Hardware upgrade and server refresh guide

Selecting the right hardware directly affects the health and success of the overall business, so administrators should take the time to review their options and select systems that fit their business needs. But sometimes a hardware refresh isn’t that simple. Today, tight budgets and aggressive energy conservation initiatives have thrown a wrench into server refresh schedules in many organizations, leaving IT pros wondering how older server hardware will hold up over time. In this guide, we address several important aspects of the server hardware refresh process, including how to decide when it’s time to replace a server and how to get more out of hardware upgrade. We even offer advice for negotiating vendor contracts.

Table of contents:

Deciding when it’s time to buy

Today’s servers last longer than ever, but even with the options available to extend server life, data centers will inevitably need to purchase new hardware. There comes a point when server hardware is simply too old to perform.  But, the question is, how do you know when it’s really time? It should be an easy answer, but tight budgets have forced data center administrators to think strategically about hardware purchases – in some cases, this means a delay in hardware refresh cycles. The key is to identify when increased performance potential, energy-efficiency requirements and reduced risk of hardware failure will justify a new purchase.

Do used servers require a refresh?
Not all data centers need to replace their aging servers. With virtualization, updates and maintenance, life expectancy of servers are increasing. Server's computing resources are accessible to more workloads, which can be transferred on-demand between hardware platforms. Service and maintenance require more work but cost less than a traditional rip-and-replace. Consider your options and decide when a server refresh is right for you.

When is server hardware too old?
It’s a question IT pros have asked for years. Today the question is even more complex. Virtualization and server hardware improvements extend server life. Clustering technologies can compensate for the increased risk of server hardware failure, giving administrators another option to extend a server’s useful life. Even so, there is a point where sticking with old server hardware can significantly reduce efficiency and pose unnecessary risks to business operations. This tip can help IT pros identify that point.

Is it time for a data center hardware refresh?
Although you can extend the usual three- to four-year hardware refresh cycle, IT pros must make hard decisions as to when to update their systems to ensure adequate performance and efficiency. The first step is to determine whether new hardware is actually needed. Will a hardware upgrade solve performance problems? Is purchasing a used server an option? This tip presents administrators with a bevy of options to delay server refresh cycles in a rough economic environment.

Server hardware upgrade vs. technology refreshes
In some cases a server hardware upgrade can solve performance issues at a fraction of the price of a new server. Adding CPUs or memory can significantly increase a server’s performance. However, not all systems are upgradable, and upgrades don’t always fix poor-performing hardware. Moreover, new technology often provides new opportunities, allowing administrators to deploy more virtual machines or adopt more demanding workloads. Administrators should weigh these pros and cons and consider the expected return on investment and the impact on business operations before deciding whether to buy or opt for a server hardware upgrade

Getting more out of what you have with a hardware upgrade

Enterprise-level servers are expensive high-performance machines, but still need to be replaced at a rapid pace to keep up with changing technology and increasing computing needs. In a rough economic environment, more companies are forced to delay server refresh cycles and make do with the hardware they have. Luckily, IT pros do have options for extending a server’s useful life, or for repurposing older hardware to handle non-critical workloads. While advances in server technology continue to make strides forward, those older servers are still holding on, able to handle demanding workloads – albeit at a slightly slower pace than state-of-the-art machines. If tight budgets have you putting off server refresh purchases, these tips can help you make a smart hardware upgrade to get more out of the server hardware you already have.

Tactics for extending server life
Server hardware is incredibly expensive and represents a significant investment for any business. Maintaining server hardware and maximizing its potential for as long as possible will help businesses stay competitive – especially when buying new hardware isn’t an option. Administrators should know their options for maintaining current operations and extending the life of the server hardware the business already owns.

Getting the most out of a server upgrade
When buying a new server is out of the question, a server hardware upgrade can help keep a server relevant. But not all hardware upgrades will provide an equal return on investment. In this tip, learn what types of server hardware upgrades will provide the most “bang for the buck” to organizations that need more capacity but lack the financial capital to purchase new servers.

Putting old data center hardware to use
When consolidating a data center and taking advantage of new technologies such as cloud computing and virtualization, it’s essential to plan for the aftermath of excess hardware. Putting old data center hardware to use should be discussed early in the consolidation process. If older hardware is not completely outdated, organizations can find great value in repurposing that hardware for noncritical workloads or environments where a single server fault wouldn’t wreak havoc on business operations.

Purchasing decisions

Even if an organization decides to adhere to the prescribed hardware refresh schedule or finally decides to stop delaying that refresh, there are still many important decisions facing a data center administrator. In today’s cluttered market, there are countless choices when it comes to server hardware. Deciding which systems would best fit the business’s needs, determining whether to stick with the current IT vendor and weighing financing options are all important parts of a server hardware refresh. Too often, organizations stick with what’s comfortable, keeping the same vendors without taking a second look, or dismissing alternative financing options. These tips can help organizations break the mold to find new value.

Server refresh options: When to rent a server vs. when to buy
Once an organization has committed to replacing old server hardware with new systems, administrators must consider whether it would be best to lease or purchase the new server. Creative financing options can make leasing a server more cost efficient in the long run. But, if not done correctly, organizations can encounter major pitfalls and gotchas when entering into lease agreements. This is a must-read tip for any IT pro struggling with the decision of whether to buy or rent a server.

Three signs that it's time to change server vendors
For most organizations, choosing a server vendor is as simple as renewing or renegotiating the current contract. But sticking with the current vendor isn’t always the best option. If a vendor raises its support prices unjustifiably, violates an administrator’s trust or makes serious mistakes, it may be time to choose a new vendor. In this tip, an IT professional shares his experience with server vendors and explains why he has chosen to stay with the same vendor or find a new one.

Avoiding pitfalls when negotiating IT vendor contract terms
While changing IT vendors can be a hassle, that doesn’t mean organizations have to be locked into a particular vendor. When changing IT vendors or negotiating a new contract with the current vendor, data center administrators should carefully review contract terms to avoid unexpected problems and “gotchas.” Without an exit strategy and a detailed contract termination process, changing IT vendors can be a messy and expensive process.

Virtualization implications for a server refresh

Virtualization has had a tremendous impact on traditional data centers. Countless businesses have reduced energy and hardware costs as more IT professionals realize the benefits of virtualization. But virtualization on a large scale can demand powerful servers, which often come with equally large up-front costs. Data center professionals need to consider how their businesses could benefit from virtualization and choose server hardware that can handle the CPU- and memory-hungry virtual machines (VMs). Administrators should also take care to avoid over-consolidation – where excessive VMs on a physical server can lead to deteriorated performance and system instability.

Virtualization benefits are worth the extra cost over physical servers alone
One of the most basic questions an IT pro should ask when preparing for a server hardware refresh is whether that equipment will be used for virtualization and whether virtualization will actually help the business save money. Purchasing a large server intended for virtualization could turn out to be more expensive than several 1U physical servers. However, the other benefits of virtualization, such as energy savings and centralized management, often make virtualization more valuable in the long run. In this tip, a virtualization expert makes his case in response to another author who claimed virtualization isn’t worth the money.

Choosing a server: How to select hardware for virtualization
Choosing server hardware for virtualization isn’t much different from selecting any other type of hardware – but there are a few key features IT professionals should look for. When choosing a server for virtualization, focusing on CPU and RAM performance and expandability will help prevent performance bottlenecks. Local storage, on the other hand, is not as important when choosing server hardware for virtualization, since the system will likely rely on shared storage. In this video, virtualization expert David Davis offers some tips for choosing a server that will meet your needs.

Server virtualization software, refresh cycles go hand-in-hand
Virtualization has many advantages in a data center. Organizations around the world have reduced energy costs and improved management. So, when a healthcare organization suffered from frequent downtime caused by aging servers, the company's IT director turned to virtualization. This case study illustrates why a well-built virtual infrastructure is often more reliable than its physical equivalent.

Preventing server over-consolidation
Making the most out of a server hardware budget often means packing more VMs on each physical server to reach the highest possible density. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between maximizing potential and overworking a machine. Excessive VM deployment can stress the physical servers and deprive other important VMs of critical computing resources. In this tip, an expert helps draw the line, and explains how data center administrators can prevent performance problems from server over consolidation.

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