Gartner: 5 ways to deal with network equipment shortages

With lead times as long as 400 days, enterprises need to start looking at alternative ways to get the network equipment they need.

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How bad is the chip supply shortage? Gartner reports that clients are complaining about lead times as long as 400 days to get networking equipment, plus pricing increases and missed ship dates.

“We expect lead times to remain high through early 2023, at which point we expect slow incremental improvement over the course of months,” Gartner wrote in a report titled, "What Are My Options for Dealing With Long Lead Times on Network Equipment?"

Gartner says you have five choices. Only one of them will put more hardware in your data center, and one of them is a little sneaky.

1) Optimize existing assets

Most enterprise switches operate below 75% port capacity, according to Gartner research. Enterprise data-center and campus switches are overprovisioned in an effort to enable growth and/or simplify cabling, the company said. “We estimate at least 25% of campus and data center switchports are unused, and likely more. Thus, reducing excess capacity via consolidating connectivity can readily free up 10% to 15% of switches for most enterprises, while leaving room for growth.”

This requires network changes/recabling, operational labor and downtime, but it's a straightforward option to free up switching capacity.

2) Replatform

The solution to everything: Move to the cloud. Enterprises can avoid buying data-center switches and other hardware if they move workloads to hosting providers or public cloud providers.

Gartner also recommends x86 servers in place of network appliances with a relatively low interface count, such as load balancers, routers, and firewalls.

3) Move to the front of the line

A little gladhanding never hurt. If that doesn’t work, try sharp elbows. The report notes that “vendors are not operating on FIFO (first in, first out) concept for orders. Vendors are prioritizing customers that represent larger revenue opportunities and/or create risk of revenue loss.”

The best way to make your order a priority to the vendor is to entertain competition at the vendor (not VAR) level. In other words, threaten to take your business somewhere else and hope they don’t call your bluff. If you are a new customer, let the vendor know you represent potential significant income.

4) Explore certified refurbished equipment

Some vendors offer official refurbished equipment programs, including Cisco and HPE Aruba. They fully refurbish, recertify and support the hardware. It may be a few years old, but the lead time for this equipment is days or weeks. There are also independent third-party vendors of used equipment, like ITRenew.

5) Sweat the assets

Most organizations refresh their hardware months or even years prior to the end of its useful life, so just because a switch is coming up on the end of its warranty period doesn’t mean you have to automatically retire it. Negotiate with your vendor for an extended service contract and get a few more years of use out of it.

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