Save Your Job : Buy 2 Spares For Mission Critical Networks

What do you do when a critical device fails on your network? You call your on site maintenance company, they send an engineer with a replacement unit, and you're back up and running, right? You do have a maintenance contract covering your mission-critical network devices, don't you?

Actually, you may not need such a contract. And if you have one, you could well be throwing thousands of pounds away every year, completely unnecessarily, in fees. That may well sound like complete lunacy, but stick with me: there's good sense behind it.

Firstly, let me say that if your network is mission critical, and you don't have network engineers on your team, then you almost certainly do need to buy in maintenance support – or get network engineering expertise on your payroll.

If you have your own engineers, though, you can make significant savings by keeping refurbished spares on hand to cover all your critical network devices. In the event of a failure, your own engineers simply use the spare unit to replace the failed device, and the network is up and running again.

The maintenance contract fees for any given switch or router can be double the cost of a refurbished device. That means that if you hold two refurbished spares for each device on your network, your support costs in the first year will be no greater than they would have been with a support contract, and then for every subsequent year, your only expenses will be the replacement of any spare units used to replace failed units.

Over the life of the network, such savings can add up to very significant amounts. You may be concerned at the prospect of using refurbished units rather than new. Such concern is unfounded, though: this is exactly what maintenance companies do.

They know that there is little to choose between new and refurbished units when it comes to reliability, and on the cost front, the issue is a genuine 'no brainer' – the cost of a refurbished switch or router can be as little as one tenth that of a new unit.

While this 'no maintenance contracts' strategy may sound radical, it is by no means unprecedented. I gather from a close friend in the UK's largest telecoms company that one of the City of London's largest and most respected investment banks adopted the approach some time ago.

They do not use any external network maintenance company, and only use their network devices' manufacturer for software updates and TAC access. With sufficient engineering resource on their payroll, entrusting the support of their network to a third party makes no sense – doing so would drive up both costs and risk.

This investment bank has done the job properly: they keep not one or even two but three disaster recovery systems in place. By doing so, they ensure they are proofed against almost any imaginable hardware failure, as well as other potential disasters such as terrorist attack.

Even with this level of redundancy in place, they still make significant savings, which they plough back into the latest technology for the core of their network.

Companies that do things the same way that they have always been done tend to be the also-rans. Companies that innovate, finding new and better ways of operating, tend to be the high-flyers and the market-leaders.

Indeed, in the current environment of deepening economic gloom, with tightening budgets and contracting markets, survival itself may well depend on such innovation.