Out with the old…

The upgrade cycle is a continual concern for IT managers, but new technologies and trends may be changing the game for enterprises.

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By  Administrator Published  March 29, 2008

The upgrade cycle is a continual concern for IT managers, but new technologies and trends may be changing the game for enterprises.

They were state-of-the-art when you bought them - the fastest processor, the most memory, the latest operating system. But now these same machines are creaking along, several generations behind the most up-to-date technology and struggling to cope with the latest applications your enterprise is running. And the case is so early-noughties.

But deciding exactly when to replace IT equipment is not a precise science. Leaving aside the dictates of upgrading software, which almost always necessitates a simultaneous upgrade of servers, if not desktop systems, the decision to dump old machines and bring in fresher models can be somewhat complex.

On the server side, the calculation on one level can be as simple as "is this machine capable of running the software being used, and handling the current number of users?" If yes to both, then the server can stay - if no, it's time for a new system.

For desktops, other issues have always entered into the equation, not least office politics. Jealousy of colleagues' new PCs may spark demands by other workers for shiny new boxes, regardless of their actual requirements. And of course senior execs frequently require their systems to be ‘refreshed' more frequently than other, lower-ranking staff.

And when it comes to other areas of an enterprise's IT systems - such as networking, security and storage devices - the imperative often comes directly from need at a particular time, rather than a planned replacement or refresh cycle. Why discard a perfectly good switch, when it fulfils your needs as well as any potential replacement?

In fact, though, regional end users do not always consider networking hardware as a separate proposition to ‘core' items such as servers and desktops, according to Taj El-Khayat, head of the enterprise and channel group for the Middle East and Africa at Juniper Networks.

"Regional end users are definitely not making optimal choices when it comes to upgrades, to be honest. The mindset today is based on the experience they have - networking has traditionally had a much lower value than it has today, so there's a learning curve that decision-makers need to go through," he comments.

"Customers tend to have this mindset that they have to upgrade everything every two or three years - I think they're using the same trend they have for servers and client-side devices. The norm today in the Middle East is to refresh your infrastructure every two or three years, driven by expansion and the booming economy.

Our message is that there's a lot of different angles customers need to look out for when looking at high-performance networking - our recommendation is that it's not necessary to refresh your network infrastructure completely in that timeframe," El-Khayat adds.

Juniper's pedigree as a service provider specialist brings with it much longer refresh cycles for its products, and an expectation that its devices will have a longer working life than the average server. Other networking vendors also seem to expect less frequent refreshes of their equipment - good news for firms with stretched IT budgets.

In the meantime, a number of new factors have started to change the game when it comes to enterprise upgrade cycles on the server and client side. These - potentially - could change some of the fundamental concepts behind the idea of a refresh cycle, although quite what this will mean in practical terms for enterprises is hard to say.

First, virtualisation - that most pervasive of buzzwords for 2008. Spreading like wildfire across much of the western world, virtualisation has been slower to catch on to the same degree in the Middle East, which - as ever - may do regional enterprises some significant favours in the medium term.

The principle of virtualising compute resources is now well understood, but the implications for longer-term system buying are still emerging. In principle, with a fully-virtualised IT system, there is no requirement to replace servers - if additional processing power is needed, an enterprise can simply add another machine to the virtual ‘pool'.

This potentially means cheaper server purchases for enterprises - if it's merely being used as a top-up, there is not necessarily any need to buy the highest-spec server on the market. For fast-expanding firms that need to increase capacity but may not want to overhaul their entire IT systems - or invest in redundant capacity ahead of time - this may prove to be an attractive option.

By moving to a ‘rolling' upgrade policy, enterprises may be able to do away with the traditional idea of a three- or five-year refresh cycle, instead using a continually developing and evolving infrastructure which still retains the core functionality of the original design.

Of course, this model also brings with it new issues, such as the potential for server sprawl - especially in cases where larger numbers of low-powered machines are used. While this may be cost-effective on a month-by-month basis, enterprises may end up spending more in the longer run - not to mention the additional power, cooling and space requirements that large numbers of servers will have.

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