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.

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Shelf lives will vary

Though there are many off-the-shelf applications that walk companies through the stages of asset management, there is no set approach that suits every company, say IT pros responsible for managing the process in their firms.

The bigger a company is, and the more geographically dispersed its offices are, the more effort will be required to track systems and evaluate when they should be replaced. And despite basic guidelines about how long equipment should last, more often than not the answer is "It depends."

The average life cycle

of common hardware

Cell phones 2 years
Laptop PC 3 years
Desktop PC 4 years
Server 5 years
Networking gear 5 years
Monitor 8 years

First and foremost, it depends on what type of equipment you're talking about. Smartphones and laptops tend to need to be turned over more quickly because of the abuse they take on the road; desktop PCs don't last as long as servers and other data center equipment, because hardware upgrades and changes happen so quickly for PCs that systems can become out of date in a matter of months.

Until a few years ago, consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) leased the 30,000 laptops it needs for its highly mobile workforce. Since laptop prices have dropped considerably, the company has begun buying the systems outright. But that means that, instead of simply following the terms of the lease, PwC's IT department is now responsible for determining when to refresh those laptops and how to dispose of the old ones.

The company expects to get between 30 and 40 months of usable life from the laptops, in accordance with PwC's depreciation schedule, says Michael Lechner, managing director of project services, who is based in Tampa, Fla.

The first round of laptops the company purchased rather than leased is due for refresh within the next six months; at that point, the company will be able to determine whether its life-cycle approximations match the actual condition of the laptops. "If they've started having problems, we'll give out new ones," says Lechner.

As for data center equipment, those bigger purchases require more consideration.

"We'll look at how the equipment has depreciated. I don't want to replace it before then, and we won't replace them just because they're depreciated," Lechner says. "We wait for a reason, [such as] if the equipment starts to fail or is no longer supported by the vendor, or we can't get [replacement] parts."

Determining the life cycle of mobile phones is easier to deal with, according to Lechner, because PwC considers employees' requests for new phones only when they sync up with service contract renewals, which happen every two years. Employees who don't want a new phone don't have to get one, but they become eligible for an update every 24 months, he explains.

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