Data Centers

Parts on the shelf: A waste or self-insurance?

Every IT environment will keep some amount of spare parts. But how much is too much? IT expert Rick Vanover shares some pros and cons of this practice.

I’ll admit it, I’ve hoarded parts. This can be things such as spare servers, hard drives, cables and other critical components of the data centers I have worked in over the years. I would venture to say that all of us in some capacity have held on to some parts over the years. The reasons start out easy enough, with situations that would enable us to go back to an old system if the new one doesn’t work out (I’ve never taken that option myself). Or possibly a mass influx of old server systems from enterprise consolidation projects that have performed physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversions have caused your local stash to grow.

Whatever the reason, we all have older goods in some capacity. Whether or not we’ll ever use them, that remains to be seen. This practice, while it is somewhat comforting in knowing that we have a mix of parts and equipment at the ready, may not lend itself well to being a practical solution for today’s IT staff. The best example of used gear being put to good use is provisioning a (functional) test and development environment. I keep asking myself, what am I really going to need this old server for? Or do I need this old drive array? Chances are, I’ll never get around to using these resources.

So then, what do we do with them? Should we maintain our own stash of parts? That can be an acceptable solution, until you run out or a part on the shelf doesn’t work. There are plenty of aftermarket service providers who can offer great parts and service options when warranties run out. I’ve used these services, and they are very practical and can be delivered by local resources that you can have a good business relationship with. In the interest of providing the best possible resources for an IT environment, I’d stay away from maintaining an independent pool of spare parts.

We should also take a look at what is currently running in our datacenters today. I’d venture to say that most datacenters have some element of virtualization in place, and that means that the old goods may not be the best resources. Further, virtualization naturally abstracts us from hardware, making migration to newer kits much easier.

The final nudge against holding on to old parts is their aftermarket value. You would be surprised how much money an Ultra 320 SCSI hard drive (especially the large ones) will get from resale. This is because these drives are simply not produced any more, yet they are still in use. Be sure to check my series of posts on how to delete data from hard drives with disk wiping tools. The same goes for old servers, networking, and other storage resources. They can pull in some money from the aftermarket. This can be used for future credit purchases or outright cash. Check with your provider's options on this.

How do you approach parts on the shelf? Keep them? Working diligently to remove them? Share your comments below.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

21 comments
John.Carbines
John.Carbines

I think I am the typical hoarder of parts, yet on a number of occasions I have rescued a client (when I was active as a consultant) because they required data retrieval from tape from a drive that no longer worked or was available. I always advised clients, especially corporate or SMB, to have spare cables, power cords, keyboards, monitors, mice, etc, on hand, and a couple of pre-built hard drives that can be dropped in easily into workstations. They can always sort problems out at leisure. Some of the items I have kept over the years are now fit for almost nothing (obsolete video cards, slower network adapters, older and slower USB drives, etc) are going into the "love your losses" bin. My trusty old video capture pc is going as well as my new laptop will take over many of its duties, and I will reclaim much of my desktop. I have several cartons of old stuff that will be gone over very soon and some harsh "executive decisions" will be made about them

Freezzman
Freezzman

Yes, spares that are too old for any use shoud go. Lets be real here. I service a host of small co's and they have PAID for these parts so they have the option of selling ,giving or destroying who am I to tell them what to do with spares

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

Unfortunately the place I work out prefers the shelf method. The really sad part is that so many of those parts stay on the shelf for years and never get used. Then a few y ears down the line, when they are obsolete and something no one wants, they decide to get ride of them. So they have to pay someone to cart them away. It would have been best to donate the stuff while it was still usable.

sbarsanescu
sbarsanescu

It all depends on the type of service/mission. Question as: should something fail on the HW side, how long would it take you to notice? Then, how long until you get there and can replace the part? And, finally, would a spare part give you a better night's sleep? Seeing the level of redundancy in modern HW, I doubt that spares would help much. What would a spare HDD (on the shelf) count when your RAID array/ SAN already has spares ready? And if the MB breaks, would you fix that or replace the whole server? Finally, site-to-site failover or distributed systems might be the answer for critical services. So, IMHO, spares belong to a different era (am nostalgic about that too)... I could not afford the delay required to service, recertify, restart and check a server after HW failure.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...I try to keep as little as possible. Just last week I went through the parts bin and sent a fair amount of perfectly good, some new parts away to charity where it will get recycled or disposed of. The odds of needing an EISA-IDE controller interface or a Centronics parallel port again are pretty unlikely.

Thomas907
Thomas907

I keep it for a long time and then will try to throw it out. Usually when I do get rid of it the next day I wish I didn't because I found a need for it.

erickalvarez2
erickalvarez2

If you donate/send you old systems to developing countries, they will definitely use them for the remainder of their useful life; that is a very short time. Then that equipment most probably will end up in some beach or field polluting the environment. So a noble act of grace overnight becomes a disgrace. So, to the poor give your best, not what you have left.

pwright
pwright

I make a distinction between spares for current equipment and spares for decommissioned equipment and generally when I remove equipment from service, I get rid of the associated spares as well. Older equipment that comes with spares has more value since some rate of failure can be assumed. As a government agency, we have a surplus system that offers decommissioned equipment first to other government agencies and many will use those spares to keep their older equipment running. I think the right answer really depends on what resources you have - if everything is covered by a manufacturer warranty with response times measured in hours rather than days, there is probably little need to have on-site inventory. On the other hand, if you are in a rural community that is poorly served by providers and/or shippers, you probably need to have a pretty good stock of spares unless downtime doesn't matter. Hoarding can be a problem but if the spares follow the equipment at disposal time, it's less of a problem than one might think.

onthego
onthego

These days, with the frequency for technology change on the hardware side combined with price, it isn't worth my "valorous efforts" to try to save the day on worn out hardware. Server hardware is pretty much a consumable. It doesn't make sense to take up valuable real estate if you have a hardware support contract and/or able to institute a "Do Not Recesitate" policy on legacy systems. If you are working for a company that won't spend money on hardware but expects uptime and performance, you probably shouldn't be working for that company.

Rottman3D
Rottman3D

"until you run out or a part on the self doesn???t work". Shelf, not self.

nrutt
nrutt

Many education charities for developing countries will take redundant hardware - especially complete servers

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...on the small chance that need may pop up. But each year the chances of getting good data off of a >10-year-old tape gets lower and lower, so I'll probably be dumping those before long as well.

raiderh808
raiderh808

...works if you are a contractor. If you are in-house, it all depends upon your business' IT strategy. Do they like to keep old hardware and software running as long as possible? If so, then you might have a big box full of old parts.

seanferd
seanferd

How about parallel multi-port switch boxes? I inherited a bunch of these, and cable, and I just can't imagine anyone having a use for them.

RealGem
RealGem

So if we give them good stuff, it somehow won't end up on a beach or field? Is new equipment magic? Your suggestion is very generous and thoughtful, but it only delays the problem. In the third world, where access to finished materials is more difficult, do they not have a more efficient salvage system?

b4real
b4real

The iomega ones? WOW! Do they still work?

b4real
b4real

I think I'm putting myself on the hook for an ultimate solution that way.

b4real
b4real

I used to use a lot of those (for serial connections moreso), still a market - yet hard to get rid of them.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...couldn't even give them away on eBay...

b4real
b4real

Chances are if someone needs them, they will pay. Cool!

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Every so often, I come across a cache of disks and drives from clients cleaning out closets. Just a few months ago, I sold some off on eBay...

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