IT equipment might not be alive in the sense you and I are but that does not mean it does not have a lifecycle. This is a very important concept to embrace as you build out your technical infrastructure. Networking equipment, servers running various types of services, RAIDs and other devices that make up your storage environment, and the rest of your gear are typically large investments and form the technology and workflow backbone of your operation. It is especially important to know what type of lifespan to expect out of these things.
Let’s look at a RAID, for example. These mass storage devices are really marvels of our modern technological age. With today’s RAID systems, we can cram half a petabyte (1,000 terabytes) of hard drive-based storage into only 4 rack units of space! 56 or so hard drives spinning away furiously at most moments, all around the clock. Each drive spinning at maybe 7,000 or 10,000 revolutions per minute (RPM), perhaps storing 8TB of data, nearing a million times more density than my first 42 megabyte hard drive in 1993. The miniaturized electronics in a hard drive employ nano-scale technologies. Every bit of data so small and microscopic, and yet, so integral to you, the user. If one bit of that data gets corrupted, it can mean a massive problem if it was in a critical file. With just one bit being off, it might not even properly open any more.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Does this sound like the type of thing that would last forever? Just think about the levels of complexity involved in each subsystem of the RAID, the “hacking” of the laws of physics that is on demonstration to cram so much information into one of these things. Fast speeds, infinitesimally small pieces, and no real margin for errors. Nothing about any of that makes me think this is something that is going to last forever. I can imagine getting good use out of my coffee table my cousin made for me for “forever” in a sense that matters to me. But a RAID? If one little capacitor in the RAID controller goes up, that RAID controller is not going to work any more. The whole point of RAIDs is that they use drives redundantly so that when (not if) they fail, you can replace them and not lose data. The idea of the failure of the subcomponents is designed into the product, with many RAIDs offering redundant controllers, power supplies, and all main system subcomponents other than the chassis itself.
You might think, “Well, I will just replace failed pieces of the RAID as they keep dying and I will be fine.” This sounds great except for the fact that in six years, there is a good chance nobody will manufacture 8TB drives any longer (yes, hard drives are going to keep getting more storage-dense for a while). Your RAID manufacturer may also stop manufacturing replacement RAID controllers beyond a number of years and will probably run out of stock at some point. Another question is,
“Why would you want to take up a whole 4U of rack space on a measly 448 terabytes in the year 2025 when, maybe, you will be able to store 10 times as much in the same space using the state of the art?”
That may sound ridiculous but in 2025, virtual reality (VR) and 360 video will probably feel more “real” than they do today, have a much wider mainstream adoption, and you will likely be producing content for it. (Hint: Shooting video in many directions at once takes up a lot more space than just a single direction! And imagine if each of those sensors is itself is 8K or 16K.)There are many factors that drive equipment lifecycle in any given use case: the needs of the environment evolving, equipment aging beyond a supportable life, and various combinations and permutations. Many of our clients’ environments have dozens of such pieces of infrastructure that need to be thought of as having life cycles so that proper planning and budgeting can be done. Each individual piece of infrastructure is a part of a larger, more complex “workflow” that needs to keep humming along. It is a lot to keep up with!
How to Keep Up
Many of Chesapeake Systems’ (CHESA) customers are under what CHESA calls “MSAs”, or “Maintenance & Support Agreements”. This allows us to provide ongoing proactive maintenance and reactive support services for, sometimes, an entire operation’s technical infrastructure. It also serves to augment manufacturer-level support agreements, as well as any on-premise staff who may be charged with keeping those operations going.
Over the coming months, CHESA will begin rolling out a Technology Lifecycle Guide for our MSA customers. We will include all the key infrastructure that falls under our MSA and plan out a five year map of how viable all of that equipment will be under average circumstances, based on a host of criteria. This allows us to have a template for working with your team and begin generating budgetary quotes that can be slotted in for equipment that is getting closer to “aging-out.” This will allow, in turn, for our clientele to have years of advance notice as to when they may need to replace things, what the priorities are, how one equipment change may impact another piece of the infrastructure, etc. We think this will be a very useful part of our service and we look forward to getting these in front of our customers to get feedback and improve the information we present.
We will put some energy into the layout but imagine a list of all your key gear, a five year map that will be updated over the coming years, and color-coded boxes that indicate when a piece of equipment is “safe,” when it is starting to reach its age, and when it is no longer easily supportable. We think this will be a very handy “living document” for our MSA customers, so stay tuned!