Total Cost of Ownership in the System Administration World

In the System Administrations world the total cost of ownership (TCO) is the price you pay for equipment from before its purchase to after its demise. There are always hidden costs that you can not anticipate, but through diligent evaluation and selection you can limit these unforeseen costs and minimize your TCO.

My main focus for this post is going to be vendor selection, specifically vendor plurality.

Unlike Google of Facebook, most Systems Administrators buy their server equipment from the following vendors: HP, IBM, Dell, or through a re-seller of Supermicro. Each vendor offers different product lines and while one product line may be more reliable than another, as a whole let’s assume they are all as reliable within some standard deviation. Why then would you ever buy equipment from more than one vendor? Price. IT and System Administration are sunk costs, they are the cost of doing business (ignoring IaaS,PaaS, & SaaS). A cost conscious company will want to get the best price on hardware.

Why You Should Support More Than One Vendor

Depending on your computing needs you could be spending millions on hardware, one companies margin could be tens of thousands of dollars. It is a good practice to always get competing quotes from different vendors (not just different re-sellers). That way you keep the vendors honest (or at least more honest).

You can save a significant amount of money this way, which you should obviously make sure your bosses know.

But what hidden costs arise?

Why You Should Support the Least Amount of Vendors as Possible

For every vendor you support it requires your time as a system administrator. To name a few considerations:

  • different RAID controllers with different syntaxes
  • different OOBM (imm,idrac,ilo) with various nuances
  • support from vendors can differ widely in process and¬†competence
  • automated hardware monitoring is different. While most vendors support IPMI, there are always little differences
  • all new vendor equipment needs evaluation and a¬†familiarization

What am I to do?

There is no optimal solution, only what works for you. I recommend limiting the number of supported vendors to the absolute minimum while still keeping a 2nd around to make sure the other vendor’s pricing is honest and¬†competitive.

Each vendor adds to a server’s TCO. Therefore limiting supported vendors, minimizes every servers’ TCO.