In our blog series, we’ve established that the data center is very different from the rest of the IT enterprise and when it comes to decommissioning IT from production, the data center requires its own type of IT asset disposition solution.

But what unique challenges do these differences present that make it imperative to use an ITAD solution specialized for data centers? In this blog, we’ll focus on the operational difficulties that must be overcome when performing asset disposition for data center IT equipment.

Operational Challenges of Data Center ITAD

Operational challenges in data center decommissioning can encompass everything from the process of scheduling and preparing for an IT asset recovery, to gaining access into and navigating a data center facility, to performing various onsite services, and then safely transporting data center equipment to an ITAD facility for processing. The following are the most operationally challenging situations:

  • Developing capabilities for many different IT asset disposition projects. With corporate IT, you’re mainly dealing with equipment refreshes and IT lease returns or the recovery of various IT assets that are obsolete, broken, or no longer being used. In the data center, you’re contending with all of these ITAD requirements but also with IT consolidation projects, data center migrations and complete facility shutdowns. In addition, there are significant volumes of hard drive Return Merchandise Authorizations (more on this below). Each of these projects can be quite complex and require a level of data center decommissioning expertise and operational capabilities that traditional ITAD companies who deal almost entirely with corporate IT simply do not have. For example, ITRenew recently helped one customer decommission a few dozen data center in a box facilities. These modular data centers can be located within, outside or even on top of existing facilities. Each can weigh approximately 100,000 pounds—requiring specialized cranes, lifts and trucks—and contain anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand compute servers. So, they are the equal to traditional data centers from a data security and value recovery perspective, but even more complex operationally.
  • Coordinating asset disposition activity across a variety of facilities and resources. Companies may operate any combination of their own data center facilities, colocation data centers (colo) and multi-tenant data centers (MTDC), in addition to the modular data centers. Each of which is unique and requires a pre-assessment of the data center to rightsize what it will take to get the job done including manpower, specialized equipment and logistics. Operationally speaking, you’re not only trying to enter one of your own facilities, but trying to gain access into highly-secured data center facilities you may be leasing or sharing with other tenants, or that may be physically stationed on the roof. You’re not only coordinating with a variety of people inside your organization, but a slew of third-party resources including those tasked with protecting the security and operational interests of the other tenants. All of this requires close collaboration with both internal and external resources, including the rigging and trucking companies, as well as clear understanding of the operational protocols and physical limitations of each unique data center facility—in advance of arriving onsite.
  • Clearing physical security obstacles in advance and onsite. The physical security obstacles in the data center are unique and much more complex than your typical corporate location. Simply gaining access into the facility is the first challenge. In most instances, onsite crew must be pre-qualified by the asset disposition client. A complete list of onsite staff, including their full name, driver’s license number and birthdate, is needed for obtaining site access. Security details on the trucks must also be submitted in advance and approved before recoveries can even be scheduled. Then, tight restrictions apply as to what equipment will be allowed through security. This can include thumb drives and laptops that are used for the discovery and reconciliation of equipment as well as for data sanitization: to both perform and manage data erasure jobs in real-time onsite. Approved staff must “badge in” and “badge out” of each security zone and be escorted by data center security personnel at all times. In more extreme situations, this can be guards in military fatigues armed with AR-15 rifles, shotguns, and cans of mace. These jobs are not for the faint of heart, for sure.
  • Physically handling massive equipment with appropriate safety. Depending on exact configurations, data center racks can be roughly 80” tall by 30” wide by 48” deep and weigh upwards of 3,000 pounds fully loaded. Our typical data center decommissioning jobs entail processing about 30-50 racks at a time, yet we’ve managed projects to decommission more than 500 racks, which would equate to roughly 1,500,000 million pounds in rack weight alone. To put this into perspective, the Statue of Liberty weighs 450,000 pounds. So, for mass data center asset disposition jobs like these, it would be the weight equivalent of moving three Lady Liberties plus a couple of fire trucks to boot.
  • Bringing the right decommissioning tools for the job. As you can imagine, asset recovery jobs like these require the use of specialized equipment to physically move, package, and palletize data center IT assets the size and weight of a small elephant. Additional equipment is commonly needed to wipe data and/or shred hard drives onsite, which can include ITRenew’s Terabot. Terabots are custom-built data erasing and hard drive-crushing machines that, depending on configuration, are themselves the equivalent size and weight of a typical data center rack. Certain equipment, such as cranes and hard drive shredders, can pose personal health and injury risk, so detailed safety plans must be submitted and approved in advance. Since we operate in various conditions both outside the data center and on location, the equipment must also be protected from weather elements, wherever applicable. For large-scale jobs, the decommissioning tools and supplies must be packed and unpacked each day, passing through necessary security checkpoints. Picture removing all the contents from a standard size moving pod delivered to the middle of a parking lot—and then repacking the pod when you’re done each and every day on the job. And that’s simply for the decommissioning tools.
  • Navigating tight quarters under strict time and resource constraints. As I mentioned in a previous blog, every square foot of data center space possible is maxed out for generating revenue. If you’re refreshing laptops in a corporate environment, for example, you can typically move the old equipment to another area as the new equipment is deployed with minimal impact. No such space in the data center exists, certainly not for processing 50-100 racks. We may have room for a pallet or possibly a few pallets in the production area, but otherwise equipment must be staged and processed in whatever limited space is available—which is one of the things determined in the pre-assessment. However, it’s imperative to process asset disposition jobs efficiently as every minute of downtime equates to a revenue loss, and the most efficient processing is at the rack level, which requires sufficient space—a catch-22 condition. In addition, ITAD service vendors are customarily limited to very specific windows of time when they are permitted to enter the data center and their access to onsite client personnel is scarce as well. Further complicating matters, often when shifts change we must sign out and exit the facility and then sign back in as the new shift starts. After hours, site perimeters may be secured with heavy gates that take several minutes each time to open and close. If you are even the slightest bit inefficient in using what time slots you’re given and the access you’re granted for asset disposition, then it can quickly snowball.
  • Managing hard drive RMA and break-fix volumes. Roughly 10-15% of data center hard drives will fail or be flagged for predictive failure, depending on tolerance settings. Operationally, those drives must be removed—erased it at all possible or otherwise destroyed—and tracked at a serial number level. If under warranty, as most are, they should be returned for RMA credit from the manufacturer. Larger data center operations will have roughly 250,000 hard drives in their enterprise. Some of ITRenew’s biggest data center customers have several million hard drives. This equates to hundreds of thousands of drives to RMA throughout the lifecycle and across the data center enterprise. Hard drive RMA management is an oft-overlooked component of data center ITAD programs. We will detail the significant financial and data security ramifications of RMA later in the blog series.
  • Herding elephants with utmost care and efficiency. Finally, there is the challenge of safely packaging and transporting this highly valuable equipment which, collectively, is now the size and weight of a small army of elephants. And doing so efficiently under strict time constraints and with extremely limited staging and storage space, while coordinating numerous secure shipments in and around shift changes. Also ensuring that every serialized hard drive and every fragment of data has been accounted for and that all equipment has been scanned and reconciled against the shipping manifest—before ever leaving the data center. Here is where an ITAD service provider’s expertise with pre-assessing both the data security requirements and operational aspects of each unique data center facility will truly pay its dues. A data center ITAD specialist will have a detailed plan to safely, securely and swiftly clear out decommissioned IT in order to quickly free up data center production floor space for generating revenue.

All told, the data center ITAD vendor must be experienced in the entire IT asset recovery and decommissioning process—for every type of asset disposition project. They must be able to expertly pre-assess the unique conditions of each facility and develop the appropriate safety plans and staging strategy. They must possess clean documentation, have vetted resources, and be able to closely collaborate with internal and external resources—both in advance of IT asset recovery and onsite. They must operate efficiently within tight restrictions, adhering to operational protocols—particularly in multi-tenant and shared data center environments. Which really means that your data center ITAD service provider must be flexible and offer customizable solution offerings—which is the opposite of the standardized ITAD service model for corporate IT. Otherwise, they will run into significant cost overruns and project delays, which very well will lead to production downtime and revenue loss for you.

The old adage “time is money” is highly apropos for asset disposition in the data center, and applies to both the client and the ITAD vendor. We can’t afford time delays and cost overruns any more than you can. But shortcutting in the ITAD process at the expense of asset or data security is never an option. In our next blog, we’ll cover the security challenges in data center decommissioning ITAD.