The term “Technical Debt”- is normally a term associated with software development, but it so accurately describes some key concepts in general with information technology.
Technical Debt is the true total cost of owning and operating technology which extends far beyond just the cost to buy the equipment– it’s the cost of maintenance, and the potential cost of it breaking. Everything you do (or don’t do) will alter the amount of technical debt that’s owed. Some things will, to stretch a metaphor, reduce the interest owed on the technical debt, while others are just piling on additional debt.
Think of it like owning a car. One day, the car will fail because something breaks; Every mile you put on your car and every month you own it increase the technical debt. There are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of a failure, such as ensuring the oil is changed regularly, tires are rotated, brakes are inspected and replaced regularly, etc– All of these reduce the interest on the technical debt accumulated by usage because they help push back the point that something will break. But make no mistake- at some point, everything breaks.
Downtime costs money.
For businesses, equipment failure has a cost– Downtime costs money. Trucking companies, for example, rely on their trucks for their business. Every hour a truck isn’t working costs the business money, either through lost revenue or SLA penalties. Trucking companies regularly perform routine maintenance on their trucks and generally replace them after a few years because the likelihood of failure- the technical debt- increases over time. By replacing their trucks ahead of the technical debt threshold, they can reduce their down time and deliver a more consistent product which in turn reduces their costs. Companies that operate with this mindset get out from underneath the technical debt before it comes due.
At some point, the debt will come due and someone will have to pay it
From an IT perspective, computers, firewalls, switches, and other devices incur technical debt in the same manner. The longer you own it, the more likely the device will fail and the worse the impact will be to your business. At some point, the debt will come due and someone will have to pay it. If you wait until something breaks to replace it, or even just wait until the equipment starts having major problems, your business is the one paying that debt.
In order to avoid that, businesses should focus on replacing their equipment on a regular schedule ahead of the mean time between failure for the equipment. Ideally:
- Front line equipment should be replaced every 3years.
- Infrastructure equipment (switches and firewalls, etc.) every 6 years.