Multivendor IT Support,IT Maintenance, High Tech Dulles Corridor - Data Center Hub

Today, business owners in Northern Virginia like to say that 70% of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Fairfax and Loudon county where the “Silicon Valley of The East” is located.

While this figure cannot be perfectly substantiated, it’s true that the stretch of communities near the Dulles International Airport is widely renowned as America’s most important hub for Internet traffic and network infrastructure.

Formally known as the Dulles Technology Corridor, the cluster of data centers, businesses and government organizations which native Virginians call ‘Data Center Alley’ is increasingly favored by tech leaders throughout the U.S.

So how did things come to be this way, and why does it matter? To answer those questions, we have to go back several decades.

A History of Data Center Alley

Many of us who work in the tech industry in 2019 can remember the early days of the Internet, when a 56k modem was the hottest gear in town. That was before AOL, social media or smartphones.

But there was a time before the World Wide Web, or even Usenet boards that increasingly few of us can recall: the Internet as it existed prior to the 1980s. Back then, packet-switching networks had just been invented with ARPANET, the DoD’s TCP/IP network which connected universities across the continental United States after it was turned on in 1969.

ARPANET began as a project of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (modern day DARPA), centered in Arlington, Virginia. It was in Arlington that the Metropolitan Area Exchange, East (MAE-East) brought one of the earliest Internet Exchange Points to the Eastern seaboard, transforming Northern Virginia into the powerhouse of connectivity it is now.

After the arrival of MAE-East – and later Equinix – companies like AOL, Yahoo! and AT&T set up shop leading up to the DotCom bubble. Today, the area houses regional offices for every one of “the big five”: Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google.

The Ideal Location for Data Centers

As of late 2018, the power consumption of Northern Virginia’s data center market was close to a record-shattering 1 gigawatt, showing that the importance of Data Center Alley has not decreased. In the past few years, it has become a strategic location for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), home to four of the country’s top cloud players including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Digital Realty.

Aside from its history, what makes Data Center Alley ideal for new data centers? According to Loudon County head of business development Buddy Rizer, data centers require six resources to stay in good shape: power, water, fiber access, a competent workforce, proximity to resources and space to build.

Data Center Alley has them all:

  1. Power – Dominion Virginia Power provides most of the energy consumed by businesses in Northern Virginia. Using a combination of available and environmentally friendly sources, it provides a cost per megawatt 20% lower than the national average.
  2. Water – located less than an hour’s drive from the historic Potomac River, Data Center Alley has abundant municipal access to water for cooling needs.
  3. Fiber Access – Data Center Alley is littered with redundant fiber optic loops that provide high-speed connectivity to businesses and ISPs throughout the area.
  4. Competent Workforce – government contractors and tech experts from every area of specialization congregate in Northern Virginia for proximity to Washington D.C, giving data centers access to an elite and highly skilled workforce.
  5. Resources – surrounded by a high concentration of other businesses providing equipment, parts, and labor, the area is rich in competitively priced resources for running a data center.
  6. Space to build – in the past decade, 75 data centers have been opened in Loudon County alone, encompassing 10 million square feet of operating space. While the real estate market is competitive, there’s still plenty of room for expansion.

Professional Data Center Support in Data Center Alley

Located near the booming data center corridor in Loudon County, VA, Digital Tech Inc provides rapid response maintenance services including EOSL extension, spare parts, short- and long-term maintenance agreements, migration assistance and depot repair options. Our skilled engineers offer multi-vendor support, covering IBM, HP, Dell EMC, Cisco, NetApp, and many more.

To learn more, contact us today.

IT Maintenance Provider - Third Party Maintenance

Let’s get real: if you have to call your IT maintenance help desk, that means there’s a problem. Nobody likes having problems, so nobody likes calling for IT maintenance. But in an ideal world, at least they wouldn’t make your problem worse than it already is.

In the data center, speed is everything. The longer it takes to get equipment fixed or replaced, the longer your downtime. But – whether you like their products or not – OEMs can be slow at solving problems, let alone solving them quickly.

There’s a good reason for this: SLAs from manufacturers are mostly an afterthought; a bonus to sweeten the deal and boost sales. After all, a vendor’s bottom line is measured almost exclusively in sales, not repairs or service deals.

In this article, we’ve compiled a few of the most common complaints we hear about the OEM maintenance cycle from our customers. Do any of them resonate with you?

1. Getting Someone

On many levels, complaints about OEM maintenance overlap with complaints about IT support, and that extends to the call center. Nobody likes talking to robots, then listening to elevator music for thirty minutes before speaking to a rep.

Unfortunately, that’s what you’re likely going to do, because call centers are specifically designed to employ the minimal number of staff at any given time, meaning you are almost guaranteed to be placed in a queue. How long you’ll have to wait is a matter of sheer luck, but we say the best wait is no wait at all.

2. Getting THE RIGHT Someone

Once you’re finally patched through, you’ll need the right set of technical chops before a service rep is sent your way. For simple issues, it might not take that long: but as anyone who’s worked with IT equipment knows, problems aren’t always easy to communicate, and the right technician isn’t always easy to identify, especially when you don’t have on-site support to figure things out.

3. Resolving Issues

Once you are in, and once you’ve got someone who can help, you have to get the issue resolved. This can take a long time, especially for customers with large operations, lots of equipment and complex problems.

Before anyone is sent to help, the OEM will often have to check service logs, machine profiles, sometimes escalating through different tiers of consultation internally. Occasionally, you may be waiting for a couple of days before your issue is finally addressed.

4. Juggling OEMs

If you’re like any other enterprise in the world, you aren’t running your entire organization on a single vendor. Not only will there be multiple machines in your data center from many manufacturers, but they will be configured to work with one another in complex ways.

When you need service from multiple OEMs, or – heaven forbid – multiple OEMs at the same time, getting support can be a logistical headache as you coordinate several calls for several technicians who can only work with one family of products at a time.

5. Human Issues

Remembering this simple truth can help you to understand most of the pain-points you’ll hit with OEM maintenance: manufacturers get paid for their products, not their support. While you’re getting fed up with the hassle, chances are, the support team is getting fed up too.

It’s not their fault that they’re underpaid, undertrained and overloaded with queries. Then again, it’s not your fault either when things become heated or tense. This sort of thing just goes along with IT support.

6. SLA Headaches

SLAs – or Service Level Agreements – lock organizations into a support relationship with their vendor, and they’re supposed to benefit you by providing unambiguous ground rules about what you can or cannot expect.

But to paraphrase a certain Captain Barbossa from a certain Disney film about pirates, “the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”. Most companies know what it’s like to argue with a rep about what is and isn’t covered by the SLA. But in the event your vendor plays fast and loose with interpreting their end of the bargain, there’s usually some legalese which lets them off the hook.

Third-Party Maintenance: A Better Way

OEM maintenance is annoying. So what? You still need servicing when problems arise, and it’s not like there’s another, cheaper option – or is there?

Third Party Maintenance (TPM) providers offer the same services as an OEM, nix many of the drawbacks, with many advantages. To name a few, TPM providers are:

  • We make our living service IT equipment, not selling or upgrading new hardware.  We have to be good or we would not be in business.
  • Smaller and therefore provide faster, more personalized support
  • We know you have smart IT teams that can tell a hard drive failure from something more complex, allowing us to rapidly deploy resources to facilitate the repair without wasted time qualifying the need for an on-site tech.
  • Experienced down the support chain, meaning you’ll be connected to someone who knows what they’re talking about the first time you call
  • Competitive: they provide high-quality support because it’s not an obligation; it’s a business model
  • Multi-Vendor: techs are versatile and provide a single point of contact for different systems/machines

If you’re suffering from common maintenance provider woes, TPM provides an affordable and flexible middle road that will keep your data center up and running without the headaches.

Professional TPM Provider for Northern Virginia

Located near the booming data center corridor in Loudon County, VA, Digital Tech Inc provides rapid response maintenance services including EOSL extension, spare parts, short- and long-term maintenance agreements, migration assistance and depot repair options. Our skilled engineers offer multi-vendor support, covering IBM, HP, Dell EMC, Cisco, NetApp, and many more.

To learn more, contact us today.

EOSL, IT maintenance, end of service life

EOSL Extension: When it Makes Sense, and When it Doesn’t

Last month, we wrote about end of service life (EOSL) extension and why third-party extension services can be a better investment than upgrades or extended warranties. However, the discussion on EOSL can’t end there because – inevitably and in all cases – the cost of maintaining hardware will eventually exceed the cost of replacing it.

As Jason Maxham observes in his timeless Repair or Replace,

“The need a broken machine was serving is the most important consideration: if it can be met at a lower cost some other way, fixing becomes unnecessary. If the need is still present, but has grown or diminished, then upgrading or downgrading should be on the table.”

In short, deciding whether to extend the service life of a deprecated asset reduces to a simpler question: when does it make sense to replace it?

We’ll tackle that question first by killing off two big myths about service life.

Myth #1: Deprecated Means Useless

Thinking in analogy, a systems admin might believe that keeping expired hardware around is like using Windows 98 in 2019. It’s slow, cumbersome and ridiculous – right?

Whether to upgrade involves a simple consideration: does the system still adequately serve its function? When the answer is “yes,” then retirement is unnecessary. 85 percent of hospitals instead of cell phones, simply because they work, and they work especially well in the medical environment.

Myth #2: Usable Means Useful

At the same time, most companies won’t be utilizing 4 year old servers to deploy new applications or cloud solutions.  Even if it is usable, that does not make it useful. An organization’s technological need grows with the world around it.

Technical debt should not be overlooked when determining whether a system remains “useful”. Microsoft – once the world leader in consumer electronics – famously failed to win any significant share of the smartphone market simply because it came to the game too late.

Likewise, in the data center, remaining on legacy systems while competitors move onto better efficiency, power utilization and automation will cost in the long run even if it produces short term savings.


Measuring the Value of Equipment

With two myths out of the way, it’s clear that extending service life can often be the right decision up until a point. Deciding when it’s time to replace equipment means understanding and gauging its value.

  1. Operating value – how much value does the equipment provide an organization daily? This quant can be assessed by estimating impact of failure.
  2. Salvage value – although less important than other measures, the value of equipment in terms of parts or scrap is significant especially as it becomes more expensive. The salvage value of equipment also depreciates as time goes by.
  3. Technical value – technical value is the inverse of technical debt; if a system is still reasonably modern and will remain so for the foreseeable future, then its value is higher than a system that will be long surpassed next year.

When a data center’s operations are projected for the coming year or business quarter, the sum of these three values should exceed the cost of replacement. When that balance shifts in the opposite direction, then a data center is paying extra for the privilege of using outdated systems.

Useful Questions

Here are four useful questions administrators can use to decide whether EOSL extension is appropriate at any given time:

  1. Over an arbitrary period, how will the cost of third-party maintenance compare with the cost of a warranty or warranty extension?
  2. Are there recurrent issues with the deprecated hardware? If so, how serious are they?
  3. How does the latest hardware compare with current systems in terms of performance and features? (assessing technical debt)
  4. How costly would it be for the hardware to suffer critical failure?
  5. Can third-party maintenance extend the useful life to allow for migration and upgrades on your terms, not the OEM’s terms.

When enough questions have been asked and answered to assess whether EOSL extension is expedient, it can be useful to project a date past which the systems should be replaced. This gives a timeline for routine evaluations and alleviates the burden of guesswork from maintenance.

Professional EOSL Extension for Northern Virginia

Located near the booming data center corridor in Loudon County, VA, Digital Tech Inc provides rapid response maintenance services including EOSL extension, spare parts, short- and long-term maintenance agreements, migration assistance and depot repair options. Our skilled engineers offer multi-vendor support, covering IBM, HP, Dell EMC, Cisco, NetApp, and many more.

To learn more, contact us today.

Third party maintenance support for aging IT systems

When hardware warranties expire or systems reach their end of service life (EOSL), there’s good reason for concern: the industry standard for data center reliability is 99.99%, and one system going offline for seconds can have disastrous consequences. A data center depends on well-maintained, dependable equipment that won’t cause downtime, latency or needless expense.

The average length of a manufacturer warranty is about three years, and once that time is up, DCAs are often conflicted about how to proceed.

There are four basic strategies for approaching post-warranty maintenance:

  1. Hardware Refresh

A sizeable number of companies will prefer to reduce the risk of system failure by simply replacing hardware as soon as the warranty expires. This is the most straightforward approach to maintaining operations and service life.

Advantages: By replacing hardware every few years, companies ensure that their systems are up-to-date. This approach also reduces the risk of equipment failure and brings a new service lease with it.

Disadvantages: This is the most expensive and labor-intensive approach to data center maintenance. It is also unnecessary in most cases: systems will generally function long after a warranty expires, and expiration only represents the maximum amount of time a manufacturer can offer service on the same equipment profitably.

  1. Warranty Renewal

Many hardware manufacturers offer clients the opportunity to “renew” their warranty for a fee. From an operations perspective, this means that nothing changes – techs will show up when called and provide the same services as before.

Advantages: A warranty renewal is the most seamless way to extend hardware’s “shelf life”. Until the renewal expires, operators can proceed as normal without worrying about replacements or DIY repair.

Disadvantages: Equipment sales constitute the bulk of revenue for most hardware manufacturers, and service policies are therefore designed to encourage equipment replacement. As such, warranty renewals are often excessively costly, and do not represent the true cost to maintain systems post-warranty.

  1. DIY Maintenance

Some data centers will opt to end their relationship with a manufacturer after warranty expiration and go solo, addressing issues as needed.

Advantages: Depending on the condition of hardware, DIY maintenance can be very inexpensive. Operators will not pay a premium for regular checks or commit to any service which isn’t strictly necessary.

Disadvantages: DIY maintenance assumes that a data center has access to miscellaneous OEM hardware, a competent team of technicians, and proper understanding of common failures in order to effectively stock spare parts for anticipated failures. Unpredictable repairs can be costly.  As companies are not in the business of repairing failed IT systems, this approach typically results in inefficient IT.

  1. Third Party Maintenance Extension

This lesser known option is a middle-way between warranty renewal and DIY maintenance. Companies can work with third party maintenance (TPM) providers who offer the same functions as the OEM, usually on a much more cost-efficient basis.

Advantages: TPM life extension is generally less expensive than OEM warranty renewal but provides the same services. For the OEM, maintenance is an afterthought; for third party providers, it’s a business specialization, and their staff are typically certified OEM technicians.

Disadvantages: Finding a good TPM provider can be difficult depending on location and need. Some TPMs operate no differently than the OEM in terms of addressing service needs and service call justification.

Professional EOSL Extension for Northern Virginia

Located near the booming data center corridor in Loudon County, VA, Digital Tech Inc provides rapid response maintenance services including EOSL extension, spare parts, short- and long-term maintenance agreements, migration assistance and depot repair options. Our skilled engineers offer multi-vendor support, covering IBM, HP, Dell EMC, Cisco, NetApp, and many more.

To learn more, contact us today.