Pulling the plug on old hardware: Life-cycle management explained

Planning ahead for the end of equipment life can help keep the IT department's bottom line looking good.

It's a fine line, determining when to junk old IT equipment.

On the one hand, as a thrifty IT manager, you want to squeeze all the bang from your hardware buck, especially in this economy. On the other, the lowered productivity, increased downtime and elevated levels of user misery caused by elderly equipment can be a drain on your department, and on your company's bottom line.

How to know when to pull the plug? You could invest in a crystal ball, or you could get serious about hardware life-cycle management.

Plan from the beginning

There are many different approaches to managing the hardware life cycle, based on factors such as a company's size, the number and locations of offices, and financial priorities, but experts say the most important thing about a life-cycle plan is to have one. Fortunately, resources abound to help IT professionals manage their hardware life cycles.

Organizations such as the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers offer advice and guidelines for acquiring, tracking, assessing and disposing of hardware as part of the larger discipline of asset management.

And a whole industry of outsourcers that has emerged to help organizations make decisions about acquiring, managing and disposing of hardware is encouraging customers to make life-cycle decisions a priority, not an afterthought.

"Companies that are proactive in making [hardware life-cycle] considerations will derive a lot more value from their decisions than those that are reactively planning," says Robert Houghton, president of Redemtech Inc., a Columbus, Ohio, outsourcer that provides asset management and life-cycle planning services.

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If a company decides, for example, that the desktop PCs it's in the process of purchasing will last for four years, it can budget for acquiring new systems after that period has ended. And by specifying a point in time when the systems should run out of useful life, the company can also plan to evaluate those systems prior to that cut-off date, analyze what condition the PCs are in and opt to extend the useful life for financial reasons if need be, Houghton says.

Planning "should happen when you're buying the equipment," Houghton says. "Make decisions based on the value of the hardware at the end of the equipment's life, warranty provisions, user needs and capital resources of the company."

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