Sweatin’ to the Oldies: Obsolete Network Gear Holds Up
A Dimension Data survey finds an aging installed base--with surprising details on how well the gear is holding up.
If you're "sweating assets" and holding off on making major network upgrades, you're not alone; Dimension Data's annual Network Barometer Report surveyed the system integrator's worldwide clients and found that, "Organisations continue to delay refreshing their networks, as the percentage of aging and obsolete devices has increased to its highest level in six years."
Specifically, Dimension Data found that just over half (51%) of network devices in the surveyed organizations are either aging (which Dimension Data defines as 3-5 years old) or obsolete (5 years or older). The aging was highest in Asia-Pac, followed by Middle East/Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. All of those regions showed obsolescence rates above 50% except the Americas, which were considerably lower at 44%. Dimension Data ascribed this variation to regional macroeconomic conditions.
By vertical industry, the "sweatiest" companies were in travel/transportation, followed by consumer/retail and utilities/energy, all of which had more than 50% aging/obsolete devices. Probably the most interesting trend in the industry-verticals picture was in automotive and manufacturing, which saw a major refresh in the last year: This vertical went from being the most-obsolete in terms of technology in the 2013 survey, to the third-newest infrastructure out of 11 verticals surveyed. The only industries with more up-to-date infrastructure in this year's survey were construction/real estate, at 28% aging or obsolete; and technology industries, with 37% aging/obsolete gear. Automotive/manufacturing had an aging/obsolete base of 60% in last year's survey, which fell to just 41% this year.
In terms of buying trends, the Dimension Data report shows that the last overall technology refresh--in other words, the last time that the percentage of aging/obsolete gear fell year over year--was from 2009-2010, when the percentage of aging/obsolete fell from 43% to 35%, before beginning to climb again. The level of aging/obsolete networks hit 45% in 2012 without triggering a refresh--instead, it pushed on to 48% in 2013 and on to this year's 51%. That would suggest that either we're long overdue for another refresh, or else we're moving to an environment where aging network gear is the rule. Maybe as the BYOD/BYOEverything trend grew over the last 3 years and enterprises diverted technology spending to ad hoc device/cloud purchases, we're looking at a fundamentally new buying environment.
Dimension Data also asked survey respondents what effect the networks' aging has on operations. It turns out, "sweating" your assets may be a smart strategy. The SI analyzed 91,000 trouble tickets from its own practices, and found that, "Obsolete devices fail less often than current devices. And, when they do fail, problems are quicker to resolve." Specifically, the survey found that "obsolete" devices had the lowest failure rates (compared with "new" and "aging"), while "aging" devices had the lowest mean-time-to-repair rates among the three classes.
Old hands might be tempted to greet these findings with some variation of the old lament, "They don't build 'em like they used to," but the truth might actually be even more flattering to the organization: Dimension Data suggests that gear that's been in place awhile is supported by more mature processes, hence the decreased likelihood of breaking, and faster ability to fix when they do break.
Of course, an asset-sweating strategy should have some rationale behind it--it's' not about just clinging to old stuff so you don't have deal with replacing it. Dimension Data offered "Tips for Sweating Assets" that included:
* Have an accurate inventory of your entire network estate.
* Understand the function of each device and how critical it is to the network's uptime.
* Know at which stage in their lifecycles these devices are.
* Have the appropriate operational support strategy in place to resolve any performance issues or outages that may occur, as vendor support will be either limited or unavailable during later lifecycle stages.
* Ensure that the device's capabilities are not constraining architectural changes, which have driven upgrades in other areas of the network.
These findings cover enterprise networks in general, but it's easy to see communications fitting with these trends. Obviously a lot of PBXs, both TDM and IP, are older than five years. We all know there's been a lot of "sweating" of PBXs and other communications gear, though at the same time, North America is showing some new purchase activity, specifically around Unified Communications.