The Hardware Life Expectancy Interview with Brian Boatman

Old Computer Room

Every day, businesses across the globe are filled with people that log on to computers connected to servers and networks. Most of the people using this equipment don’t think about the lifespan of these machines. CIO’s should, but some organizations don’t have a dedicated CIO or IT support staff.

Unfortunately, this could mean catastrophic hardware and system-wide failures that could lead to a devastating loss of time and information, let alone money. With hardware lifespans being a topic that isn’t immediate to everyone’s minds, I decided to sit down with Brian Boatman, senior systems administrator here at Hanson Information Systems, and get a sense of what considerations businesses can be made regarding their equipment, and what they could expect if they don’t.

The interview has been edited for length and cohesion.


Hanson Headlines: Brian, thanks for sitting down with me to talk about hardware life expectancy. Could you talk a little bit about the business impact of, say, a server?

Brian Boatman: Sure. A server is a piece of equipment that has multiple uses within the context of an average business, but pretty typically they hold a lifespan of about five years. In other words, the warranty covers the hardware for that five-year period. While an organization certainly can continue to use that hardware beyond that warranty, an organization will be taking increasingly bigger risks because the warranty period covers them for the known time a manufacturer can guarantee the server to work. In other words, within that period, the manufacturer knows that if anything stops working it is covered because it all should work for that time.

Something else that isn’t really a priority in people’s thinking is that troubleshooting a problem isn’t cost effective, particularly with old equipment. Likewise, find and acquiring the right part to fix the problem is more difficult, time consuming, and costly.

HH: So, if an organization were to see a server failure after year six, what impact could that have on their business?

BB: Really it could run the gamut from a slight workforce disruption while a backup unit was switched on that could last anywhere from thirty minutes to a few hours, to being totally caught unaware and knocked out for a day or longer.

HH: And in business, a day is a monumentally long time.

BB: Right. So, one of the services we offer when we sell servers is to include periodic system audits of the hardware to make sure everything is running as it should, and if it’s not in any way, offer our professional recommendation to correct the issue.

HH: What does that mean in terms of cost, because a server is a big, expensive piece of equipment, so I would guess that CIOs or IT staff might have a difficult time trying to justify a big expense like that every five years?

BB: Most people don’t seem to realize that not only does your entire organization run on IT, but that the upfront cost of it versus the cost per day over the time it is used is minimal. Imagine a business or organization that has ten employees. Now, they could be purchasing a server, but for argument’s sake, it could just be a few new workstations [desktop computers].

Up front, let’s say they pay $20,000 for this new investment. That seems huge, but when you break it down, it is small. Per year, on a five-year average, the cost is $4,000, but then when you look at it on a per employee basis, that number shrinks even smaller – per year, per employee, that same investment of $20,000 amounts to just $400. Here’s the kicker: per year, assuming we’re on a 35-hour work week and the business is open 48 weeks per year on average, that cost drops to just $8.34 per week. That means that for the cost of one lunch per week, a business pays for equipment that these people will use for 35+ hours per week to do their job.

HH: Wow. When you break it down like that, it seems obvious that you’d want to ensure everything worked in top form.

BB: Absolutely. And it’s not just big items like servers or workstations that can fail. Network switches are a relatively small component that can have a big impact.

HH: How so?

BB: Well, ultimately it all comes down to time, and time is money in the business world. The more demands that are made on an old machine, the more it impacts the users.  If everything is running slower [on the network], it could also be causing your employees to be less productive.  Employees can use old machinery, but what are you losing productivity-wise compared to the potential gain that you can get by upgrading?

Also, something people may be passively aware of but not consider is how performance over the life of a machine degrades.  This is sometimes due to age, but more often it’s related to upgrades of the software that it runs over time.  All software on your server must be upgraded at some point, from operating systems to end-user products.  Each of these upgrades requires more and more resources, and old equipment doesn’t just grow new resources.  It may be a very slight requirement increase, but over time, a computer that was sufficient to run your business loses that ability, even if you don’t add anything else to the machine.

HH: Well Brian, I appreciate you sitting for this interview and for taking the time to share your insight on the lifespan of IT equipment’s usefulness.

BB: My pleasure.


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