Technology infrastructure has an expiration date. The problem? It's not stamped on the side of the carton. Or available online. The life cycle of any server, networking device or associated hardware is determined by a combination of local and market factors: What's the competition doing? How quickly is your business growing? Will C-suite executives approve any new spend?

Although there is no hard-and-fast rule for determining your due date, general guidelines exist. Here are some key strategies for your next infrastructure upgrade.

Decisions, Decisions

As noted by Forbes, companies have three basic choices when considering an improvement of their servers and networks: Upgrade specific components, spend for all-new hardware or consider moving a portion of their infrastructure to the cloud. But this is actually step two in the upgrade process. Step one is determining if your existing technology can hang on a little longer, or if a change needs to happen now.

How Did He Do That?

In some cases, your company can avoid spending money by deploying a few MacGyver-style tactics to keep infrastructure up and running — even when upgrades are warranted. Nevertheless, the IT team of Arthur Baxter, Network Operation Analyst of virtual private network service ExpressVPN, tends to avoid these kind of duct-tape-and-matchstick fixes because, according to Baxter, "they're not very comprehensible to the next person that has to come along and totally replace what you've only barely taped together." Better-than-average devs and admins all have their own set of tricks to keep infrastructure humming, but they're typically called "best practices" and aren't designed to push existing infrastructure past its limits. In other words, while sticking servers together with charisma and clever workarounds can extend hardware life, the results are unpredictable.

The Time Has Come

How do you know when it's time for an upgrade? Company growth is a good indicator, and this could take the form of global expansion or an effort to make best use of big data. According to Baxter, however, advances in the industry may also force your hand: "If there's something newer and better on the market, it's [ideal] for an upgrade," regardless of your infrastructure's current performance. Budget limitations play a role, since it's not always possible to commit the cash necessary for a better server or new network technology. He points out, though, that "top companies stay on the cutting edge of what's available." Delaying too long in an effort to extend the lifecycle of existing hardware could put you behind the curve.

Making the Case

Even when it's time for an infrastructure upgrade, it's a safe bet that supervisors and executives won't hand out big-budget increases just because you ask nicely. It's always a good idea to make your case using measurable improvements — such as increased network performance, storage capacity, agility and system resiliency — but it's also worth exploring other ways to justify technology spending. "The best way," argues Baxter, "is to find a consultant or join some vendor sessions." If you have a large support budget, you can also request a vendor proposal. By getting these experts to advocate for their technology, and then backing up this marketing spin with your own analysis, it is possible to showcase the line-of-business benefits that come with your proposed strategy.

Cost and user experience are also excellent talking points, supported in a Huffington Post piece that discusses the need for upgrades to American election infrastructure. Not only can better technology save money — between $0.50 and $2.34 for every voter registered online — but the convenience of online and electronic voting platforms can increase voter turnout. So, for your upgrade proposal, consider showcasing how improved resiliency can reduce potential costs in the event of a data breach, or how greater agility can improve the end-user experience with better access to critical network functions.

Do you need an infrastructure upgrade? If you're asking, your due date has arrived. And while MacGyver-ing your hardware into another business quarter is one way to prolong its life, you're better off pitching supervisors and C-suite executives for the upgrade your competition may have already implemented.


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