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Extending the Life of Electronic Equipment Saves Money

Tight IT budgets and an economic environment that demands cautious spending have forced many companies to extend equipment lifetimes. This is a good way to save money and re-allocate limited funds as long as you take appropriate precautions.

The life expectancy of electronic equipment varies widely. Industry norms like three years for laptops, four years for desktops, and five years for servers do not apply to every situation. How long can you expect that equipment to last?

Simply postponing new equipment purchases without taking steps to prolong the useful life of your existing equipment is a dangerous path. It can result in higher maintenance costs and increased downtime.

To avoid this scenario, take care of what you have and prepare for occasional breakdowns.

The longest equipment life spans are reserved for big systems such as mainframes and minicomputers. It is not coincidental that these systems are expensive and thus receive special treatment such as climate-controlled rooms and filtered air.

Portable devices such as laptop computers, PDAs and mobile phones experience the shortest life spans. This should not be surprising as many portable devices are dropped, lost or stolen long before their useful life has ended.

Equipment lifetimes have generally increased as manufacturers have improved reliability and customers have learned proper maintenance techniques. While there is no simple formula for determining the useful life of new equipment, there are critical factors that influence it.

Many systems become outdated simply because software vendors send out upgrades that require ever increasing hardware horsepower. Microsoft is notorious for this practice. Windows XP required 512MB to 1GB of memory for most users. Windows Vista requires 1GB to 2GB for equivalent functionality.

There is no easy way to avoid these software updates. If your business must take advantage of new software features, you will have to make the equipment investment.

Upgrading old equipment by adding memory or disk space rather than buying new systems is a risky proposition. Be sure to check out the speed of the processor, system bus and graphics subsystem. Constraints in these areas may demand that you replace the entire system.

When buying new systems, beware of the hardware configuration guidelines supplied by software vendors. The minimum configurations are rarely adequate for enterprise use.

The recommended hardware configuration should be treated as the minimum in most circumstances.

The less abuse equipment is required to take, the longer it will last. Electronics require temperature control and a relatively clean environment.

Too often, systems are placed in direct sunlight or in areas where airflow is restricted. These conditions will reduce life expectancy.

Many systems end up on the floor where dust becomes a major problem. It is not unusual to open a computer case and find a thick layer of dust and grime covering internal components. This buildup traps heat and reduces life span.

It is also common for internal fans to fail. These are mechanical components that simply wear out, often without anyone noticing.

Again, excessive heat is the result and component failure follows.

Give your employees some simple guidelines for properly caring for their equipment. They will be more productive and the hardware will last longer.

Another tactic for increasing useful life is to re-purpose older systems. If some applications demand new hardware, take the existing hardware and move it to less demanding environments.

Also consider your risk exposure. Systems that are in demand 24x7 should be newer and highly reliable. In less demanding situations, systems that are older and more prone to occasional problems are often acceptable.

You can extend the life of your systems even further by having good emergency response plans in place. If you have good backups, keep emergency replacements ready, and can tolerate minor disruptions, you may be able to keep running older systems until they die of old age.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Emergency response is often complex and costly. Frequent disruptions, even if minor in nature, will frustrate users and management alike. Everyone should understand the risks and rewards of postponing new equipment purchases.

Regardless of equipment type or age, it is a good idea to track problem history. With a record of system downtime, the specific component that failed and the date and duration of the failure, you will be able to predict future reliability. You will also be able to calculate downtime costs and anticipate future costs.

These statistics are invaluable in determining the useful life of a piece of equipment. When predicted maintenance costs exceed the cost of a new system, replace the equipment.

As for the initial purchase decision, consider the equipment environment. If the device will be used in a controlled or non-critical environment, you may be able to get by with less expensive hardware. If the environment is harsh or mission critical, buy the best hardware you can afford.

Extending the life of your electronic equipment is a good way to tighten IT spending without having to cut back services or downsize your team.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He helps companies avoid the subtle mistakes that cause missed deadlines, lost opportunities and fragile results. He shows them agile approaches that slash risk and cut development time so they get to market 25-50% faster. He helps them carry that momentum into the sales cycle using white papers and case studies that accelerate the selling process.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in March 2008.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.