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9 minute readHardware Refresh vs. Upgrade: Which is Best For You?

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If you are using any form of data storage from OEMs such as EMC, NetApp, Cisco, or Brocade, they will more than likely tell you that you need to refresh your hardware every 3 to 5 years. Although some companies may want to do this because of specific compliance or service level commitments, it is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. 

Other than refreshing your hardware, you also have other options to upgrade. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, and both of these options both allow you to enhance your IT infrastructure, you will need to decide which is best for your organization, your budget, and your storage environment.

Upgrade vs Refresh

Refreshing Hardware

Although many businesses might view the terms “refresh” and “upgrade” interchangeably, this is not the case. When performing a hardware refresh for your storage environment, it means you are replacing all of your current data storage hardware with the newest version of your equipment. This is typically done to combat capacity and performance issues.

Your OEM (original equipment manufacturer), often may recommend you perform a hardware refresh for any of the following reasons:

  • Need for the newest features to End of Life designations. 
  • You have a large budget and want to have the latest data storage hardware.
  • Specific industry regulations require you to have specific equipment.
  • EOL and EOSL milestones.

These scenarios may require a hardware refresh, but the fact is that the most common reason is to do with EOL (end-of-life) and EOSL (end-of-service-life) milestones. Typically, these milestones indicate the dates during which your OEM will no longer offer support or maintenance on your hardware.

The best way to solve the need to refresh your equipment, for this reason, is to purchase a maintenance contract with a third-party maintenance provider.

When Should You Refresh Your Hardware?

There are a few instances where you should begin to consider refreshment. The first is when your servers are nearing a five-year mark. It is not to be said that they must be refreshed, but they should be analyzed for retirement.

Additionally, when your individual server component is showing a slowdown, or fail often, it may be time to refresh rather than upgrade. This is because full failures lead to going offline, which leads to downtime. By refreshing when necessary, you can avoid these issues.

Upgrading Hardware 

Upgrading is definitely more cost-effective than replacement. When upgrading your storage array, you are adding things such as:

  • RAM and other memory drives
  • DAEs
  • Hard disks
  • Disk shelves 

Upgrading allows you to achieve capacity and performance objectives without doing a full hardware refresh. 

Some people believe that just because your equipment reaches EOL that it needs to be replaced. Instead, you can continue to support your hardware and increase ROI. Upgrades from the secondary market are a more cost-effective way to add capacity and performance to your existing infrastructure.

When Should You Upgrade Your Hardware?

There are many reasons why you might want to upgrade your hardware, the first is that it will increase your performance. This will make your data center run more smoothly, and faster overall.

Upgrading your hardware also allows you to increase your capacity. If your enterprise is growing, you can accommodate those needs. It can also allow you to operate more efficiently because of this. 

Finally, it may be necessary to upgrade simply because your equipment is outdated. Every five years you can do an audit, and see if you would benefit from an upgrade, or if your equipment is too far behind. 

Data center maitenance

Refresh vs Upgrade

There are a number of terms used when speaking about optimizing storage systems. Often you may hear upgrades, system upgrades, capacity upgrades, hardware refreshes, refresh cycles, and more used in the same sentence. Despite this, you can distinguish the difference between refreshing and upgrading based on a few factors.

Refreshing is Replacing

When you are refreshing your storage environment, you are essentially replacing all of your current data storage hardware that may have lower performance levels or capacity in order to meet critical capacity and performance levels.

Upgrading Keeps Current Infrastructure In Place

Rather than fully replacing your system, an upgrade keeps your infrastructure in place. The main difference is that you will be switching out different drives, DAEs or disk shelves, to allow for increased capacity and performance levels.


When you refresh your hardware you replace  your entire data center. Upgrading you are only replacing one piece of hardware. Upgrading is clearly the more cost effective option because you are replacing much less hardware. However, you have to consider the performance of your system. If the majority of your data center is performing poorly than it may make sense in the long run to refresh rather than upgrade.  

Utilizing the secondary market when purchasing data center hardware is a cost effective way to refresh or upgrade your data center.


The more updated the system the more efficient it should perform. Refreshing updates your system with more modern technology with the purpose of increasing the overall performance of your data center. Although upgrading may not increase performance to the level of a complete refresh, it still improves overall performance.

Both, upgrading and refreshing will boost performance of your system. Some data centers may only have one bad piece of hardware that needs to be replaced to restore performance levels while others need a complete refresh.

Because all systems will eventually get old, a refresh of your system offers the best performance. Refreshing your system offers yo a chance at the latest technology, which in turn will help your data center to perform better.

If you choose to upgrade rather than refresh, you need to decide if your savings are enough rather than simply refreshing your entire data center. Often purchasing secondary market refresh equipment can be comparable to upgrading your data center.


When you hold support through your OEM and you decide to upgrade your equipment, you will extend the life of your hardware. The problem is, your OEM will typically not offer you the option to continue purchasing maintenance support, or it will be incredibly expensive. When you purchase support from a TPM (third party maintenance) provider, you are able to upgrade hardware supported. Rather, if you choose to refresh your hardware (aka purchase the newest technology) then it will most likely be covered by your OEM.

Which is Best for You?

There are different instances when a refresh is the better option, while in other cases an upgrade is the better option. Although OEMs love to push the 3-year cycle of IT upgrades, this is not necessarily a requirement. At this point, you have the choice to increase your support life through a Third Party Maintenance provider, or simply upgrade your equipment. This will allow you to extend the life of your existing gear. 

However, there will eventually come a point with diminishing returns in your old gear will no longer be able to keep up with the performance and capacity demands. In this case, you will need to refresh it.

Is Upgrading Better Than Refreshing?

In many cases purchasing used storage hardware is a great alternative to purchasing new from the manufacturer. This allows you to improve performance without having to overspend your IT budget. This is because hardware is expensive and requires a significant investment. 

Additionally, in order to maintain that hardware, it will be imperative to have a support contract that supports your equipment regardless. This is why it is critical to find the right vendor, such as Reliant, that will cover your equipment regardless of EOL or EOSL status.

If your have a bunch of problems with your hardware overall, then it may be time to refresh. If you only have small problems with your hardware, then you may be able to save money with an upgrade and use a TPM for your maintenance support instead. This will save you a lot of money in both hardware and maintenance costs.

Contact Reliant Technology

Upgrading and Refreshing are both great options to improve performance of your data center. There are several different factors that go into making this important decision for you company. Data center performance is crucial for daily business operations and security.

Make the best decision for your business
Let us guide you through the process
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Todd Bennett

by Todd Bennett

Todd leads a team of expert IT consultants, helping customers around the world with their data center hardware, maintenance, and support needs, providing uptime, capacity, and savings options to enable IT and Procurement teams to do more with their existing budgets. Todd has been in enterprise technology for more than 30 years.

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About Reliant Technology

As Data Center and storage experts, Reliant Technology is available to provide consultations and solutions to your server backup needs. Our experienced engineers and IT specialists are ready to help you determine the best option for your Data Center. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, or if you would like to submit an article for possible publication, please, get in touch with us.