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The IT Law of Holes: Stop Digging and Start the Technology Migration

IT leaders make investment decisions based on which technologies are positioned to support the business. They're faced with decreasing per-unit capex/opex costs and increasing requirements for bandwidth and computing resources. Older technologies yield to newer versions that are faster, more flexible and easier to use. But how do you know when it's time for a technology migration?

This may sound familiar: Your business relies on a 15-year-old networking technology. A newer version or a functional replacement has been available for five years. The older version is beginning to show its age in its ability to meet technology and business requirements. You find yourself in a situation in which:

  1. Engineers who understand the technology are more difficult to find, and thus more expensive.
  2. Support costs are rising as the vendor focuses on newer technologies.
  3. Network hardware is approaching end-of-life status.
  4. The technology barely meets today's performance/throughput requirements.
  5. Internal support costs are rising.

I've worked with clients who see that the legacy networking technology should be ushered out. While they may recognize the problem, the dollars required to fund a transition effort are removed from the budget year after year. Why? The pain may not yet be acute, and other items in the budget may appear much more pressing. However, the delay means that once the migration does take place, it will be more costly and complex.

These companies may not have internal staff members who can make the case for migrating from older technology. The complexity of the technology migration effort may be so daunting that no one is willing to risk his upward mobility to advocate it, lest it exceed the budget and miss the targeted completion date.

In many cases, my advice to clients follows a networking law that I call the Law of Holes: When you're in a hole, stop digging. Sounds simple, right?

My law is based on a cap-and-grow strategy: Cap your spending on the old technology. Invest in the technology that represents the future. When an abrupt stop in spending isn't possible, severely restrict it, preferably backed by a mandate that any spending on the legacy technology must be approved by the CIO. This signals to the organization that leadership stands behind the technology migration effort and sees its success as crucial.

Next: The Cap-and-Grow Philosophy

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