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Tech Tune Up

When to Give your IT Infrastructure a Makeover

By Dan Sorensen

April 10, 2014

Nothing can bring business to a halt faster than a slow, outdated IT system. In the digital era, customers, users and consumers are impatient, so it is essential to deliver information as fast as possible. Failing to do so can lead to lost revenues, missed opportunities and unsatisfied customers. In fact, studies show 40 percent of users will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.

Fast, consistent speed is essential to delivering a positive customer experience online. For company leaders, CIOs and database architects, knowing when to upgrade IT assets means treading a fine line between upgrading too soon (wasting company resources) and waiting too long (leading to poor performance and lost customers).

While every company is unique, there are a few guidelines to identifying the right time to give your IT infrastructure a makeover.

Time Waits for No Man

No matter what you do, in the coming years your IT infrastructure will need an upgrade. Whether you have a system that consists of one server or thousands of racks, the general rule of thumb is architectures should be refreshed every three to five years.

“It comes down to, ‘How much does it cost you to support older hardware?’” says Josh Linton, vice president of technology at VLCM, an IT solutions provider in Salt Lake City. “As hardware gets older, it’s going to become harder to maintain and you’ll have more failures to manage. So one of the first questions is, ‘What problems are you having in your environment right now, and can they be tied to aging hardware?’”

If managing aging hardware is creating issues or becoming more expensive than an upgrade, it could be time to replace your system.

While your hardware should deliver consistent performance over its lifetime, the applications you depend on will evolve over that period. Whether a website, a customer relationship management tool, a database or something else, applications generally become more complex and feature rich over the years, providing you with new functionality, capabilities and data demands—and outgrowing your hardware’s capabilities

Replacing vs. Prolonging

When evaluating options for prolonging the life of old hardware, consider whether applications can handle failure or downtime.

“You have to consider how critical are the applications that you’re running on this older hardware,” says Linton. “If it were to fail, and you were down for a day, or three days, because we have to replace your hardware, is that acceptable? If the answer is no, then we talk about replacing hardware as an insurance policy.”

For companies extending the life of their hardware, incorporating technologies like VMware high availability clusters provides redundancy against failures. The key is determining total cost of ownership and identifying when maintenance and upgrade costs outweigh the expense of replacing hardware.

“In general, if someone can get about a 30 percent increase in efficiency for the same dollar, that’s when they upgrade,” says Wes Swenson, CEO at C7 Data Centers, a Bluffdale-based company that provides datacenter solutions for all sizes of customers. 

New Architectures

Once it comes time to upgrade, companies should carefully consider their options, as they will typically be locked in for another refresh cycle. Upgrades are good opportunities to consider changing architecture or incorporating new features like flash memory, cloud backups, software-defined storage, virtualization or open-source technologies.

In many cases, implementing new technologies and architectures can reduce total cost of ownership while providing an advantage over the competition.

“The decision to upgrade to new technology is a lot of times driven by cost,” says Swenson. “Many smaller companies are more nimble and figure out a way to compete on cost and service. They’re the early adopters of new technologies that larger companies don’t dare take a chance on.”

Many of these newer technologies are now proven, minimizing risk for companies and datacenter architects. Your preferred server vendor can provide solutions that have been qualified to work with specific applications.

Head in the Cloud

If unsure about your system upgrade, colocation facilities and cloud hosting providers allow organizations to reap all the benefits of new infrastructures while outsourcing the implementation and maintenance of equipment. In the age of gigabit internet connections and high-performance computing, most companies that implement these strategies can do so without experiencing any noticeable degradation in application performance.

This approach to solving IT challenges saves money for many smaller organizations. Many modern systems and servers are underutilized, so turning to the cloud means you only pay for what you need, similar to purchasing a slice of pizza instead of the entire box.

Regardless of what stage your IT infrastructure is in, there will come a time that an upgrade is needed to meet the demands of your organization. It is never too early to begin reviewing your current performance demands and maintenance costs. Many companies will find that upgrading their infrastructure can actually lower overall operating expenses by reducing energy consumption, maintenance, cooling costs and system footprint.  

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