How to break the IT upgrade cycle

It's easy to forget that an IT upgrade is subjective. Here are reasons why your IT team may want to hold off on upgrading hardware or software--despite what a vendor recommends.

3 factors in choosing the right tech vendors

It can be hard to resist the constant cycle of upgrading your company's IT products every few years. Stable software upgrades could be vital for security, and on the hardware side you may want functions such as NWMe or USB-3, which aren't supported in older hardware.

Other times, your existing servers, storage, network, desktop, printers, and all the rest of it may be perfectly fine for another few years or more.

SEE: Computer hardware depreciation calculator (Tech Pro Research)

"It makes sense that vendors would suggest you upgrade--of course! They aren't wrong when telling their customers that newer/faster/bigger is often better but that's a very broad sweeping statement. There are a few reasons you may want to hold off on that upgrade," added Ian McClarty, president of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services, in Phoenix, AZ. McClarty suggested four examples:

  • "What is that upgrade doing for you in your goals with your project? Do you need the newest, fastest equipment? How much would that change your project? If the answer is minimal, then it may be best to hold off until the next upgrade and get more out of it."
  • "What will you do with your current gear? Unfortunately manufacturing new hardware and disposing of the old stuff is hardly a green process. If environmental impact is on your radar, upgrading less frequently is often a preferable choice."
  • "Cost is always a major factor too. Hardware refreshes can be really expensive--even if you manage to repurpose or sell off your old equipment. Is the cost and time required to upgrade worth it to your project?"
  • "If it's not broken, don't fix it. Moving data around can carry its risks. If you must move stuff around make sure you have taken the time and investment to back up any critical data. Without doing so you risk spending a lot more time and headache for an upgrade that may have minimal value to your project."

"There are many justified reasons not to upgrade. Many times, upgrading is not in your best interest," said R.J. Martino, president of IT services company Scale Technology, in Little Rock, AR.

"For example, many upgrades are unsupported due to the integration with other out-of-date software or hardware. Many times when you are convinced to upgrade hardware or software, you are promised a bright future. Unfortunately, that future is only possible if your existing hardware or software is up-to-date as well," Martino noted.

"Another reason why upgrading might be a mistake is due to the speed at which technology changes. Many crucial pieces of software are, literally, changing on a daily basis," Martino said. "Now think about how much risk your company may have if you invest millions into a changing technology. For instance, imagine dumping $5M into ERP software that plans to release a completely different version in the next 12 months. How comfortable would you be knowing you're about to invest $5 million into something that is only going to be able to provide returns for 12 months? To protect yourself from this you need to understand the software or hardware roadmap. Ask your vendor what the future looks like and understand the risk of committing to a technology that can be completely different in 12 months."

SEE: How to choose and manage great tech partners (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Other experts and open-source software advocates suggested an additional point: If you must upgrade, don't fall victim to the domino effect--upgrade what you need, not everything in sight. For example, desktops or servers that run slowly with Windows operating systems or commercial applications may run plenty fast for open-source software, which tends to require fewer resources.

In summary, experts say, upgrade when necessary--just keep in mind that maintenance can be equal or more important than innovation, and that "necessary" is subjective. Don't let the person trying to make a sale define it for you.

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