Hardware may have commoditized but it still has value

Hardware Maintenance

Michael Cantor August 16, 2013

Storage systems, servers and network equipment are often categorized as commodity hardware systems in contemporary data centers.

Not too long ago, infrastructure strategies involved making incredibly important decisions about expensive and specialized solutions that would dictate how a company’s IT footprint progressed throughout the life of the system. A single server was a major financial commitment and the decision to purchase a rack’s worth of machines meant that those systems would need to last as long as possible or present major financial risk. Now, hardware purchasing is almost casual as systems are less expensive, not expected to last as long and easier to replace. The commoditization of data center hardware has begun.

The process of hardware commoditization in the data center has been a gradual movement, but one that is clearly in place as even advanced cloud setups are often built with commodity hardware. This begs the question – how should IT managers respond?

One of the most important responses is to not get casual about hardware decisions.

Understanding why hardware must be taken seriously, even if it is a commodity

A server may not have cost an exorbitant fee to purchase, but if it fails, it can create just as much trouble. Similarly, storage arrays are becoming mission-critical systems in a wide range of settings because of big data’s rise. At the same time, virtualization, by separating the server’s functionality from the physical machine, has actually made hardware more important because a single system outage can lead to downtime for a large number of virtual machines.

Dealing with the challenges of important hardware that is commoditized

Because so many technology trends are making data center systems more important, IT managers are left with a complicated situation – hardware is less expensive and not as specialized as it has been in the past, but they are more dependent on it. The solution to this dichotomy is to find a way to improve the reliability and flexibility of hardware without increasing the costs associated with managing, maintaining and supporting systems.

Generally speaking, OEM extended warranties, like EMC support, are too expensive to offer a significant return when dealing with commodity hardware. The problem, in this case, has nothing to do with the OEM support plan. Instead, new systems are generally so inexpensive that many IT managers are better off refreshing their hardware once the initial warranty has expired. However, OEM services are not the only option. Third-party hardware maintenance and operating system support partnerships can help IT managers retain their hardware systems beyond the initial warranty without creating excess costs.

Commodity hardware offers IT managers a major edge because it is fairly inexpensive. However, those cost gains disappear when systems are replaced too frequently. The ability to extend the life of commodity infrastructure can add value to an exponential degree because they systems are so inexpensive in the first place. As a result, having a cost-efficient maintenance plan in place can prove incredibly value, especially for IT managers facing strict budget limitations.

Using commodity hardware for an extended period can become problematic, however, as the systems are increasingly built to be replaced relatively quickly, and sometimes feature components that are not ideally suited for a long life cycle. A good third-party maintenance partnership can alleviate this problem through access to refurbished parts. With such a plan in place, IT managers do not have to worry about being unable to replace key components when a system does fail. Furthermore, a maintenance and support vendor with a robust parts catalog can actually enable clients to retrofit machines and add value to them despite their age.

About the Author

Michael Cantor, Chief Information Officer
As Chief Information Officer, Michael leads the delivery of technology initiatives to improve Park Place’s internal and customer-facing capabilities while ensuring the globalization and security of Park Place’s systems as the company continues to expand.