Your computer is running slow, it crashes every now and then, causing you to restart it. It takes minutes rather than seconds to open an application and you’ve learned to save your work every five minutes because you’ve lost hours of work in the past after a system crash.
Your computer is starting to show its age. And not unlike people, it’s a gradual process that’s barely noticeable at first. It suddenly becomes apparent that things aren’t as young and fresh as they used to be when you realize that Excel used to open in two seconds, while now you’re waiting for what feels like an eternity. You find yourself cursing your computer more frequently and using your computer as an excuse for why you haven’t sent that important report.
Modern devices rarely die quick deaths, (unless it’s a phone which you’ve dropped), the warning signs that it’s starting to get old are ever present. However, we rarely notice the early stages because it’s a slow, gradual process. I didn’t realize I was too old to play paintball until one day after playing paintball. That day it took me several attempts to get off the couch. A staff member in my office recently replaced his desktop computer and was shocked when he realized how much faster the new one was. Its simply because we don’t notice that our devices are gradually getting slower over time.
If you’re anything like me, you learn to circumnavigate device problems. Like an old car that you’ve had for years, you start to learn the little tricks that are required to make it run normally. Even IT professionals can be victims of these problems – my personal phone is a Galaxy S4. It’s about four years old now and occasionally gives me problems. One of those problems is the RAM sometimes runs low in the evenings – when I use it most – and when I have various apps open, it starts shutting down my saved alarm clocks and other apps in order to save memory. Consequently, the alarm fails to sound in the morning. Luckily, I’ve learned from experience to close most apps and restart the alarm clock app before I go to sleep – a hard lesson learned.
But we all know deep down that these tricks and hacks are only temporary work arounds to a bigger problem – the device needs replacing. Thus is the nature of technology. What’s most important is recognizing when this moment comes and doing something about it. I admit that in some cases, it’s not easy. Sometimes we look at how much information is stored on the device and worry about how much time will be required to remove it all and pass it to another device. Some people live in a constant state of paranoia and fear that taking a brand new device off the store shelf immediately renders it obsolete. And some people simply have a strong sentimental attachment to a particular device.
In a business environment, there is no choice but to be ruthless with these decisions. Once a computer or laptop passes its fourth birthday, it’s usually time to plan its retirement party. What’s the alternative?
In a “less critical impact” scenario, let’s assume that your secretary’s desktop is slowing down to a crawl and crashes on a regular basis. You put off replacing it because it doesn’t seem “business critical” to invest the money in a replacement. Then one morning it simply doesn’t turn on – or it does, but it won’t load the operating system. A replacement desktop will take one day to replace at best; if you physically drive to a store and buy one off the shelf, or a few days while it’s delivered to your office from the supplier. How will meetings be scheduled now? How will your secretary communicate with colleagues? And aside from answering the phone, what are you paying your secretary to do for the next few days while they have no working computer?
That is your best case scenario when it comes to a hardware failure – it’s limited to one device and affects one person. What if the failing device was a server – perhaps the Domain Controller?
To be fair, servers have a much longer lifespan than regular computers but they are not exempt from the aging process. If your Domain Controller stops working from one day to the next, your entire organization is going to have problems logging into computers, accessing shared drives and people may not even be able to access any of their files – rendering your entire business operation immobile. Worse still, replacing a Domain Controller is not as simple as picking one up off the shelf and plugging it in – it needs to be configured, which is not a five-minute task. How much will a complete shutdown of your business operations cost your company each day?
I’m sure some people are reading this and thinking “I’ve got a disaster recovery plan in the event that a server or workstation goes offline, so I’m protected.” That may be so, but have you also considered other hardware, such as a Switch?
A Switch connects up to 48 devices to your network, so if one goes offline, a lot of end users will be affected. There is also no workaround to a dead switch – you can’t simply plug 48 Ethernet cables into your server. And again, a replacement switch will require configuration before it can be installed and put into service. Interestingly, Switches also die slow deaths as they age. It usually starts with one port failing and affecting one network device. Over time, more and more ports start to fail. If you’re lucky enough to have spare ports, then there is a very short-term workaround to this problem. But once the first port has gone, it’s a sure thing that the rest will soon follow suit.
I could easily go on and on with the list of potential hardware failures – Routers, hubs, printers, scanners, copiers, phone system etc. It’s a sad topic for IT professionals and a complete headache for CEO’s, when we consider that a $1000+ investment in hardware comes with an expiration date. Modern devices are built to last as long as possible, but they cannot last forever. From an operational effectiveness point of view, you should replace IT devices when they start showing their age. Once they are out of their warranty period, you should already be looking at an action plan for replacement.
If we revisit the secretary example again and look at the numbers, you’ll see how important this is. Assuming the secretary works 8 hours a day and 5 days per week. If we assume that he or she loses an average of 30 minutes per day, waiting for the computer to start, opening programs, saving files etc., then the secretary is losing 10 hours per month and 15 days of productivity per year. If we go further and assume that the secretary earns $45,000 per year, then the amount of money lost by the company is $1.46 per hour, $11.72 per day, $234.38 per month and $2,812.50 per year.
And that is just one employee losing only thirty minutes daily. If you start factoring in multiple employees, multiple salaries and longer times spent waiting for a computer to work, the numbers become very concerning. Below is an image of a Productivity Loss Calculator I created. You can also download the file and enter test numbers for yourself. Simply fill out the three green boxes to see how much money your business is potentially losing through outdated hardware.
Here is the same calculator using numbers on a typical small to medium sized business of 20 employees. Assuming that each employee loses 45 minutes a day and all employees are paid $45,000 a year:
When you realize that your company is potentially losing $85,000 a year because the computers are running slowly, you get a much clearer idea of the scale of this problem. When you consider that the annual productivity loss is almost 10%, it’s even more shocking.
And to drive home the point even further, this is purely based on your staff salaries. If your company has a busy sales line, or technical support line, then the slow performance of these devices could also be costing your company business and therefore, more money.
Nobody likes having to spend money to replace equipment every few years. Preventative maintenance and monitoring can extend the lifetime of your network hardware, and is always a good investment. But sooner or later, you will have to bite the bullet and start replacing costly hardware. The good news is that you can actually make your network maintenance and IT support more efficient by replacing multiple devices at the same time and ordering them all from one supplier. This will not only save you money, (due to ordering in bulk,) but will also ensure that upgrades, updates, patches and replacements are easy to control. If you purchase twenty laptops from one supplier on the same day, then you will know when those twenty devices will need replacing. You will also know when they have updates due and what options, (and cost,) there are to upgrading them if you have to.
Knowing when the costs of upgrades pass or come close to, the cost of an entire system replacement is also a good thing to know. If you have a system that is 4 years old, and in order to extend the lifetime of the system you have to spend $500, this might be the time to simply replace the system altogether. Yes, this could mean spending a little above the $500 in order to get a system with all the new features that increase performance, but you’ll know that you will have a system that will last you another 4-5 years, as opposed to having to revisit your systems’ ailing performance by the next year. There’s nothing worse than spending money to upgrade systems, then have to still replace them within the next year – those upgrades are wasted. Not to mention the time you had to take that system down in order to perform the upgrades and reconfigure, (if needed.) Nothing is 100% future proof, but investing in hardware which will be four to five years future proof is the smartest thing to do.
Some high-end devices actually come with a lifetime guarantee these days; Switches are a good example of this. So if your budget can handle it, going with the more expensive Switch with a lifetime guarantee is one less headache to worry about.
At the end of the day, businesses want to run efficiently and maintaining the life of these computers is the best way to ensure their businesses continue run efficiently. But its also incredibly important to have a plan in place for the inevitable time when those systems need to be replaced. So having a good sense of where to cut your losses and replace ailing systems is always a great place to start.