you to budget for upgrades or source cost-effective spares. Curvature can also help you extend the useful life of the equipment that still meets its technical demand but may be scheduled for a hardware upgrade according to the manufacturer’s product lifecycle. At the very minimum, you’ll have insight into the options you have to avoid forced or premature hardware upgrades while continuing to use and receive maintenance support on the hardware you currently have.                                                               

Centralised Ticket Management for a Compounded Approach to Network Maintenance:

And finally, a further ‘belt and braces’ option to consider is a compounded approach through a centralised umbrella ticketing and management service offered through a TPM, whereby around 60% of networking contracts are maintained by TPM, while the remaining 40% of support stays with the manufacturer. This scenario can offer the best of both worlds with a single management view and critically allows immediate visibility on open tickets and the state of maintenance across the entire estate.

To find out more about all aspects of Curvature’s ClearView service, please visit https://www.curvature.com/third-party-maintenance/clearview-maintenance-audit/.

1Gartner, Market Guide for Data Center and Network Third-Party Hardware Maintenance, Rob Schafer, Christine Tenneson, Mike Toussaint, Daniel Bowers, 29 August 2019

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