Average Network Switch Lifetime?

What is the general rule of thumb on the age of a network switch(s) that causes you to recommend replacement to your leadership and/or your customer if you are a MSP?

This is actually a pretty interesting question. Tl;dr: the rule of thumb
I use is 7 years - but age is really only a minor concern when it comes to
switch lifecycles.

The main reasons to replace a switch are:

  1. The switch no longer meets your needs (port counts, density, power
    usage, PoE, bandwidth, features, manageability, etc.)
  2. The switch never met your needs, but you’re just now figuring out why
    (backplane issues, design issues, etc.)
  3. Correcting for topology / design issues.

In a sound network design, with well-engineered switches it’s also not
uncommon to see 15+ years on hardware without issue. Of course these days
with security being what it is, that may not be a realistic or reasonable
goal for everyone.

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I’ll add to what Alex said above since he nailed it. Generally you’re going to get a long life out of switches if they were good quality to begin with and kept in a clean environment with clean power.

For us, it often comes down to compatibility/interoperability. We use primarily HPE/Aruba switching. The manufacturer offers a limited lifetime warranty. The manufacturer announces an end of sale date and later an end of support date. Somewhere between those dates they stop developing firmwares based on the latest branch of firmware code and focus only on critical/security bug fixes. After many, many years of doing this we do everything in our power to keep the network on consistent firmware branches. That’s not to say it is critical, but we definitely try to avoid having brand new hardware running 16.x.x code with critical switches on the network still running 11.x code that you can’t even load the UI anymore.

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Our network consultant said to replace switches at the end of support or when broken. We only use HP pro curve.

Very rarely did any of my previous network switches failed. I used Cisco Catalyst, HP Procurve, Netgear 10GbE, Meraki and Ubiquiti switches in the last 14 years and I could only remember one Cisco L2 switch that failed.

Thus far they lasted till we need faster performance or better features (e.g. 100M to 1G to 10G, smart management, PoE, 10GbE Uplink). If you have an business grade switch then it should easily last 8-10 years. I suspect what might fail first is the PSU or Fan which can be replaced.

I do keep most of my network gear in an air-conditioned enclosed area and behind a good UPS to smooth out the electical current.

A switch has a much longer lifespan in the datacenter than does other equipment – something akin to five or six or sometimes even seven years compared to maybe three or four years for the average server.