Should you buy second-hand storage? EMC, IBM, HP, Dell and HDS say yes, but analyst says no

Would you buy a second-hand array from this industry? Top-tier vendors other than NetApp are happy to sell you refurbished products, but IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac warns against buying old arrays.

Storage arrays from top-tier vendors are not cheap, which leads some to wonder if they could get away with using second-hand or hand-me-down equipment for some purposes.

Arrays have few moving parts, after all, other than those in the fans. And no-one expects disks to be infallible, no matter how few days have passed since an array left the factory.

But IBRS analyst Dr. Kevin McIsaac warns against buying second-hand arrays.

“Unless you can get a unit that is only 6-18 months old at a significant discount (50%+) and get a 4-5 year warranty /maintenance at a great price.”

As it happens, such bargains may occasionally be on offer, as we learned when we asked the top six storage vendors – EMC, NetApp, IBM, HDS, Dell and HP – if they sell second-hand storage products.

Only NetApp does not. Roger Mannett, Marketing Director for Australia & New Zealand explained why to SearchStorage ANZ:

“In today’s technology, a generation of equipment is between 18 to 30 months.  NetApp provides support for a period of 3 years from the End of Availability of a product (last order date),” he wrote in an email to SearchStorage ANZ. “We do not offer refurbishment of end of life equipment, generally because the value is in the software and not the hardware. As each generation rolls out, the “back levels” of software that are supported become more restricted, n-2 is the typical coverage.”

“This would mean that aged, refurbished equipment- if offered - would have to be operated using end-of-support-life software, a risky practice to operate a business on unsupported levels of code.”

“Life cycle of hardware today in most organisations is typically 36-48 months (which we feel is long enough) before requiring replacement for more reliable, more efficient and better cost-point products.”

EMC

EMC says it does refurbish and resell some components, namely “components like system cabinets and system boards.” Refurbished components carry “the full warranty and support of a new component.”

IBM

IBM operates “Global Asset Recovery Services”, an offering which glories in the acronym “GARS.”

The service sees IBM re-manufacture and refurbish returned equipment, which is later resold. The company even has a certification for equipment that passes through this process, in the form of the “”IBM Certified Pre-owned Equipment” seal of approval.

The GARS program can also “build machines to exact specification as  required by customers.”

HDS

Hitachi Data Systems happily refurbishes and resells arrays.

In an email to SearchStorage a spokesperson for the company said “All kit to be refurbed goes back to the US and restored to an as new state. HDS then sells it with a full (three year) warranty.”

Dell

Dell not only refurbishes storage hardware, it sells it online through its factory outlet website (Australian store here, NZ store here) complete with 12 months warranty.

The company told SearchStorage ANZ that if items do not sell from Dell.com, it sells them to online auction house Grays Online which disposes of them as it sees fit. The company also sometimes uses second-hand products in-house.

HP

HP told SearchStorage ANZ it has operated the “HP Renew” program since 1981, and the program includes “StorageWorks disk & tape products.”

Stock comes from “... customer returns and cancelled orders, products damaged during shipping, overstocks, demonstration and trial units, asset recovery, and lease returns.”

Whatever the source, products sold under the HP Renew banner “ ... are carefully inspected, refurbished or remanufactured, re-boxed and re-sold with the full original HP warranty.”

Conclusion

Second-hand arrays are out there and vendors are confident enough to give you substantial warranties for this kit.

Yet IBRS' McIsaac thinks that rather than pinching pennies on purchase price, organisations should instead look to improve their storage management regimes.

In an email to SearchStorage ANZ, McIsaac offered the following advice:

"I think organisations would be much better served to focus on

  • Optimising what you have already got. Often the existing infrastructure has 20-30% of capacity that can be reclaimed. Some times this is storage that has been lost or data that is no longer needed.
  • Apply archiving policy to your data. Get a good backup product like CommVault and use the tape archive (with dedupe) feature.
  • For SMEs, when buying a new array, look at low cost alternatives like Dell's iSCSI, Oracle/Sun ZFS storage server or HP's LeftHand SAN Solutions.
  • Finally, and most importantly, when you buy an array get your contract terms right, i.e.,
    • The inital purchase price needs to be negotiated to get the best value.
    • Don't purchase it all at once, only buy what you need for the next 18 months and have terms that allow you to buy future capacity at an even better price. Remember that the cost of disk halves every 12-18 months!
    • Ensure you have a 3-year warantee or maintenance contract with an option to purchase a further 1+1+1 years at an agreed price. By running the infrastucture for 4-6 years you will get the full value out of the kit."

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