Buyer beware: Do you really need the best tech out there?
Sometimes you need the best tech out there, but sometimes you don't
It’s a recurring question for every organization: When it’s time to buy new servers, network switches or any other type of technology, how can you balance features, functions and cost?
When a tech refresh beckons — whether it’s hardware, software, networking or telephony — it’s tempting to go with the most feature-rich option. Sometimes that makes sense, but it could be overkill. Many factors come into play: budget, time, available options, and the technology's ability to fulfill the organization’s core mission.
“The last thing you want is buyer’s remorse — investing in that server or laptop refresh and discovering a few months later that if you had just held out a little longer, you could have gotten more features or paid less, or that what you chose doesn’t give you the power or ROI you need,” said Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT. “So take a close and careful strategic look at what you have, where you are, and where you want to be.”
The type of technology you’re considering refreshing is a big factor. The most flexible is hardware, such as servers, desktop PCs and laptops. For hardware, the question is how much of a premium price you’re willing to pay for premium performance.
King described the case of a customer at a midsize organization in the midst of a server consolidation and virtualization process. Instead of waiting a short time for the newest servers to hit the market, the IT manager chose to purchase the previous generation of servers at a significant discount. Although the IT manager recognized the newer servers would have delivered a 20 percent bonus in overall performance, the price the organization was able to negotiate on the previous models more than made up for the slightly less robust performance those systems would deliver.
“It’s like buying last year’s model car after the new models come in,” King said. “Sometimes it can make sense.”
Networking is another area in which it can pay to consider something less than the most expensive technology. Often, the improvements in network switching technology, for example, support a larger number of users or a higher level of bandwidth than previous versions. If you don’t have those needs, you might be satisfied with reliable but not top-of-the-line switches.
But that approach doesn’t work with all technology. Organizations should always purchase the latest version of software. Even if earlier versions are available at a discount, vendors are routinely upgrading their software to include newer features that are often very useful. And many times, vendors pull older versions out of circulation as soon as they release a new version, so there might be no choice but to buy the latest version.
Budgets, of course, dictate how far up the food chain you go. If it doesn’t make sense to settle for second best, there are other options, including delaying the upgrade cycle, changing the way you pay for services such as maintenance, or considering cloud-based options, which are offered as a pay-as-you-go model, requiring nothing upfront.
“You have to consider these things, especially cloud, when it’s time for a tech refresh,” says R. Ray Wang, CEO and principal analyst at Constellation Research.
There are also times when nothing but the latest and greatest — no matter the cost — will do. When a technology is part of a mission-critical operation, for example, there is really no choice. If the technology is in a call center that supports a disaster response in a major metropolitan area, for instance, paying the premium is worth it because the potential price of failure is extremely high.
Security is another reason for state-of-the-art technology. As threat levels increase and information thieves become more aggressive and sophisticated, organizations must use the best tools possible to protect data and citizens.
But before considering any of those issues, do your due diligence, Wang said. That means surveying customers to make sure that what you get fits current and future needs. “Determine a five-year road map and base your decisions on that,” he said.
In addition, pick the brains of systems integrators and vendors. “It’s worth talking to them one at a time and asking them how they would proceed,” King said. “The more information you get, the better the decision you will end up making.”