19. Buy refurbished kit from the manufacturer

Beware end-of-life

When a network device is declared end-of-life its value on the used market typically plunges, drastically reducing the price it can command at resale. As a result, buying devices brand new shortly before they go end of life is a risky business that can cost you dear. The savvy network manager knows his product lifespans and wherever possible opts for refurbished alternatives in preference to brand-new near end-of-life products, saving thousands.

If you are a regular follower of these money-saving tips then my interest in cars, and sports cars in particular, probably won't have escaped your notice. For the last three years, though, my focus has been on building Go Communications into the respected supplier of refurbished Cisco Systems kit that it is today, and during this time I've been without a sports car. This year, with Go Communications established with a solid base of happy customers and strong sales figures, it was time to take a closer look at the sports car market, with a view to spending some money.

Actually, when I say "look at the market" I'm not being one hundred percent honest. I've known for a long time what car I'd be buying – in my book there's nothing to beat a Porsche 911. On checking the market out, though, I discovered that the Stuttgart boys have a new 911 waiting in the wings, due out next year, which of course means the current model is near end-of-life, and its resale value will very likely suffer when the new car is released in 2011.

Network managers often face the same situation. New kit is required for this project or that, and some of the devices on the shopping list are about to go end-of-life. Heavy depreciation and therefore higher over-all costs beckon, unless some canny buying tactics are deployed. There are three approaches that can be used to get the best long-term value in such situations.

New infrastructure, refurbished spares

My personal preference would be to buy all my core network infrastructure brand new, direct from the manufacturer, and all my spares refurbished. This allows me to specify the best core infrastructure available. After all, there's little point in specifying brand new spares if it means you have to cut corners on the kit that your network will actually be running on. By adopting this approach and holding refurbished spares yourself instead of committing to an expensive maintenance contract with the manufacturer you can build a premier quality network and stay within your budget.

Refurbished throughout

Buying all your kit refurbished – core infrastructure and spares – can offer advantages, since the hardware is all 'tried and tested'. Over the last 14 years in network infrastructure sales it's been abundantly clear to me that there's not much to choose between the failure rates of tested used devices and brand new. The old IT adage generally holds true: if a device is going to fail, it will normally do so in its first couple of weeks. And, of course, there are significant financial savings to be made, assuming that an absolutely state-of-the-art network is not your objective.

Refurbished from a dealer

This is essentially a refinement of either of the above approaches. Instead of buying refurbished equipment directly from the manufacturer – the ultra-safe approach – savings can be made by sourcing your refurbished kit from a dealer. In 99 cases out of 100, this will be less expensive than sourcing the same devices from the manufacturer.

The downside is that in the event of a failure, the spare itself may not be supported by the manufacturer. In practice, this simply means that you need to approach the dealer for support, not the manufacturer, so choose your dealer with care.

The best bet is to choose a supplier which not only has a reputation for quality, but has gone out of its way to support that reputation with an internationally-recognised quality standard such as ISO 9000.

ISO 9000 quality controls are typically stricter than those enforced by manufacturers on their dealers: if your choice is between an authorised dealer without a quality standard, and a non-authorised one with a quality standard, the latter is typically going to be the safer – and often less expensive – bet. More expensive does not always mean better.

So: buy cheap, but be wily. Don't sacrifice quality in favour of brand names. Do your homework and identify the best time to buy, the best product to buy, and the best source to buy it from. Play your cards right and you could make significant savings at the same time as improving the quality of the parts and service you're working with.