Cleaning 03 large

26. Opt for sparing on less critical areas

Maintenance costs driving you spare?

Your IT network infrastructure needs maintenance support. It is your business' central nervous system: without it, you would almost certainly be hard pressed to stay afloat for long. But it is a conglomeration of technology, and technology – even the very best technology – is subject to failure.

Nothing new so far. Indeed, I've said as much a number of times in this series of articles.

Here's the critical question, though: "How can you keep the risk of device failure at an acceptable level, without burning huge amounts of cash in the process?"
You could conclude that your entire infrastructure should be covered by a support contract. After all your business relies utterly on it – it is, by almost any definition, mission critical. That would address the risk reduction requirement, of course, but it wouldn't be cheap.

As always, there is a better way.

A little mental retail therapy

Think back to the last time you went shopping for one of the many pieces of electronic wizardry that we all fill our homes with. The latest plasma TV or game console, perhaps. At the checkout you're sure to have been offered an extended guarantee. When buying cutting-edge technology with as yet no track record in the market, I almost always go for such extended guarantees. After all, brand new technology is new not only to me, but, in terms of its performance in the mass market, it is new even to its manufacturer. The extended guarantee may be costly, but it provides a good level of protection against unknown risks.

Now leap forward a couple of years to the day the extended guarantee renewal notice lands on your doormat. At this point, I usually take a completely different view. I've seen the product in action, I've read the reviews and I've chewed the fat with friends who also have it. I know it's reliable, and with the benefit of hindsight the renewal premium looks rather expensive for what it will give me. The long and the short of it is that since the product has been working well throughout years one and two, there's every reason expect it to continue to do so in years three and four. I say "No thanks" to the invitation to renew.

Is the cover warranted?

There's a principle here that transplants well into the world of your IT network. While it makes excellent sense to have appropriate support contracts covering more recently purchased devices and those which are core to the functioning of your network, significant savings can be made by identifying those areas of your network that don't warrant such cover, and protecting them with spares instead.

Take a long, hard, critical look at your support contracts. You're paying, of course, not for the repair cost of each device, or even a percentage of it, but, effectively, for an insurance contract. You are buying protection against remedial expense and costly downtime in the event of a failure. It's your support provider's job to provide that protection, of course, and it's not something which can be done on the cheap. Each supported device must be surrounded with sufficient spares and skilled personnel to ensure that service can be delivered in line with the standards set in the contract. All that costs money, which of course is reflected in the price you pay for the support.

Mission critical, and not so critical

Now, if you have to have that support, then you have to have it. But – and it's a big 'but' – while your network as a whole is mission critical, it's almost certainly not the case that the whole of your network is mission critical. Naturally, your support provider isn't going to draw this to your attention – supporting those non mission critical parts of your network is usually, not to put too fine a point on it, money for old rope. Your support provider will be very happy to have the extra, low-hassle profit it brings their way. To take the initiative and put yourself ahead of the game, you need to do some auditing, before that renewal notice lands on your desk.

Before you are next due to renegotiate support contracts, take some time out to identify which parts of your network could be supported in house with appropriate spares. Of course, doing this may mean taking on additional staff – reckon all the various costs in and compare them to the cost of including those parts of your network in a support contract. It boils down to arithmetic. Have your accountants crunch the numbers so you can see clearly the relative costs involved. Once you can see that, and you know where in your network the dividing line between mission critical and non mission critical lies, you'll be able to decide what should be included in a support contract, and what you can support by sparing up.

And remember, the time to do that preparatory work is now – before the pressure is on at support contract renewal time. Arm yourself with a cuppa and get auditing!