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Hardware Today: Putting Your Server Out to Pasture

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Nov 29, 2004


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.
As servers age and approach obsolescence, organizations must determine how to handle their disposal. We step through the options of reusing, recycling, reselling, and giving away.

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 PCdisposal.com 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 PCdisposal.com, 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

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