Baseball and cricket. Two seemingly similar bat-and-ball games with a common objective: to score runs while preventing the other team from doing the same. However, the two games bear quite a few differences the closer you look at them: the fields on which they are played, the equipment used to play the games and the rules to which the games are played—ultimately affecting the strategies which are employed to win.

The same holds true when contrasting the differences between ITAD strategies for the data center and ITAD strategies for corporate IT. As I pointed out in my previous blog, the two are seemingly very similar in that IT equipment is refreshed and must be dispositioned properly, with the common objective of preventing sensitive data from being exposed or harmful contaminants from entering the e-waste stream while maximizing value recovery. Yet, like baseball and cricket, the closer you look at the ITAD strategies that should be employed to win, the more obvious are the differences.

ITAD Strategy: Data Center and Corporate IT are Different Playing Fields

Data center decommissioning and enterprise ITAD for corporate IT are uniquely different in the following ways:

  • Hyper diversity. Modern data centers are hyperscale, which characterizes not only the size of the data center but also its network architecture and approach to hardware. Data centers are designed to provide a single, massively scalable compute and storage architecture that can encompass upwards of a million servers or more, which can equate to several million hard drives throughout the enterprise. Conversely, many Fortune 500 corporate IT environments are hyper-dispersed, meaning they are the polar opposite of a hyperscale architecture. Where most larger organizations will have fewer than 10 data center locations, the most distributed business environments can have millions of company-owned IT assets and bring-your-own-devices scattered across hundreds or even thousands of corporate and home office locations. Adding to the locality challenge? Companies that operate “data center in a box,” or pre-manufactured containerized facilities, which can be located just about anywhere, including in some cases on the roof of existing facilities.
  • Physical security. While some corporate office locations can have fairly tight physical security, most require no more than keycard access to enter even the most restricted areas of the facility. Very few of the corporate offices that I’ve seen approach the minimum physical security standards common to data centers, let alone the military-grade protection in ultra-high security data center environments. For example, how often in your workplace must armed guards escort guests at all times?
  • Physical space and downtime. Normally with enterprise IT, equipment can be disconnected from the corporate network and replaced by IT staff before employees show up for work the next day. Old equipment can often be moved to an IT campus or staging area, or into a warehouse or even temporary storage, before it is palletized for asset recovery and disposition. Data centers are not typically afforded such luxuries. Every square foot of space possible is used for production and generating revenue for the data center operator—or prepping for production—which means old equipment must be quickly decommissioned to make way for the new equipment. And while shipping insecure hardware by way of high-security logistical means may not be so taboo for corporate IT, the idea of shipping dirty servers is quite different. So, there’s the not-so-small challenge of efficiently erasing mountains of server data to avoid any one of several undesirable outcomes: 1) occupying costly floor space for days or even weeks if the data sanitization process is not sufficiently scalable and efficient, 2) physically removing and destroying high volumes of high-value hard drives, or 3) shipping via high security at great expense and vulnerability. Many companies occupy colocation (colo) data center facilities, where equipment, space, utilities, bandwidth, physical security and other services are rented, which can introduce unique requirements to the ITAD process.
  • Hardware disparity. Data centers are full of a relatively homogenous mass of technology: servers and racks, storage systems, switches and other networking gear, commonly of the same or similar make and model. Corporate IT encompasses a much broader spectrum of technology, brands and configurations. Data center hardware is also much larger, heavier and less mobile than your typical corporate IT hardware, while storing a much greater density of data on a more complex spectrum of storage technology.
  • Lifecycles. Cloud computing, big data and everything-as-a-service have driven insatiable demands for greater compute and storage in the data center, while conversely, these technological innovations have reduced the same demands at the desktop. Furthermore, the data center stands to realize greater cost and utility savings from upgrading hardware, not to mention performance and productivity gains. As a result, technology lifecycles are shortening in the data center while lengthening in many other areas of corporate IT.
  • Break-fix and RMA. While all types of IT will break and require maintenance, data center hard drives present unique challenges—and untapped financial opportunity—due to their high failure rate. Upwards of 15% or more of data center drives will fail or be pulled for predictive failure, most of which are under warranty and can be returned for RMA credit or replacement. Given the sheer volume of drives in the data center and their high value, RMA should be a core ITAD consideration for data center, yet is commonly out of scope for enterprise ITAD.

So, when it comes to IT asset disposition during data center decommissioning, there’s a huge disparity between the number of locations to be supported by the enterprise ITAD strategy, and how dispersed the locations are. Among other ITAD considerations, this can greatly impact your data security strategies.

Much different are the physical security requirements for gaining access into the data center, and then navigating the facility—especially if a modular data center on top of another building. Downtime ramifications are distinctly different as are the mix, physical aspects and storage capacity of the individual IT assets. All of which will affect ITAD strategies for onsite services that in turn, will impact data center production, depending on how efficiently data and equipment is decommissioned.

And, finally, IT lifecycles in the data center are heading in the opposite direction, with most corporate IT at end-of-life and destined for e-waste recycling while most data center IT has significant reusable value remaining, whether through resale, redeployment, parts harvesting or RMA credit. Therefore, value recovery opportunity is much greater in the data center. But the market for used data center gear is very different than corporate IT. You don’t just throw a rack up for sale on eBay as you might a refurbished laptop.

In the next several blogs, we’ll dive head first into the operational, security, remarketing and environmental challenges that these ITAD strategy differences present. Thus, establishing why it’s so crucial to utilize a specialized data center decommissioning solution compared to traditional ITAD.

Before doing so, however, the natural question is this: If the playing fields for data center decommissioning and enterprise ITAD are so different, why is it that vendor solutions and client processes today are all pretty much the same? In my next blog, we’ll look back at what’s transpired in the IT asset disposition industry during the past decade to lead us to where we are: with standardized ITAD solutions designed for IT of yesteryear. Adding to this challenge is an industry with a small collection of ITAD service providers controlling the clear majority of asset volumes that are unmotivated to evolve for the modern-day needs of the data center. Until now.