The single most important part of a businesses data infrastructure is the network. Stability in a network significantly increases with the introduction of adding telephony functions over an IP network. A network infrastructure includes physical medium in the form of copper wiring, fiber optics and wireless signals. The infrastructure also includes the equipment used to transport frames and packets from source to destination. This equipment includes routers, switches, wireless access points and server/site load balancing equipment. In addition, most businesses require security devices positioned within the network to help to secure transport and help to prevent malicious behavior. This hardware commonly includes firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and access control systems.
When it comes to network hardware vendors, the number one player in the game today is Cisco Systems. If anyone has ever received quotes for Cisco equipment, the hardware and support contracts are sometimes surprisingly high. This may not be an issue if you work for an organization with deep pockets. I’ve worked in environments that installed high-end switches in the access layer that could have been used in the core of the network. For this organization, the cost of the site being down far even a few minutes outweighed the cost of the Cisco equipment. It simply made sense to pay top dollar to pay for the high-availability and low mean time between failure (MTBF).
My personal opinion is that you should never try to cut costs when purchasing network hardware. In addition, any and all Cisco Systems production gear should be covered under a SmartNET contract. This is used for hardware failure replacement and troubleshooting tickets with Cisco’s Technical Assistance Center (Cisco TAC). At minimum, the networking team should posess a spare device (called a cold spare) in the case of a hardwired failure.
Ever since I became a network engineer, my motto has been: “If it’s in production, always buy new.” Does that mean that you should NEVER buy used or refurbished Cisco routers, switches or other equipment? Never say never. There are three instances where I would either concede to buying used equipment or recommend it.
There are many companies and other means of acquiring used and refurbished Cisco equipment on the Internet. These include highly regarded businesses that buy up used gear, inspect and test it, then resell it. Often times, this used gear can include extended warranties in case of failure. Other methods of buying used equipment are from auction sites such as Ebay or online classified ads a la craigslist. I have used all of these methods for acquiring Cisco Systems equipment. Here are three situations where I felt purchasing used Cisco equipment was justifiable.
Situation 1 – Lab gear:
Part of being a network engineer is studying for and obtaining certifications such as the Cisco CCNA, CCNP or CCIE. While book learning is great, there is no replacement for hands-on experience. I have found over the years that it is very cost effective to purchase used equipment for my personal lab. This equipment does not serve any mission-critical purpose and if it’s a little bit “flakey” it can still serve some purpose in a lab environment. Worst case scenario, if the gear fails, I either throw it out and buy another used piece of hardware or figure out a way to use my lab without it. I’ve owned a considerable amount of lab gear in my day and the only time I purchased anything new was when I could not find it used anywhere.
Situation 2 – Used Cisco equipment for situations where there is no high-availability needs:
In this situation I had a client that had mission critical business located in one very large central network. In addition, the organization had several remote sites that were not considered to be of critical importance. In fact, the WAN infrastructure consisted of a P2P VPN with a single Internet connection. The design of all the remote sites had multiple single points of failure. It was determined that redundancy was not important and the remote sites could be down for multiple hours at a time with no impact to the sites operations. In an attempt to cut costs further, it was recommended that used equipment be purchased to be implemented in the remote sites. A handful of cold spares were purchased and the network team would be responsible of simply swapping out the hardware in the event of a failure.
Situation 3 – The alternative is to purchase off-the-shelf network equipment:
I worked for a not-for-profit organization a while back that had a very limited budget but they required a stable network in an operating environment with less than ideal conditions for electronics equipment. They were considering buying second-tiered network gear. I suggested that used Cisco equipment be purchased instead. Even though it’s used, it typically will outlast any consumer-grade network equipment. This is especially true in wiring closets that are dirty and have little ventilation. To this day, the used Cisco hardware that was installed is still running like a top and has been for several years.
Buying used equipment really boils down to what your contort level is and your confidence in the supplier of the hardware. If you can find a reputable source than their equipment can save you vast amounts of money.
Article first published as When You Should Buy Used Cisco Equipment on Technorati.