Networking equipment plays a crucial role in operating a smooth business. However, acquiring new equipment can be expensive, leading many businesses to consider refurbished options to save money in their budget. Whether you’re in the market for Cisco, Arista, Juniper, or another brand, understanding the estimated failure rate of the networking equipment you’re looking for is essential.

Cisco defines the lifetime of a switch using the “mean time before failure” or MTBF. When purchasing your networking equipment its important to research what that average lifetime might be, as it is different for every piece of equipment. Understanding both the average lifetime of a switch, and the relevant common risks during that lifetime is one of the first steps to building your first network. In this article, we explore the significance of the “bathtub curve,” a graphical representation of the failure rates for refurbished networking equipment. By understanding each phase of this curve, businesses can mitigate risks, enhance reliability, and optimize operational efficiency.

What is the Bathtub Curve?

The bathtub curve illustrates the failure rate pattern exhibited by most products over their lifecycle. It consists of three distinct phases: early failure phase, normal life phase, and wear-out phase. If you apply the curve to your network decision-making process, it can mitigate your risk of critical network failures.

A bathtub curve graph that explains the failure risks during the life of networking equipment

Early Failure Phase

The early failure phase, also known as the “infant mortality phase”, refers to the early stage of a product’s lifecycle when it experiences a higher rate of malfunction. This phase is characterized by the manifestation of material defects, manufacturing flaws, or improper startup/installation procedures. In the case of new networking equipment, these failures could appear in the form of software bugs; defective ports, fans, or power supplies; and more. Sometimes these products have a rocky start, and it’s crucial to avoid critical startup failures during implementation.

Normal Life Phase

The failure rate during the normal life phase of a product decreases significantly, reaching a period of operational stability. This phase of a product’s lifecycle is the goldilocks zone for tech. Obviously, random failures can still occur due to unforeseen environmental factors or operational stress; however, they occur at a significantly lower rate, allowing for a more reliable operation and less surprises. During this phase, routine maintenance will do wonders for the longevity of your network.

Wear-out Phase

The third and final phase of a product’s lifecycle is the “wear-out phase”, illustrated by the red line in the graph above. During this phase, we see an increase in the product’s failure rate. Over years of tireless connectivity, the equipment accumulates wear and tear, leading to the deterioration of its components and systems. It’s never fun to deal with, but the reality is that technology breaks. Regularly assessing the condition of critical components, upgrading firmware, and ensuring timely maintenance can help extend the equipment’s lifespan and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic total network failures during this phase.

What does this mean?

Understanding the significance of each phase of the bathtub curve is helpful to anyone considering purchasing networking equipment or tech in general. It’s also important to acknowledge that this curve is merely a theory, and not a perfect explanation of equipment failures. Networks are often refreshed every 3-5 years in order to maintain 99.99% uptime. However, that doesn’t mean the gear is useless after that time. The average user can typically get two to three cycles out of a switch, depending on usage.

Mike Cullen, our personal Arista Expert and Product Manager, had this to say about equipment wearing out:

“The equipment you can get from the top vendors especially, Cisco, Juniper, and Arista, almost never wears-out. We have a handful of customers who are running 30+ year old equipment. Obviously, some components wear-out without the proper maintenance, like hard disc drives and dust-ridden fans, but if you take care of your gear it’ll last years. With new equipment, most manufacturer defects typically get found right away. With that in mind, if you want reliable hardware you should buy refurbished gear nine times out of ten. Obviously, if you want to go with the new technology that’s fine, but you can sometimes get multiple, just-as-reliable, pre-owned pieces of equipment for the same price as one OEM (original equipment manufacturer) piece.”

Considering the dependability and risk associated with the age of networking equipment is important. Refurbished networking gear, positioned in the middle of the curve, offers a cost-effective alternative without startup or end-of-life concerns.

The initial failures of new networking equipment can be a slight concern for businesses seeking reliable and cost-effective solutions. So by turning to refurbished networking equipment that is in the prime of its useful life, businesses can enjoy a range of advantages. However, to keep it in its prime, it’s important to ensure that the equipment has been properly refurbished and tested by a reputable source. If done right, refurbished equipment offers a reliable and stable infrastructure from the outset, minimizing the risk of unexpected breakdowns. A reliable refurbishing process, paired with a robust guarantee, can further reassure your faith in used networking gear.

Our mission is to serve our customers and extend the useful life of data center equipment by delivering solutions that maximize value. We dedicated ourselves to providing top tier refurbished products so your network can maintain that competitive edge for a fraction of the cost and zero of the worry. If those benefits sound interesting to you, check out some of our bestsellers here.

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