Just kidding, Cisco’s SMARTnet isn’t dead, but I&O managers have a new warranty for networking hardware: free hardware replacement, bug fixes, and tech support. Basically, enterprises can expect to get a basic break-and-fix solution free from most vendors on edge and distribution switches or switch/routers. Hallelujah!

Everyone owes a big thank-you to HP. Over the past 10 years, while holding less than 5% of the market, HP’s ProCurve line forced its competitors’ hands, reset the industry’s warranty choices, and revolutionized what customers should expect from their networking vendors. By leveraging the lifetime warranty to separate themselves from the other seven dwarfs and Gigantor while trying to offset “you get what you pay for,” HP went to market offering next business day replacement on the hardware, phone and email support, along with software bug fixes and updates. They wanted customers to understand that only companies that delivered quality products could sustain this type of service model. HP extended the warranty out to some of the 3Com/H3C products — after the acquisition — too.

Within the past two years, most vendors have followed suit and offered their version of a lifetime warranty:

The general rule of thumb is that the lifetime warranties apply to edge switches and some distribution ones. Edge and distribution switches typically have a very low failure rate and minimal amount of software bugs since the feature set is limited. Support costs are unbelievably low so it’s been a great marketing tool for all of them. When I&O managers purchase new switches, they can expect to get the following:

  • Replacement of product. The vendors will offer replacement of the product if it fails. Delivery times can range from next business day to 10 days, and some make you return it before they send you a new one.
  • Technical support service. Customers can call an 800 number and receive 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. phone support Monday through Friday. The support is level 1 and entails a lot of information-gathering, with some “Is it plugged in?” to “Let me take your information, and level 2 will call you back.”
  • Software bug fixes and updates. The vendors provide bug fixes as long as the product is currently being sold by the vendor along with software updates. When it comes to updates (new features), the usefulness is minimal since most of the features that come out are either a special request by a particular customer or niche feature that marketing wants to exploit for new sales and product differentiation.

The differences in lifetime warranties vary, but they’re negligible, and I&O professionals aren’t wasting their time trying to decipher the differences. For example, some vendors don’t cover power supplies and fans after five years. Or it might sound like a great deal to have the option of replacing a failed product with a similar product after 10 years. I haven’t met a customer who isn’t leveraging PoE, security, device, or discovery features that are standard today but weren’t built into ASICs 10 years ago. These extreme nuances are a drop in the ocean of service considerations when enterprises aggregate support services for routers, WAN optimization, application delivery controllers, wireless, management, etc.

Forrester survey responses indicate that CIOs want their teams to stop obsessing over lifetime warranty nuances and instead negotiate more value-added third-party services. I&O managers should be asking what extra support the company will need and the depth of documentation and knowledge base that’s available from the vendor for the core, branch offices, applications, and security deployments. (See my Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Information, Documentation, And Expertise blog post.) Since networks are a critical component for a business, you should perform an analysis to understand what you’re getting with a contract that has 24×7 support with 4-hour replacement. Can you get tiered support? Can the vendor’s support team troubleshoot a network that has data, voice, video, and storage running across it?

Basically, lifetime warranties will become the default for edge switches, and organizations will need to look at supports that cover a system. Therefore, Forrester will be researching the value network warranties and see if a support organization can step beyond supporting individual switches to supporting a system like a data center network. What types of warranties do you have? Does it vary by location, device, or services? Are you ready to bypass extra support on your edge switches? What frustrates you when you call support? Are there proactive support capabilities from vendors that help you?