IT pros know the balancing act involved in standardizing computer hardware for an organization. Commit to a low-cost PC design with a motherboard that’s nearing retirement, and you could face a future without replacement hardware or firmware and driver updates. It’s a recipe for a potential maintenance and security nightmare.
Which is why IT managers should pay close attention to the published lifecycle for the systems and components they deploy. It provides a roadmap indicating the vendor’s commitment to manufacture, sell and support its products. The lifecycle defines when a product becomes available for purchase, when manufacturing will end, and when support will cease for products deployed in the field. In some cases vendors may cease mainline support, but offer extended product support for a time, sometimes at additional cost.
Product lifecycles are especially important to consider when deploying industrial PCs (IPCs) in rugged, remote or unpredictable environments. Factory floors, remote infrastructure like pipelines, and vehicles, trains and aircraft are all examples of environments that can accelerate wear on hardware and components. By selecting systems with longer lifecycles, organizations can rest assured that they can source and deploy additional, or identical replacement hardware as needed. It also ensures that driver and software updates will be available for an extended period – a benefit for remote IPCs and gear that may be difficult or prohibitively expensive to replace.
What’s an appropriate lifecycle for an IPC system? That depends on a lot of factors, but a period of five to seven years is preferable. That way, if a workshop IPC finally succumbs to a diet of dust and metal shavings, it’s a trivial matter to replace it with an exact one-for-one replacement.
Lifecycle vs Life Span
Finally, it’s worth clarifying a bit of confusion around the terms lifecycle and life span. While lifecycle defines a manufacturer’s commitment to build and support a product, life span describes the expected useful life of a product in the field. So, an incandescent light bulb might work for about 1,200 hours before burning out – its life span – but the vendor’s commitment to manufacture that model bulb – it’s lifecycle – could extend to 20 years or more. While lifecycle is a pre-defined commitment from the manufacturer, the life span (or life expectancy) of a piece of hardware will be influenced by a wide range of factors ranging from how and where it’s installed to the intensity of its day to day use. As such, life span is a much more difficult metric to define at the time of manufacture or purchase.
The demands of industrial and rugged environments are unique and often unpredictable. As such, laboratory-defined metrics like mean time between failure (MTBF) do little to predict actual hardware life span when components are subject to heat, cold, vibration, dust and other use and installation-dependent factors. IPC hardware and components with longer lifecycles help organizations remain agile in the face of hardware challenges and ensure that deployed systems remain secure and up to date.