Nothing lasts forever. This is particularly true in the world of IT infrastructure. Servers in a data center undergo a great deal of stress, delivering high-level performance around the clock. Eventually, servers and other hardware wear out or become too outdated to provide the services data center customers demand. The length of time between a server’s installation and the time it needs to be replaced is called the server refresh cycle. Managing these cycles is critical to keeping a data center operating at peak efficiency.
Traditionally, the average server refresh cycle was about five years, but many businesses have shifted to shorter cycles to keep pace with advancements in server technology. Ideally, replacing a server should help improve network reliability, storage capacity, and processing power while also reducing server downtime and saving operating costs. When it comes time to replace servers, there are a few best practices data center providers should keep in mind.
With new innovations in networking technology emerging rapidly, every refresh cycle presents an opportunity to add new features and functionality to a data center environment. In some instance, this could greatly expand the suite of services a facility can offer to its customers. Consider, for instance, the benefits of replacing outdated servers with high-density equipment capable of virtualization. This would allow a facility to deploy more servers or process more requests using less hardware. Simply replacing data center equipment should always be seen as a chance to add value by expanding the capabilities of the facility.
In the IT world, staying in place is almost worse than taking a step backward. A facility can justify its existing limitations by looking at the cost/benefit analysis of replacing equipment. Is improving performance by five percent worth a hefty capital investment in newer hardware? In most cases, probably not, especially if that hardware is still in good condition. But when the time does come to replace IT equipment, it makes little sense to make a lateral move by purchasing hardware that will deliver comparable performance. The new hardware needs to offer an upgrade in terms of processing power, memory, and speed, both to meet the demands of the present and to position the facility for success in the future. When a server reaches the end of its life cycle, data centers need to recognize that moment as an opportunity to improve performance. If a new server is needed anyway, it makes sense to invest in equipment that will help the facility perform better and reduce downtime.
On the other hand, it’s easy to let new technology drive purchasing decisions. While it may be tempting to go for the latest, most revolutionary technology when replacing outdated hardware, this can be a risky business proposition. Adopting innovative new equipment may provide exciting benefits, but it could also impose additional costs. Maybe the power and cooling infrastructure needs to be redesigned, or maybe the new technology isn’t quite as reliable or intuitive as more widely adopted alternatives. While “early adopter” consumers may regret spending money on the “latest and greatest” gadget, data centers face much greater risks if the new technology doesn’t deliver all the benefits they expected. So while a facility should always try to adopt new hardware that can deliver better business results, they need to be careful about jumping in too early on unproven innovations.
As any IT professional knows, making even minor changes to a network environment can have dramatic consequences in terms of performance. This is especially true when it comes to replacing hardware. Installing new servers may seem like a straightforward process, but those units will very likely have different power and cooling needs from the units they’re replacing. That means the physical deployment of those servers must be reconsidered. Fortunately, predictive analytics driven by machine learning can provide detailed models showing what will happen if some infrastructure component is changed, making it easier for data center locations to plan new deployments and implement them when the time comes. The models may also show what other changes need to be made. Perhaps a move to high-density server distribution will call for an overhaul of the facility’s cooling system. Armed with this knowledge, IT experts can ensure that the transition to new equipment will go as smoothly as possible.
The end of a server refresh cycle presents a tremendous opportunity for data center locations to improve their IT capabilities. While there are some potential pitfalls to this process, by keeping a few best practices in mind, data center technicians can greatly improve system reliability and performance while also saving on capital expenses and operating costs.