3 min read

Used Tech Gear: Notes From The Underground

Refurbished switches, servers, and other products are cheap, plentiful--and risky.
Approach With Caution

The promise of the secondary market is matched by its perils: 37% of respondents to our survey don't buy used equipment and don't plan to. The top reason: They don't trust it. The least popular types of used gear are hard drives and storage hardware, with nearly half of respondents saying they would never consider such purchases. That's not surprising given the proprietary nature of most storage systems.

One IT pro who participated in our online survey shared the horror story of a hard drive that failed in a server that was purchased used, wiping out three years' worth of data. Upon investigation, the IT department learned that the hard drive had been refurbished twice before the system was brought into the company.

The moral of the story: Trust, but verify. Before you even consider buying used gear from an independent reseller, perform the following due diligence:

  • Check with your VARs. They often have close relationships with independents and can provide recommendations based on experience.
  • Investigate the reputation of the used-equipment company. Call referrals to get a sense of how reliable and responsive the reseller is, and determine if it has an independent credit rating, such as through Dun & Bradstreet, or if complaints have been lodged against it through the Better Business Bureau.
  • Choose a company that belongs to a trade group such as UNEDA or the Association of Service and Computer Dealers International. Both groups require members to subscribe to a code of ethics and have mechanisms for expelling resellers that deviate.
  • Understand the reseller's operation. Does it demand cash on delivery or offer payment terms? Does it carry inventory, and if so, how much? Which kinds of warranties does it offer? How about tech support? If so, on what schedule, 24/7 or normal business hours?
  • Start small. Buying a handful of servers or laptops or a few gigabit interface converters or line cards is a sensible way to begin a relationship with an independent reseller. You'll get a sense of its professionalism and can investigate the quality of the products without a substantial financial investment.
  • Finally, while most resellers test and refurbish equipment, realize that these terms mean different things to different people. To one reseller, "testing" may mean simply powering on the systems. Others may check serial numbers against original invoices or manufacturer databases, push packets through each port, or do full load tests.

Most replace damaged components, and larger resellers will remove dents and repaint chassis. Those that deal in PCs and servers generally provide data-sanitization services to ensure that sensitive information isn't passed along with the savings.

There's no question the secondary market offers tempting bargains, but dollar signs aren't the only measure of a good deal. Quality products, attentive support, and legitimate access to licensed software must be part of the equation. And if something sounds too good to be true--it probably is.

Write to Andrew Conry-Murray at [email protected].

More on Used Gear
Fighting Fakes In The Market For Used IT Equipment
The industry is on guard, but IT managers must exercise caution as well.

Path To Resale
How products get refurbished.

What IT Pros Say About Buying Used Gear
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Beyond The Bottom Line
Comparison of nine vendors of used gear.

How Much Used IT Gear is Counterfeit?
Help us figure out how big a problem counterfeiting is.

Controlling Counterfeits
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Reader Poll: Used Gear
More results from our exclusive research.