Technology is always improving, so it’s really short-lived when you make a cutting-edge purchase. There are always the early-adopters who swear by the newest and brightest, but they also know they are the unpaid beta testers, there to discover the little things the creators didn’t think of. In a way, they take pride in their involvement in the tech world, often being the voice that leads to improvements and patches released right around the time that that rest of us are starting to consider buying one. I’m grateful for the early adopters—when I get mine three months later, not only will it be 25% cheaper, that first update took care of the majority of the things that would have irritated me, all thanks to their enthusiasm.

But then there are the late adopters—the ones who either refuse to use the new technology altogether or wait until they have absolutely no choice and what they want to use flat out doesn’t work and can no longer be replaced. In daily life, that’s amusing, mostly. So they want to do things the hard way—they aren’t really hurting anyone. It may be frustrating if they are the only member of the family who refuses to carry a cell phone and still have to get home to check the messages on the tape-recorder answering machine, but one of these days the tape is going to get all twisted up the way old cassettes do and there won’t be a replacement tape, and a grumbling grandpa will eventually, albeit begrudgingly, accept the gal-dern cell phone.

Business is an entirely different world. Large organizations may be working with older systems because they needed to buy so many that it made fiscal sense to purchase last year’s model. Even if a business is cutting-edge, they aren’t going to give everyone in the company a new computer every year, so the next year they are no longer special for their tech. Unless that’s what you do, you can’t hinge your business reputation on making sure your server was created within the last twelve months. You need to invest in equipment that will serve your needs now and down the road, with room to grow if you plan to grow and back-up parts for the few things that may need to be replaced over the years to keep things smooth. As long as your computing and data storage needs haven’t changed considerably and you archive files when you’re finished with projects they don’t just stack up and fill space on the drive, then what you buy should still work years into the foreseeable future.

There is a point when the technology in place is too old, and it’s impossible to set an exact time on that. A tape-to-tape editing bay will still work for it’s intended purpose, but it can’t work with digital footage, so it will not be super-useful today. If you still have a tape-to-tape system because you have archived footage on tapes and you need to maintain at least one way to access them, it’s time to look at transferring that data to a more modern media before the one and only working machine left in existence breathes it’s last, but that tape deck lived a full and productive life. A five year old cell phone may no longer be supported, but a 30+ year old tape deck really only fails when interacting with modern technology and would continue to function if only other people were still using tapes.

If you:

are sufficiently behind your industry standard such that there are substantial differences between your services and those provided by your competitors,

are suffering a level of dysfunction with your workflow or equipment regardless of how recently it was purchased such that it significantly impacts productivity,

have equipment that can no longer interact with its more modern counterparts, or

have equipment for which replacement parts or manufacturer support can no longer be readily obtained,

...then you need to upgrade. “It ain’t broke” isn’t enough, and if you wait until it is, something will get lost in the transition.

However, if none of those things are true and your equipment is functioning appropriately, still filling the needs of your business, it doesn’t matter if it’s old. In fact, it may make more sense to add to what you have if the older items are still within their functional lifespan. The old server may be useful as an archive so that it’s not under the day to day stress while a new shared storage system can be used for active projects if you need to grow.

The bottom line is that time waits for no one and no thing. If you take care of your system it can serve you for a long time, but a significant leap forward in the technology may necessitate an upgrade sooner if it creates a competitive gap or changes the way technology interacts with the field. Paying close attention to your industry, you don’t have to be an early adopter to be up to date. However, if your system is working on it’s own, independent from the technological advances over the years, you may be tempted to keep it as long as it’s working, but a transition needs to be made before it breaks simply because no one can fix it when it does and it may take a project or two with it when it goes if you haven’t planned ahead.

Talk to an engineer—they can tell you what parts of your system are the workhorses that can keep on trucking in the background and what parts need to be retired before they pop, as well as how to make the transition to something new if that’s what needs to happen. You’ll get the most bang for your buck while avoiding sudden chaos and data loss. Even if you aren’t ready to do anything now, you will have a plan that gives you a rough understanding of how much life you can expect from your system so you can start budgeting.