Saturday, May 18, 2024

Hardware Today: Putting Your Server Out to Pasture

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In some organizations the adage may prove true: Old servers never die, their performance simply fades away. But in most IT shops, there comes a time when a servers must be disposed of. The question then becomes what should be done with it?

In most cases, it is less expensive and more efficient to leave the disposal and repurposing to a third party.

The options are many. You can find an unused space and let hardware pile up until the bottom layer turns into gold, coal, or, more likely, dust. You can ship them off to needy local schools. You can sell some for pennies on the dollar. Or you can hand them over to a wide range of recycling and disposal companies of varying quality.

Sneaking off to the local landfill and quietly dumping them will likely come back to haunt you, however.

“Out of sight out of mind, doesn’t cut it with server disposal,” said Chris Altobell, marketing manager for HP’s Americas Product Takeback Program. HP recycles 6 million pounds of equipment every month, a combination of internal equipment and that of its enterprise and consumer clients. “If that server is found in the landfill, it can probably be traced back to you,” Altobell said.

This could eventually bring unwanted attention from the EPA, not to mention substantial fines and nasty press. So instead of neglecting old hardware and hoping it fades away, here are some tips on what to do, and not to do, with it.

Convert Going to Gone

Many companies make the big mistake of placing aging equipment in a sort of high tech purgatory. It can be in a cupboard, an unutilized space, or the aisles at the far end of the data center (AKA the dark side). This is a bad practice for countless reasons. From a security perspective, the data inside is unprotected and easy to get at. Someone could even walk off with the server without anyone noticing. And just as important, server value diminishes severely with age. Today, an unused server might be repurposed for a branch office, but in a year’s time, that same server may no longer have the legs to make that a viable option. Put another way, perhaps the box is worth $100 dollars today, but it may be worth nothing in six months.

“Most people delay the disposal process until the server has absolutely no value,” said Kory Bostwick, principle of based in Kansas City, Kan. The firm disposes of up to 20,000 units each month, including personal computers, servers, monitors, printers, and telecom equipment. Almost 10 percent of his business is server disposal. “The sooner you get rid of it, the more value you can recapture,” Bostwick said.

Process Makes Perfect

Haphazard procedures not only open the door to security breaches and loss of server value, they are also an expense, tying up labor resources and adding to the eventual bill. After all, is it worth your while to pay $30 or more per hour to have an IT staff member tinker with old servers? And, is it worth whatever you are paying per square foot for an IT dinosaur to consume a large footprint?

“Companies should formulate an efficient de-install and disposal process,” said Robert Houghton, president of Columbus, Ohio-based Redemtech, which disposes the assets of Global 1000 enterprises. Servers make up about 20 percent of the millions of units handled every year. “Without proper processes in place, logistics can become very expensive, equipment gets damaged, and security breaches can occur.”

Form a Relationship With a Reputable Disposal Company

In most cases, it is less expensive and more efficient to leave the disposal and repurposing to a third party. Redemtech and, as well as Noranda Recycling of Toronto, Gold Circuit of Chandler, Ariz., ComputerCorps of Carson City, Nev., and Reclamere of Tyrone, Penn., perform these tasks. Many of these firms operate nationally, so location should not be a primary selection criteria.

Prices typically vary from $20 to $100 per server (more for midrange servers) depending on the vendor selected and the methods used. If you want total security, no repurposing of equipment, and top-of-the-line techniques, you will, obviously, pay more. On the other hand, enterprises with less stringent needs may be able to make money on equipment resale to minimize costs.

Other OEM Options to Consider

Some enterprises need not go the third-party route, as the OEM or reseller may have a programs in place, which is the case with HP and Dell. In some cases, it may work best to have the supplier de-install the old systems, put in the new systems, and dispose of the old in one fell swoop.

“I would advise clients to ensure that disposal was built into the tender process,” said Jon Collins, an analyst with U.K.-based IT consulting firm Quocirca.

>> The Price of Staying Secure

Pay Attention to Cost

Costs can vary significantly depending on the approach used. The best processes don’t come cheap, and may not be necessary. Sometimes, it is financially prudent to look at options other than the total destruction and recycling of the server. Redemtech and, of example, will repurpose servers, if feasible, or resell them to others and use the proceeds to reduce the final price.

“Whatever value we can recapture for old equipment, we split the proceeds 50-50 with the client,” said Bostwick.

Other economic factors to consider are the costs of having internal IT staff deal with the problem, storage facility costs, transportation costs, and the potential bill from a resulting security threat.

Let Data Security Determine Ultimate Destination

Speaking of security, it is vital to pay attention to the data residing in any server to be jettisoned. Those in the banking, insurance, and healthcare fields, for example, must do everything in their power to safeguard personal or financial records. Depending on the industry, others must take similar steps.

Maybe certain servers deserve a “top secret” classification while others contain more pedestrian information. Consider grading the value of the data and using that as part of the cost calculation to determine the ultimate destination.

But don’t make the mistake of treating all data as priceless. Maybe certain servers deserve a “top secret” classification while others contain more pedestrian information. Consider grading the value of the data and using that as part of the cost calculation to determine the ultimate destination.

If you do opt to take all possible security safeguards, your options are: destroying the disks yourself and then handing them to a recycler, allowing a recycler to destroy them under a strictly controlled process, or using one of the many disk scrubbing utilities to cleanse the data. None of these methods are foolproof, however; so due diligence is essential.

Opinions vary tremendously as to what is safe and what is not. HP’s Altobell, for example, prefers the client take care of the data scrubbing or disk shredding internally. HP charges more when it gets involved with data security.

Redemtech, on the other hand, prefers to take responsibility for all aspects of disposal and offers a certified and audited process.

“Thorough data scrubbing offers the same level of protection as disk destruction,” said Houghton. “Sometimes it is best to scrub the disks, and at other times it is best to destroy them. You have to evaluate the various economic and security concerns to find the right balance in disposal.”

Reaching Server Heaven

The average server benefits most for being put to use in another facility or function. But if that isn’t possible, it should be disposed (sans data) in a manner befitting the life it led. If recycled responsibly, melted down components may even be reincarnated as part of the next server upgrade.

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