Brasen adds that even though there's "no question" that used equipment is less expensive, he recommends that companies still follow their standard decision-making process before making a purchase. "Any hardware evaluation [for either new or used equipment] should factor in the total life cycle cost with the expected return on investment," he says.
Be careful out there
Customers should also be aware that IT equipment typically becomes obsolete in a relatively short period of time, Brasen cautions. This is particularly true of computing equipment. Servers and desktop computers can be expected to have a usable life span of only about three to six years. After that, they become difficult to support as they are replaced by the next generation of system architecture. Telephony and network systems have a longer shelf life, but customers should always ensure that replacement parts and support are available before committing to older technology.
If you're buying directly from a seller and not using a refurbishing company, you should take the same steps upon receiving the new equipment that companies that are disposing of hardware should take, namely a secure wipe of the hard disk and the removal of any external media (CDs, DVDs and so on). There are a number of commercial and open-source utilities available for wiping a hard drive. Among them: DriveScrubber by Iolo Technologies, Wipe It 3.01 by Skylark Utilities and ShredIt 5.0 by The Mireth Technology.
Despite these cautions, "the pros far outweigh the cons," says William Sauter, IT director at Beaver Island Community School in Beaver Island, Mich. "The only con that comes to mind [is] the lack of documentation in the box and the mounting accessories." But these can be overcome by working with a top-notch used-gear supplier, Sauter adds.
He has primarily purchased used Hewlett-Packard/Compaq gear, including an HP MSL5000 tape library, four ProCurve Gigabit Ethernet switches and a disk-to-disk backup system that includes a ProLiant DL360. All of this gear was purchased for less than the cost of the current tape library, Sauter says. The switches carry a lifetime next-day replacement warranty with Hewlett-Packard, even though he bought the switches from Frontier Computer.
Among the suggestions from Forrester's Washburn: Ensure that the products you're purchasing have a warranty and one that lasts just as long as possible (120 days minimum) -- with free parts and labor included from in-house technicians. "And before entering into a new sourcing relationship, check with your existing vendors, since they might already sell used equipment; for example, HP and Dell both offer used options," Washburn says.
"Our best advice," says EMA's Brasen, "is to treat used or refurbished IT equipment like a used-car purchase -- kick the tires and get the dealer to pony up for an extended warranty. Value in purchasing this equipment can be achieved, but only if you're certain that you're not going to get stuck with a lemon."
Sartain is a freelance writer from Utah with a background in computer science. She has written more than 500 articles and can be reached at email@example.com.