Before we get into the whys and wherefores, as we will on this blog, let’s be sure we’re clear about what third party IT hardware maintenance actually is.
Most IT professionals will be familiar with the support contracts provided by the original equipment manufacturer or OEM, whether that be EMC or Cisco or other vendor. When purchasing a given piece of IT gear, customers are usually offered the option of pairing it with a one- or three-year extended warranty or contract. Given the financial investment that IT hardware represents, most IT managers will sign on for this service and may renew it several times over the years until end-of-support-life (EOSL) is declared.
Third party hardware maintenance is an alternative to such OEM-based support at any point in the hardware lifecycle. It is delivered by other, non-OEM companies. In most but not all cases, third party support contracts will be equivalent to or better than the offerings of the OEM in terms of SLAs and inclusions. And some companies will add features and service to make it an even more attractive option.
The third-party maintenance (TPM) market has matured by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Large enterprise clients have put a significant part of their global IT infrastructure under a hybrid model by relying on TPM to support and maximize the lifespan of their existing IT equipment. By leveraging third-party support, they are able to garner additional cost savings, which can be redirected toward innovative IT projects. Gartner, Inc. has also published a Market Guide for Data Center and Netwrk Third-Party Hardware Maintenance*.
The result is a solid track record that says more about the reliability and viability of TPM than the most ardent sales pitch. Moreover, the capabilities of TPM providers have also grown in tandem with the maturing market to provide greater geographical coverage and technical expertise over a broader base of hardware.
Barriers to entry
But why have some organizations remained on the fence with TPM while others are adamantly opposed to its implementations ? This can usually be attributed to the perceived risks stemming from TPM, with one of the top concerns being the lack of access to software updates. Of course, it should come as no surprise that many are hearing these fear-inducing “what if” scenarios from the manufacturers themselves.
Research into the perceived risk of using TPM shows that the inability to access microcode upgrades is often nowhere as debilitating as the reality. One way to debunk this myth is through a proper risk assessment. This typically entails an audit of historic microcode updates performed on key equipment over the last few years with a dispassionate evaluation of their importance – if they were even applied in the first place.
Such an evaluation is the only objective way for organizations to understand if the risk is perceptual or real, or if their reservations stem from the political risk of deviating from regular IT overhauls. As many organizations quickly discover, practically all microcode updates take place within the first three years as software bugs and customer issues are ironed out. A dramatic drop-off occurs after that, offering diminishing returns for businesses that sign up for manufacturer support.
But while the cost savings aspect of TPM often steals the limelight, the IT agility it offers deserves equal attention. The ability to defer or delay a major expense can give organizations the leeway to divert finite resources from the mundane upgrading of equipment toward initiatives that either impact the bottom line or buy them time while they undergo transformation.
Elsewhere, telecommunications providers work with us to maintain their existing infrastructure to serve their legacy consumer base. Even private cloud deployments can benefit from TPM, regardless of whether the equipment is deployed in an on-premises or colocation environment. If you own your equipment, then TPM can probably add value on some level – either through direct cost savings or increased IT agility.
Limits of TPM
Despite what TPM can offer to most organizations, it should be viewed as a hybrid or integrated approach to maintenance, not an alternative to maintenance altogether. This means that enterprises and their TPM providers must do their due diligence on suitability. A TPM provider such as Curvature maintains a robust inventory of equipment across geographies, but care must be taken to ensure everything is tested and in working order.
A competent TPM provider should have the processes and tools in place to quickly evaluate and highlight software challenges. The onus is on them to sound the alarm if equipment is not a good fit for TPM; conversely, a provider that relies solely on the client to specify their requirements may be inexperienced and will likely result in an increased risk.
Finally, it must be pointed out that not every TPM provider has the same technical capabilities. Aside from having different levels of expertise, they may also not have the geographical reach to deliver the same levels of competency in every region. You can learn more from our blog post 6 Things To Ask A Potential Third-Party Maintenance Provider.
The road ahead
There is growing momentum behind enterprise IT in deriving cost-efficiency and revisiting investments, which means that TPM has hit the mainstream in IT strategy. With each passing year, more enterprises are coming forward with their success stories, even as more research is published by analyst firms to validate the benefits of TPM.
As businesses gain greater clarity around the noise that they hear from manufacturers, it will become increasingly clear to even the most vociferous detractors that TPM is a reliable option. When that happens, the question will no longer be whether an enterprise should consider TPM, but what equipment they want to put under it.
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