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Don’t Fear the Reaper

January 2, 2009

In the classic 1976 sci-fi film “Logan’s Run”, Michael York and Jennifer Agutter spend much of their time running from a world in which people, once they reach the ripe old age of 30, are disposed of in a public spectacle.  Apparently, in that post-apocalyptic future, everyone outlived their usefulness.

For decades, this analogy used to hold to for IT, as well; IT departments managed the end-of-life (EOL) for enterprise assets, ranging from end-user desktops and laptops, to enterprise servers, to network infrastructure, applications, and management software.  Back in the good old days, vendors would establish support windows and EOL and enterprises of all sizes could bank on upgrading their equipment and software to ensure that they met industry-standard measurements of performance and capacity.

In today’s economy, however, this is not exactly how things work.  As the economic climate continues to worsen, the need to keep extending the life of existing equipment, software, and IT tools is critical to the profitability – and in some cases, survivability – of enterprises both large and small.  The problem is, of course, that older stuff tends to have fewer features than newer stuff, and usually doesn’t perform as well either.  Moreover, vendors are rarely extending their support to older technology, because (let’s face it) it’s expensive to support older software and hardware, and naturally, they want to keep a pipeline of new revenue coming in from upgrading customers.
So, this leaves customers in a bit of a pickle: enterprises of all sizes need to make existing systems and technologies last longer, to squeeze as much value as possible out of them.  And of course, if support isn’t available from the vendor, they’re left holding the bag of managing these assets until things turn around, or the cost of support exceeds the cost of upgrade.

This is a painful proposition; however, there are some useful, proven techniques for extending the life of technology while maintaining your sanity:

  • Know your service agreements, when they expire, and whether the vendor offers extended support them.  For many technologies, third-party companies offer good deals on extended warranties and support for EOL’d technology, especially hardware.
  • Identify the risks associated with aging assets.  Included in this is establishing thresholds to determine if/when technologies need to be replaced after the costs of supporting them are no longer worth what you’re getting out of them.
  • Monitor everything you can, to pinpoint problems before the occur and justify decision making.   This includes not only the normal event-related stuff that is typically required for security, but other metrics that support capacity planning and help justify EOL when an asset is no longer worth supporting; this includes metrics like performance (e.g. CPU utilization), bandwidth (e.g., disk and network utilization), and asset data (such as versions of software that may be limited to running only on certain hardware).

It’s not easy going through periods of forcibly supporting aging hardware and software technologies; however, it does periodically happen, and organizations need establish a game plan to deal with making existing technologies go further as part of the inevitable budget stretching that will occur in lean times.

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