When to cut bait on old IT

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Someday you'll find a beloved product/service has fallen down on the job. Don't stick around out of loyalty -- pull the plug

If there's one constant to working in this business, it's that nothing stays the same. On the bright side, new solutions arrive on an almost daily basis -- but not all change is positive. If it hasn't happened to you already, chances are good that someday soon a solution you've depended upon for years will suddenly fail to keep up its end of the bargain.

That failure presents itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's a string of buggy software or firmware updates, a raft of inexplicable hardware failures, or a nosedive in the quality of tech support. One of the hardest things in IT is to know when an exisiting solution is past its prime -- and when it's worth trying something new in its place.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Matt Prigge preps you for when the data center goes down and how to get back up. | Sign up for InfoWorld's Data Explosion newsletter for news and updates on how to deal with growing volumes of data in the enterprise. ]

If you've made up your mind to write the Dear John letter, you first must convince the bean counters it's prudent to abandon a solution you've invested in for years. The situation can get sticky if you lobbied heavily to implement that technology in the first place. Of course, this is simply how this industry works -- change arrives, not always for the better -- so avoiding such surprises can be difficult. Fortunately, there are clues that let you recognize the end is coming before you find yourself in a real pinch.

Keep your ear to the ground
One of the most important things you can do is to stay on top of what others are saying about the solutions you're using. That might mean staying active in support forums, even when you're not trying to solve a problem or reading reviews of items you've already bought (especially those that pit your solutions against competitors).

Test your support
If you're like me, you probably avoid calling tech support at almost all costs. Unless there's absolutely no hope of solving a problem on my own, I'll opt to do my own troubleshooting and research to fix a problem rather than create a ticket and wait for a response.

That's a commentary on the generally dismal quality of most IT vendor tech support and on the amazing utility of a Google search in solving just about any problem you'll run across. It's also a result of the fact that I tend to learn a lot more about the tech I'm using when I'm forced to study up and fix it myself.

One real downside to the DIY approach is that you won't get a feel for how good tech support will be when you actually need it. Make sure to throw tech support a bone every once in a while and pay close attention to how quickly and effectively it responds. Even fairly simple questions can give you an idea of what to expect when you find yourself in the weeds and really need the help.

Above all else, never allow yourself to become too cozy with any vendor -- no matter how long you've worked with its products. What may be an excellent hardware or software solution today may become one of the most maligned a year or two from now. Always be ready to consider options.

This article, "When to cut bait on old IT," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Matt Prigge's Information Overload blog and follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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