Efficiency Benefits and Challenges of Information Technology Lifecycle Management
We have seen it over and over again. Organisations invest in IT solutions spanning software and hardware, in the knowledge that eventually the assets will become outdated, or the business needs change so that new solutions are required. IT lifecycle management is a process by which organisations take an ongoing holistic approach to managing all assets to gain maximum benefit with the least disruption during technology transition.
An IT lifecycle management strategy can yield measurable benefits in power savings, space reduction, cooling efficiency, IT staff productivity, and innovation opportunities.
Professionals implementing lifecycle strategies should understand the benefits, while acknowledging the challenges of operationalising technology refresh plans. IT lifecycle strategies should also embrace the inherent environmental benefits included by considering the entire product lifecycle.
BENEFITS OF LIFECYCLE MANAGEMENT
There are four primary benefits of optimising technology refresh lifecycles: power and space reduction; operational efficiencies; residual value return; and reduced risk.
Benefit 1: Performance, power, and space benefits
The most apparent benefits of a server technology refresh include:
- Improved application performance, requiring fewer servers, due to associated higher clock speeds, higher memory densities, and increased core counts
- Reduced heat generation and associated cooling costs from fewer servers
- Reduced data centre space and electrical requirements from smaller cooling, electrical, and UPS capacity demanded by fewer servers
- Lowered environmental impacts associated with fewer servers, reduced power demand, and less support equipment
Storage technology refreshes can yield performance, power, and space benefits, including:
- Improved application performance and power effectiveness resulting from the adoption of flash arrays
- Improved operational and power efficiency from a continuum of tape, hybrid and flash technology aligned with availability tiers and the data’s lifecycle stage
- Reduced rack and floor space required, resulting from improved data reduction technology performance and higher density media
Networks are estimated to consume about 2% of the data centre power envelope, and enterprise networks consume about 8% of the overall ICT power consumption. New Ethernet and Wi-Fi standards bring performance improvements in speed, security, and wireless density.
Having a proactive approach to network lifecycle management enables IT departments to selectively upgrade parts of their networks to take advantage of the new functionalities where they have the highest impact, while minimising disruption.
Edge servers and gateways benefit from the same performance, power, and space improvements as data centre servers and storage. As edge infrastructure is modernised, opportunities will emerge to address new use cases, consolidate, and increase usage of equipment at the edge.
There are other considerations when determining the optimal lifecycle of edge infrastructure:
- Internet of Things: Components in the edge infrastructure are sometimes specific to the use cases they are serving and are driven by compute storage and network bandwidth requirements, sensor technology evolution, or updated networking standards.
- Asset management: Edge infrastructure often presents unique asset management complexity associated with the logistics involved in physically reaching them.
Benefit 2: Operational and cost efficiency benefits
Performance improvements result in a smaller number of compute and storage systems to manage, monitor, patch, and support. Smaller infrastructures allow staff to spend less time managing the infrastructure and more time on innovation and development opportunities. IDC research found that a three-year refresh cycle for servers cut staff management time and costs by 59%.
Shorter refresh cycles also allow hardware-based improvements to be implemented into the infrastructure more quickly. Remote monitoring, measurement, and administration hardware, such as HPE Integrated Lights Out (iLO), dramatically simplify management and increase device security. Hardware-based security, such as HPE’s Silicon Root of Trust, provides a series of trusted handshakes from lowest level firmware to BIOS and software to ensure a known good state.
Benefit 3: Residual value return
Another benefit of shortening refresh cycles, particularly for servers, is that newer generation models may have residual value at their end of use. Savvy IT organisations have identified this as an additional opportunity associated with proactive server lifecycle management. Not only do organisations benefit from power, space, and cooling efficiencies, IT refreshes also maximise residual value at end of use.
Benefit 4: Technology risk mitigation
Because IT evolves quickly, any technology solution carries an inherent risk of becoming obsolete sooner than expected. Technology refresh cycles are also a good opportunity to reassess requirements and make any adjustments to the type and quantity of equipment being procured. Composable systems, system-on-chip technology, hyperconverged infrastructure, liquid-cooled systems, and edge compute devices have matured into general use. Each of these technologies provides an opportunity to drive innovation as well as power, cooling, space, and IT staff efficiencies.
BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS AND TECHNOLOGIES DRIVING SHORTER REFRESH CYCLES
Many organisations have already adopted lifecycle management strategies with shorter refresh cycles, particularly where IT systems are directly linked to business outcomes. Use cases include research teams in fossil fuel exploration or high-tech manufacturing, computational sciences, and high-performance data analytics.
Several other technology trends have increased the movement to shorter refresh cycles including:
- The widespread adoption of hybrid cloud architectures with containerised workloads “detached” from the infrastructure — removing the risk of application migration between hardware versions
- The appeal of a step change in productivity granted by software-driven composable architectures
- The ability to upgrade equipment sub-assemblies, making it easier for staff to consider refresh initiatives rather than riskier migration projects
- Adoption of technologies with AI-driven self-diagnosis and healing capabilities which dramatically accelerate incident troubleshooting and resolution time
- Data availability commitments and “live” upgrade capabilities, making it easier for staff to consider storage arrays and network element refresh initiatives.
BARRIERS TO ADOPTION OF SHORTER REFRESH CYCLES
Despite all these benefits, the reality is that server and storage infrastructure is not being refreshed at a rate that drives the highest efficiency benefits for organisations.
There are notable barriers to technology refreshes, including:
- Technical debt in the application layer makes the asset migration complex, with many legacy applications having legacy architecture requirements for specific OS and hardware versions.
- Depreciation policies for IT assets and software are often rooted in larger financial considerations governed by the industry the business operates in.
- For CAPEX-budget-driven organisations, technology refresh tends to be prioritised once it has already become a major issue.
- Organisations tend to be measured on application availability and do not have any incentive to reduce power consumption.
ASSET END-OF-USE STRATEGIES
A critical part of any lifecycle management strategy is the appropriate disposition of end-of-use assets being replaced. Technology refresh strategies need to consider three primary areas of risk:
- Security and compliance: Are the assets being disposed of following cybersecurity best practices and applicable government privacy regulations?
- Environmental: Is the equipment processed following labour, chemical substances, e-waste, and environmental regulations?
- Economic: Is the economic model transparent, scalable, and replicable?
At end of use, assets can either be recycled or upcycled, in whole or in parts. Upcycling opportunities for the system, or its parts, are correlated to the asset age, configuration, and associated secondary market demand. When IT assets cannot be refurbished and reused due to age or disrepair, they should be recycled in accordance with applicable regulations and best practices.
LIFECYCLE STRATEGY RECOMMENDATION
As part of a broader IT strategy, lifecycle management allows IT departments to be more intentional in the way they drive and execute their lifecycle decisions, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by performance improvements and newer technologies featured in current generation equipment.
Organisational IT equipment has a significant environmental impact stemming from the materials, manufacturing, and logistics required to move the equipment to a customer, known as embodied impact.
To receive the greatest benefit from the embodied impact while minimising the use-phase impact, the total environmental impacts of a product lifecycle should be considered when evaluating refresh cycles and end-of-use options for assets.
Determining the optimal lifecycle
The industry is converging to a 2- to 4-year compute refresh cycle that balances power efficiency gains, environmental impact, and operational constraints. IT and operations technology departments should assume refreshing equipment after 2 years and reconsider the assumption at that time.
Considering the constant pressure on storage infrastructure associated with data growth, IT departments should monitor storage technology innovation developments and reassess every 3 to 4 years.
Operationalising the decision
Once an optimal lifecycle has been defined, it should be implemented with other business and operational processes. The refresh process should be determined up front and integrated with either the equipment acquisition process or the equipment disposal process.
- From the start: Defining asset lifecycle at the time of equipment acquisition allows IT departments to derive up-front economic benefit from the improved residual value of the equipment at the time of return.
- After the fact: Some organisations prefer an “after the fact” approach where assets due to be refreshed are systematically sold for upcycling or recycled if too old.
- As-a-service: The emergence of “as-a-service” models, such as HPE GreenLake, embed technology refresh cycles which include tools and metrics to evaluate equipment effectiveness, along with the necessary framework to evaluate optimal lifecycles and manage end-of-use operations with the least cost and environmental impacts.
A comprehensive IT lifecycle strategy that considers all phases of the lifecycle and incorporates business, technology, and environmental implications, will yield significant positive efficiency, cost, and environmental benefits. Organisations that seek input from technology partners, impacted internal organisations, and trusted advisors are best positioned to overcome common barriers to adoption. As the rate of technology improvement accelerates, effective IT infrastructures which include effective lifecycle management are a business imperative.
Contact us, as your IT partner, for the information and resources needed to develop and implement an effective lifecycle strategy tailored to your business.