Admin Alert: Things to Think About When Changing Hardware Maintenance
November 10, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
About the time your System i machine turns three years old, you might start thinking about more than a system upgrade. You may have to determine how to extend your hardware and software maintenance beyond IBM‘s standard maintenance period of three years, i.e., extending your maintenance contract. This week, let’s look at the pitfalls of extending hardware and software maintenance.
There are several reasons you may need to extend iSeries, System i, and Power i hardware and software maintenance past its initial three-year maintenance period:
If you’re in any of these situations, you may need to extend software and hardware maintenance to protect your shop when the system has problems. Hardware maintenance covers physical issues, such as disk drives, cache battery replacement, and other machine-oriented problems that can prevent your organization from processing data. Software maintenance covers fixing problems with the operating system (support) as well as upgrading the operating system. You can only get software support from IBM.
Hardware maintenance is more important for older machines because older disk drives crash more often. Due to Moore’s Law, a three-year-old machine is now considered old hardware and I’ve usually seen that’s about the time AS/400-class machines’ disk drives fail. (Note: For this article, AS/400-class machines refer to iSeries, System i, and Power i hardware.) AS/400-class machines are usually much more reliable than their Intel counterparts, but even their moving parts will wear out after continually running for 3-plus years.
Generally, the longer you keep a machine, the more likely you’ll need hardware maintenance. Think of hardware and software maintenance as a form of insurance that allows you to minimize downtime due to machine or operating system issues and to quickly fix problems as they occur. It’s like insuring your house. You don’t want to buy it, but you’ll be glad you did if something disastrous happens.
IBM Versus Third-Party Maintenance Vendors
When looking at extending maintenance, understand that you don’t necessarily have to stay with IBM for hardware maintenance. There are some third-party vendors who will service IBM AS/400-class hardware. What’s more, they will usually do it for less money than IBM. But just because a third-party provider can service your hardware doesn’t necessarily mean that it should service your hardware. Here are some of the issues you should look at when evaluating extending hardware and software maintenance with IBM versus extending it with a third-party company.
First, you must determine whether a third-party provider can actually do what you need it to do. Be sure to use a critical eye when evaluating vendor claims. How many techs do they have who are certified in AS/400-class machines? Ask them if you can talk to one or two technicians. Make sure there is more than one technician because you’ll still want coverage if that resource is sick, on vacation, or otherwise unavailable. Do they have expertise in your particular model or is their expertise limited to older models? Some of these companies are primarily schooled in fixing Intel-based hardware, with AS/400-class boxes being a minor business. Check to see what their spare part inventory is like. Will they keep a parts inventory for you of the parts that are most likely to wear out, such as 4327 and 4328 disk drives or will they have to order out when you have a problem?
If you’re considering a third-party provider, visit their facility in your area. Especially look at their training center and note how many AS/400-class machines are available for the techs to train on. I would be cautious if you don’t see any.
Risks of Third-Party Providers
Most people will probably evaluate a third-party provider because of the cost of IBM maintenance. The fact is that IBM usually performs most services better than a third-party provider. IBM is the best source for iSeries, System i, and Power i maintenance because they’ve built a very good maintenance organization to support their machines. The problem is that their maintenance is just more expensive than you may be willing to, or able to, pay.
If you want to go with a third-party provider, think about whether your organization would be willing to live without the following items if they are not available. Consider these items and ask your third-party how they handle these issues before you contract out production machine maintenance to them:
This information shouldn’t be construed as saying you should never go off IBM maintenance. I’ve worked with people who swear by IBM maintenance. I’ve also met people who are as happy as a well-fed puppy getting their maintenance from third-party providers. Generally speaking, most times you’ll get excellent maintenance through IBM, but you’ll pay a premium for that maintenance. If you go with a third-party provider, you’ll probably save money on maintenance but you’ll lose the benefits that IBM maintenance provides, especially in an emergency. Regardless of your preferences, you should know the benefits and risks of choosing IBM or a third-party provider for extended maintenance.