By Kyle Christopher

How do you know when it’s time to buy new hardware? Is your server hardware too old? Do service and maintenance contracts cover hardware that is three, four or five years old or older? The answer varies depending on whom you ask. The needs of every business are different. You may have a preference of manufacturer, such as EMC, NetApp, Brocade, Cisco or Dell. Many companies also have compliance and service level commitments they must meet, in which case buying the newest hardware available is often a must. On the other hand, there are many small to midsized businesses that are growing and are struggling to keep up with data growth. How do you know whether you need to upgrade your entire environment or add capacity to your current system or systems?

What’s the difference?

Let’s get on the same page first. A refresh is defined as a replacement of your current storage hardware. Usually when this happens, companies have critical capacity or performance levels and can no longer afford to get by with low performing or small capacity hardware.

An upgrade is defined as keeping your current systems in place, but possibly replacing the drives of that system with faster and/or higher capacity drives. An upgrade usually happens when you have a relatively newer system that will be able to meet the short term and intermediate term needs of your organization with the addition of some changes.

When is server hardware too old?

Virtualization and hardware improvements have made this age-old question more complex. The 3 year upgrade cycle many IT departments have used in the past is going to become obsolete as customers get smarter and are able to find alternative solutions in order to extend the life of their current gear. Nonetheless, there is still a point when older hardware will reduce efficiency and pose unnecessary risks. Knowing whether a system is at that point will depend on many different factors, addressed below.

Is it time for a hardware refresh?

IT professionals will be required to make realistic assessments to determine when to update their systems in order to ensure adequate performance and capacity requirements. Will an upgrade be necessary to solve performance problems? Have you considered a used server as a viable, low-cost option to give you what you need? Used storage could open up a lot of options if you have budget constraints, yet can no longer be exposed to the risks associated with outdated hardware. Tech Target has published a helpful list of questions and answers regarding the server refresh cycle, which could aid you in your decision making.

Which do I need, hardware upgrades or technology refreshes?

Server hardware upgrades can solve performance issues at a fraction of the price of a new server. By adding CPUs, memory, or better performing drives, you can significantly increase a server’s performance. The problem is that not all servers are upgradable and upgrades will not fix hardware that simply doesn’t perform.

Moreover, with the widespread adoption of virtual machines, the hardware no longer poses as many limitations as it once may have when everything was dependent on physical devices. Administrators have options now to deploy more virtual machines or take on more demanding workloads. Administrators should weight the pros and cons of these measures and consider the return on investment (ROI) of any decision.


Server hardware is expensive and is a significant investment in any business. Maintaining server hardware and maximizing its potential will help businesses remain competitive, particularly when buying new hardware simply is not a valid option. A server upgrade can help keep your server relevant. You will need to examine which upgrades will give you the best financial return.

Stay tuned as tomorrow’s blog will focus on refresh options, how to choose the right vendor, and how to extend the life of your current hardware.