The Circle of IT Life

Circle of IT Life

If you Google “IT Product Life Cycle,” you’ll get an MBAs worth of information about how manufactures can track the life of a product. The definition of “product” they are using, however, is better described as model. The business school life cycle is concept, design, marketing, blah, blah, blah. The Harvard and Wharton types break it into introduction, growth, maturity, and saturation. It is mostly a market assessment, not really a product evaluation. In fact, the day someone buys the actual product it falls off the retailer’s cycle. The object of their whole plan is the sale, and where their interest ends.

For our purpose here, we are not interested in how long Ford can continue to sell cars called Taurus — seems to be forever — or how long IBM can call it Power 8, before they have to bust out the 9. The real question is what happens once a specific piece of IT hardware hits the streets, the real beginning of the IT product Circle of Life. For IT Hardware, the circle starts with the installation of the new piece of hardware at its first work site. Like many of us at our first jobs, the future is not bright for Mr. Server; in a few years he’ll probably be looking for a new job.

Like many others, Brett Nordquist at Recovery Zone,’s blog, recommends replacing a server every three years. He cites the escalating cost of support as his major reason. “According to IDC, starting in the fourth year, support costs increase about 40%. By year five, you’re staring at a 200% increase. Hold on to the server for seven years and support costs hit a mind boggling 400%.” Sadly, his is a common view and rationale, despite being flawed. The reasoning is based on OEM warranty, and using OEM support. The original manufacturer has a stake in keeping the cost high for support years four, five, and beyond. High maintenance costs will make new hardware look more appealing. Other than as a market driver for the Mr. Server’s creator, the three-year interval has no basis in reality.

FrontierCARE logoThe escalating costs of OEM service are not the only support option. We know more than a little bit about this at Frontier because our FrontierCARE provides high levels of support for IT hardware including 24/7 service with as little as two-hour response times. There are other non-OEM service options beyond FrontierCARE, and when the primary function of the company providing support isn’t to sell new hardware the costs decrease significantly. FrontierCARE runs about 50% of OEM support contracts. It could also be argued that the most knowledgeable support happens at the two-year plus mark. By then the flaws and quirks of any system are widely known, expected, and quickly addressed.

There are other reasons why Mr. Server is ready to stay on the job past 36 months. Omitting the rare piece of enterprise IT hardware with design flaws, servers are sturdy things. These are not laptops from Best Buy. They are expected to operate 24 hours a day, all year, without rest. When installed correctly in the proper environment, servers can take it. There will be component failure — even new components fail sometimes — but parts are available. With the exception of limited production hardware, like DC servers or certain Military specified hardware, there is a brisk secondary market, and inventory of IT parts. Again, this is something we know well at Frontier. Our warehouse holds more than 100,000 product SKUs, and only a fraction of them are currently available from the original manufacturer. This first stage in the circle of IT life does not have to be only three years.

Whether stage one, initial installation from new, lasts three years, five years, or only 18 months, it’s just an arc on the circle of IT life. Frontier Computer Corp. is where the second stage of life starts for Mr. Server and many of his contemporaries. Frontier was founded 40 years ago buying various equipment that was coming off lease. Today, we are where servers go when they are released from their first assignment.

When the hardware comes into Frontier, our technicians fully test it, replace anything that isn’t working properly, clean it up, and send it its next job. For many of those servers, stage two will be the same as stage one. Often servers coming from a data center replacing their hardware will go into another data center that is being installed. Some of them will replace another identical unit that has failed in an installment as old as the data center that was decommissioned. One IT administrator’s cast-off is another’s solution. This arc in the circle sometimes repeats itself.

What might be old technology for major corporation in a first world country, can be the perfect solution for a start-up, or small legacy company in other parts of the globe. Frontier ships fully configured, tested systems worldwide. Sometimes those systems are going on their third deployment, further extending the life of a product. Not every unit makes it to even a second deployment. It depends on how long the server remains at its first installation, the server’s original configuration, and how well it fares in testing to determine when it moves from functioning as a whole server to becoming a donor for parts.

Even when a Mr. Server is taken out of service as a whole unit, it isn’t over. At Frontier, our techs go to work turning a retired server into a parts warehouse. Components are tested, and when they pass, entered into inventory. For most equipment, there is not much that doesn’t become a spare. Processors, power supplies, drives, connecters, memory, and a long list of other components can all be useful. Even case parts, like bezels can become spares. The younger a server is when retired, the more likely it is to yield parts. If there are bits here and there with no utility left, Frontier recycles them into raw materials. Only those bits move to the end of the circle.

The Circle Can Be Unbroken

At the parts level Mr. Server completes the circle. One of the reasons IT managers replace servers with newer models is fear for a lack of available spares. When a server or any major assembly gets decommissioned into parts, ironically, those parts are the resource that keep other similar models in service. FrontierCARE clients enjoy a flow of ready spares even when parts are scarce at the manufacturer level, a significant advantage over other service options.

The real end of life for Mr. Server happens many, many years later, only when all of the original models are uninstalled, and all of the components lose their value as spare parts. The value of spare parts, however, can even outlive a specific model. When a new version is introduced, it doesn’t necessarily mean all new components. Mr. Server’s connectors, heat sinks, and even case components may well have the same part number as the next generation. Alas, eventually every vestige of Mr. Server will disappear from data centers worldwide. When that time comes, at Frontier every useful resource that once was Mr. Server is recycled into raw materials, to begin the circle again.

The manufacturer may limit the product life cycle of a specific model using designations like end-of-life, and end-of-service, but those terms have no resemblance to the actual working life of one specific unit. Enterprise quality IT hardware has a long life, even with a short initial installation. How long IT hardware remains useful to the original purchaser may has more to do with the maintenance choices of the user than the hardware itself. Those choosing only OEM support will find their assets needing frequent replacement. Those who choose a different maintenance option, like FrontierCARE, can realize benefits on their investment for much longer, usually with less down time, and less total expense.

When you have IT assets to manage you can count on FrontierCARE to help you get the most out of your investment. We can keep them up and running, and when they are truly at the end of their useful lives, assure that they are properly recycled to begin the circle once more.

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