Enterprise IT departments and service providers that demand stringent network uptime commonly purchase and store spare hardware components in the event of a critical failure somewhere within their infrastructure.
Keeping equipment in-house has benefits, but it can also become costly and difficult to manage. Up until now, there really has been no other alternative if your organization demanded failure resolution in a matter of hours. But now that shipping supply chain and distribution methods have gradually improved, it may be time to rethink the cold spare inventory methodology.
Many vendors, including Dell and Cisco, offer 24/7 four-hour hardware Return Merchandise Authorizations (RMA). As of today, maintenance contracts with such low RMA turnaround times are considered "premium services." It has historically been cheaper to purchase and store spare hardware in-house, opting for a less expensive support contract with slower replacement times.
But now that we live in an age where Internet shopping is expanding every year, the speed and cost to ship goods and services continues to drop. Supply chains are shortening across every industry. In a few years, a four-hour RMA turnaround time for hardware replacements will become the norm rather than the exception, and cold spares will definitely not be necessary.
It should be pointed out that there are some benefits to a cold spare disaster recovery (DR) plan no matter what type of maintenance contract you have. For example, you can prepare your cold spares to be production-ready by updating software and configurations. This greatly cuts down on downtime of the failed hardware. But let's be honest, maintaining spare hardware is a task that often gets neglected. Components get misplaced, used as a lab, and otherwise abused to the point where it's no longer ready to be put into a production environment. I've seen this happen even in the most strict IT departments.
Even though we're a few years off the complete extinction of maintaining a cold spare hardware inventory, you might want to take a second look at the cost of a four- or eight-hour RMA maintenance plan. While they may not have been cost effective a few years ago, prices and your organization's strategies may have changed to the point where a premium service plan now makes sense. After doing the math and really thinking about the true effectiveness of managing extra hardware, you may find that it's time to put your cold-spare DR methodology to rest.