Many IT managers have limited insight into their network infrastructure and their associated maintenance contracts, resulting in many contracts being blindly renewed each year and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) not being scrutinised closely enough when new equipment is purchased. Not analysing contracts and SLAs could put IT equipment at risk.

At best companies are probably paying too much (bad news at a time when budgets are tight); at worst they could be leaving some critical devices without any support at all, in the event of equipment failure.

1.    Really know the network

IT managers think that they know their network inside and out but in too many instances there have been so many upgrades and changes over the years that this isn’t the case. A network that was constructed to accommodate specific needs may not fit the business any longer. IT managers often have little insight into the architecture and assets and this can get even more intimidating if there has been expansion or downsizing. Lacking an accurate overview frequently results in maintenance contracts that don’t fit requirements – either unnecessarily expensive or leaving critical devices without support. The OEMs may encourage companies to renew maintenance contracts without questioning but this may not be in their best interest.

2.    Coordinate with the end users

As the IT department comes under constant pressure to keep systems fully operational, it’s vital that IT managers and business end users work together. Involving end users to determine what the true IT requirements are will result in a more tailored network. Coordinating with end users means figuring out what they need, what problems they encounter, and where the potential risks lie. Once managers know what their IT department is able to deliver and the possible problems it can solve, they can better estimate what they need. This insight can then be used to review the contracts and network SLAs.


3.    Critically review the SLA

All too often, maintenance contracts are renewed automatically just because that’s what the last manager did. However, this might not be the best option for the network, or the budget. It’s always worth being certain that the existing contract is the most suitable for your company and noting which items are no longer eligible for support but which still require maintenance. We have worked for plenty of companies who pay a sizeable amount for a contract containing elements that are ‘nice to have’, but not ‘must haves’. This could include having an almost immediate replacement service for non-essential items, when it would be easier and cheaper to have a few backup switches on hand and a cheaper next-day replacement agreement instead.

4.    Differentiate between the needs of the company versus those of the OEM

Many manufacturers encourage companies to buy the latest, most expensive equipment, declare end of life on a popular line years before it would be needed, or unnecessarily pressure customers into upgrading maintenance contracts. These are classic tactics to keep their products rolling but are not necessarily in the best interest of IT managers or the bottom line.

It’s therefore important to differentiate between the company’s needs and those of the OEM. It’s in the OEM’s interest to keep companies buying products so they won’t point out areas where savings can be made or recommend alternative methods of maintenance.

For example, OEMs are unwilling to inform customers that data centre equipment has a much longer lifespan than the maintenance contracts that they offer. Then, when the support comes to an end they encourage companies to upgrade rather than be left without support, even if the product is in full working order. Popular products where this has been the case include the Cisco Catalyst 6509 (non “E” version) as well as many edge switching devices in the 29XX/35XX/37XX and 45XX series.

If an IT manager isn’t on top of his or her network, they may follow the recommendations of the OEM and pay over the odds for updates that they don’t need.
5.    Know your options

There are plenty of occasions when the premium maintenance contract provided by the OEM is the right choice, for instance when the maintenance contract is used frequently. However, if this is not the case, there are alternatives that are worth looking into. Maintenance contracts that also protect end-of-life products allow companies to get the most out of their original investment, because often, “end-of-life” as defined by the OEM should not be confused with “useful life” as defined by the user of the network.

There are several tools out there to help managers assess their network to derive a more effective maintenance strategy. Some vendors offer internet-based contract maintenance systems that let users input their equipment that is and isn’t covered by a contract. Tools like these allow IT managers to keep all the contracts in one place, preventing unnecessary maintenance decisions.

In order to get the most out of maintenance contracts and SLAs it comes down to investing that precious commodity – time. Situations always change and the way you can have most control is by really knowing your network inside out. Choose the solution that offers you the best result, not the OEM.

Glenn Fassett is general manager, international, at Network Hardware Resale