A “spare” can be defined as any asset that is not in production, but that is available to use when needed. Its value is typically an asset on the books. Spares are distinct from “consumables”, which are relatively low-cost items such as patch cords that you buy in bulk and maintain in stock.
Every data center has spare equipment lying around, either as a hedge against downtime or to accommodate rapid growth. Having spares available is smart, but few organisations manage them effectively. This leads to trapped costs, wasted space, and security and compliance risks if assets aren’t disposed of properly.
Spares are sometimes purchased proactively for repair purposes, to bypass lead times, or as a “strategic spare” when you anticipate you may need to add additional capacity fast.
Assets may become spares unintentionally perhaps they were intended for Project X but plans changed or they were bought as a “just in case” but never really used. We also have the scenario whereby spares may have been in production and will need to be replaced by new tech then put back on the shelf as a spare, stacking up even more old tech.
Then there are those “spares” that are less than useful — obsolete or defective equipment that should be fully decommissioned and disposed of. At a minimum, this equipment takes up space and creates a cluttered data center that’s hard to manage.
However, IT teams seldom think about spares management until finance steps in for an audit or inventory. Suddenly management sees all this equipment and starts counting money. The value of computer equipment this adds quickly turns into 5, or even 6, figure numbers!
What makes it hard to manage spares? For starters, spares are typically offline. That means traditional IT management tools won’t help much. Another complication is that you can’t tell the purpose or history of the spare from observation. It may be a genuine spare all right, or it may be a defective part that was removed from production and put on the shelf “with the other parts.”
Even if you know that an asset is defective, you can’t necessarily throw it away. Storage media may contain personally identifiable information, and other types of equipment may have credentials and configurations that should not be exposed. Compliance with company policies, laws and regulations such as GDPR makes decommissioning a complicated process. That’s why defective parts are often kept onsite just to be sure.
Proper spares management touches a number of IT and business management processes, including lifecycle management, availability management, financial management, asset management and risk management. Different departments within the organization have a stake in it. As an initial step, you’ll need to define what’s a spare and what’s a consumable. It could be something as simple as a dollar value — everything less than $1,000 is a consumable. Once you have your definition, your DCIM tools and configuration management database can be help simplify spares management.
To keep spares under control, you will need to review each asset in your data center —racked or unracked — and determine whether its value to the business outweighs the risk and cost of having it there. If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it in a responsible and documented manner.
Getting to this state may require an onsite inventory, audit and clean up. Rahi Systems can help with this. And after your spares-management process is started you’ll find that it takes less and less effort with each audit cycle.