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- Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College
A major IT infrastructure upgrade frequently lands at the bottom of to-do lists. It's just easier -- most of the time -- to extend maintenance contracts and maybe do a few minor upgrades to keep the systems operable for another year than to go through the laborious process to purchase and set up new equipment.
This raises a difficult question: When does extending the life of the equipment start to cost more than a replacement?
On the surface, the maintenance contract grows most visibly on a steep curve after year three. It's not unusual to see double-digit cost growth in years four and five and beyond. But because support cost increases are still lower than that of an equipment replacement, management tolerates the hikes.
The figures can sting a budget, but it's not painful enough on its own to force an IT infrastructure upgrade in year one. However, when you add up the support costs over several years, the numbers become staggering -- and there's the real problem: We often look at things only in terms of this year or next year, which makes it easy to miss the larger picture when it comes to actual expenditure on maintenance contracts over the space of several years.
Beyond the price tag
Besides maintenance, there are soft costs to consider when you choose to keep tired infrastructure functional. There's the time your admins must devote to a crash-prone system. And there's also the effort necessary to keep systems operating at a level that's high enough for customers to use them effectively. These tasks are not always as urgent as a break-fix effort, but the time requirement can be a perpetual drain on staff and resources.
It often starts with minor hardware tuning and tweaks, but it grows over time until it becomes not only noticeable, but prohibitive. But because it grew so slowly, no one remembers how those duties got to be such a burden.
These types of soft costs have a financial impact. The capital cost of system replacement via an IT infrastructure upgrade is only one piece of this puzzle. The numbers go beyond the annual operational costs because the effort to support an aging system is not static -- or simply an annual cost. Each month that passes and every software upgrade that's installed might cause the infrastructure to slow down and demand more resources. It's a slow drain -- but a drain nonetheless.
Costs and reliability are the key reasons for replacements, but the features and functionality that new technologies can deliver are equally important. An IT infrastructure upgrade not only eliminates the work necessary to maintain older systems, but also brings additional capabilities and automation features to ease infrastructure management and deployment. These are things to think about in the debate to replace aging infrastructure or continue to patch it together year after year.
Look beyond the one-year point and instead adopt a multiyear vision. If you aren't careful, at some point the infrastructure will fall out of maintenance and then the replacement story will play out on a vendor's timeline rather than yours.