Technology is innovating and evolving at a rapid and consistent pace. With change happening constantly, it is understandable that manufacturers cannot support their older products forever. At a certain point, manufacturers must deem a product “end-of-life” so they can focus their development efforts on the latest technology. While this seems logical and fair, many businesses and I.T. service providers fail to plan ahead for these lifecycles. Without a plan, businesses are surprised with unexpected capital and operating expenditures that weren’t budgeted for, cyber-attacks that could have easily been prevented, or costly interruptions and downtime to the business’s operations. Having a better understanding of technology lifecycles can help businesses avoid these consequences and stay ahead of their competitors.
Most business owners remember all the major news about Microsoft classifying Windows XP and Windows 7 as end-of-life many years ago. For most, this was the first time they had experienced a major mandatory upgrade in a technology platform. After these announcements, Microsoft no longer offered security updates or bug fixes for the end-of-life versions of Windows. What many business owners didn’t realize is these major upgrades from end-of-life versions of Windows didn’t end with the release of Windows 10.
Did you know that, since its release, Windows 10 has had 13 major upgrades, 11 of which are officially end-of-life? It’s not just Microsoft’s products, either. Apple’s macOS operating system has had 18 major upgrades, 15 of which are officially end-of-life. Unless the business or I.T. services provider has a consistent strategy for managing these mandatory upgrades, the business is left critically vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other costly interruptions.
Fortunately, this information isn’t secret. Not only do Microsoft and Apple both publish their software lifecycles, but there are also Wikipedia pages that make the information quick and easy to find. Below are a couple of examples.
- Microsoft Windows 10: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_10_version_history
- Apple macOS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacOS_version_history
It is important for businesses to acknowledge these software lifecycles, create a plan for maintaining software within its lifecycle, and ensure that plan is followed. For a small business with only a handful of computers, this isn’t a tall order. But for businesses with a larger fleet of computers, this is a function of the business best outsourced to a service provider with a proven and consistent strategy.
Software isn’t the only technology that has strict lifecycles. Computers, servers, networking equipment, and other hardware is only supported by manufacturers for a certain number of years. After hardware reaches end-of-life, manufacturers no longer produce replacement parts, offer technical support for the product, or release security updates for the firmware. Just like when software reaches end-of-life, this lack of support can have significant negative consequences for the business.
While some hardware manufacturers don’t publish this information in easy-to-access places, there is an unofficial industry standard that nearly all hardware manufacturers abide by. Below are some of those standards.
- Consumer-grade desktops and laptops: 3-year lifecycle
- Business/enterprise-grade desktops, laptops, and workstations: 5-year lifecycle
- Servers: 7-year lifecycle
- Network firewalls, switches, and wireless access points: 5-year lifecycle
Once again, small businesses with only a handful of devices can stay on top of these lifecycles if they are diligent and consistent. At scale, though, it is extremely difficult to manage this inventory, especially when the lifecycles differ per product. For this reason, most businesses elect to outsource this responsibility to a service provider with a formal technology lifecycle management strategy.
How a Mature Service Provider Can Help
Managed services providers (“MSPs”) that have reached a high degree of operational maturity, such as Digital Boardwalk, have developed innovative management technologies and consistent operating processes to alleviate this lifecycle management burden from their customers. Here are just a few ways mature MSPs can help your business plan for technology lifecycles:
- Maintain a real-time inventory of all your computer systems, with documented purchase dates and warranty terms.
- Provide you with a monthly summary of your assets, with callouts to devices that are approaching end-of-life.
- Meet with you once per quarter to budget for upcoming lifecycle purchases at least 12 months in advance.
- Solution architects research new technologies and help you time your lifecycle purchases to yield the greatest return on investment.
- Strictly monitor for and deploy necessary software upgrades after-hours.