It is essential for data centers and businesses of all sizes to properly dispose of their IT assets in order to lower operational costs, protect sensitive data, and maintain the overall health of their systems.
Yet, it’s not always clear when a particular piece of equipment should be disposed of.
For some hardware, there are fixed OEM guidelines that simplify the process. For others, not so much, which is why there is long-standing hardware in numerous organizations today that is multi-repurposed, can’t be adequately replaced, or has intrinsic (even sentimental, at times) value that makes it irreplaceable in the eyes of staff, basically.
There are certain measures to guarantee the IT asset disposal process is carried out properly besides appraising the situation. As much as it seems at first, it's not just a matter of pulling a storage or networking device out of a rack and throwing it in the trash. Your team must have efficient processes in place to retire and decommission IT equipment due to the possible complexity of the operation.
By that, we mean factoring in data migration, workflow setups, and any industry-specific rules that may have an impact on infrastructure retirement. Any logistical arrangements to prevent downtime and correctly install new gear should also be taken into account.
For the next few minutes, we’ll dive into optimal life expectancies for server and networking assets, as well as performance metrics that can assess the condition of your hardware and assist you in choosing whether to maintain or replace it.
With the use of this knowledge, it’s our hope that you’ll be able to create operational policies and build an IT asset disposal process that promotes overall data center health and minimizes hassle.
The role of IT asset retirement in data centers
To maintain ongoing operational activities and optimal efficiency, numerous data center assets like servers and networking equipment should be decommissioned on a regular basis. In certain circumstances, decommissioning gear in preparation for disposal constitutes retiring it. Most times, the end goal is creating space for more dependable and advanced hardware.
It’s important to note that delaying this process may be expensive and detrimental to an organization's image and future profitability. However, premature equipment retirement can squander perfectly excellent hardware and result in needless time and expenditure.
So, it’s a matter of balance. Retiring an IT asset needs to be handled separately for each asset due to its uniqueness in the overall infrastructure.
The difference between asset retirement and asset disposition
Unbeknownst to some, there is a clear distinction between retiring and outright disposing of an IT asset.
Retirement eliminates a piece of equipment from routine data center operations, effectively removing it from service when it can no longer efficiently fulfill its original role. Even if it isn’t removed immediately, it will stop taking part in routine tasks. For instance, a server may remain in the rack but be disconnected from the network, have all of its data erased, and its power shut off.
This is when the disposal step begins, making sure that the hardware in question is securely dismantled, recycled, or used for a new purpose.
Advantages of IT asset retirement
One of the main goals of IT asset retirement is to minimize the risk of data breaches and other security incidents. Data centers often store sensitive information such as personal data and financial information, and it is crucial that this information is properly protected.
Prolonging the retirement process puts an organization at risk as old(er) equipment is susceptible to security threats and data breaches that weren’t an issue all those years ago when an asset was originally purchased.
Another important aspect of IT asset retirement is cost management. Data centers can be expensive to operate, and it is important to minimize expenses wherever possible.
By retiring equipment that is no longer needed or that has reached the end of its useful life, data center managers can reduce the costs associated with maintaining and storing equipment. They can also save money by selling or recycling equipment that still has value.
Besides costing more to operate, older hardware also works less efficiently, creating unscheduled downtimes while degrading application performance and user productivity along the way.
On top of that, new(er) equipment typically makes better use of resources, using less energy and cooling while taking up less space in the data center, thus minimizing its environmental impact. In addition to being safer, more powerful, and simpler to maintain, newer technology also increases productivity and decreases downtime.
How to check when an IT asset needs to be retired
The process of IT asset retirement typically begins with an inventory of all equipment in the data center. It should include information such as the make, model, and age of the equipment, as well as its current condition and usage. Once this inventory is complete, data center managers can identify which equipment should be retired.
Generally speaking, you should follow these criteria to determine if your IT asset is ready for retirement or not:
- It’s starting to break down
- It fails to meet business and/or operational needs
- It’s not being used
- It’s too expensive to maintain
- Has expired warranty
- It’s no longer manufactured
One of the most visible indicators it’s time to say goodbye is when equipment or individual components within it (e.g. CPU or RAM in a server) stop working. In a heroic effort, managers may be able to keep things going by changing specific parts or doing normal maintenance, but when a piece of equipment is about to fail, it's typically crystal clear.
When hardware can no longer satisfy current business or operational needs, it’s a clear sign that it’s nearing the end of its useful life. It simply might not work as well as it previously did or it doesn’t perform well enough to meet ongoing workload expectations. Another important indicator that needs to be accounted for is the inability to meet security and/or compliance standards for smooth daily operations. A device, for example, may no longer get regular firmware upgrades that warrant its security, thus becoming a weak and exploitable link in the overall network.
Next up on the retirement agenda are unutilized assets. Many businesses have one or two that are plugged into the infrastructure (a server, for example), using power. The unnecessary energy expenditure is the lesser concern here as unused equipment poses a security concern, particularly if nobody is recognizing that it’s running in the background without a clear purpose.
There is always going to be the cost factor involved, which usually focuses on equipment consuming too much energy, whether the asset at issue is no longer needed or is energy-inefficient. There’s also the matter of taking up too much space, especially important for firms experiencing fast expansion. Both of these aspects can drag down growth and thin the bottom line, promoting ideal candidates for retirement.
The cost element is closely intertwined with manufacturer warranties. Hardware is more likely to malfunction after the warranty period expires, which tends to leave end users on their own to resolve any resulting difficulties. Longer warranties normally come at a high expense so many companies turn to existing equipment to make the most of it rather than take on the costs associated with upgrading to newer equipment.
This approach has a glaring problem in that sustaining outdated technology might cost more in the long run when diminished user productivity, administrative labor, and increased energy consumption are factored in. Simultaneously, customer-oriented apps may begin to perform slower, which can directly translate to reduced income. To make matters worse, if an organization's aging equipment poses extra security threats, the price of fines, penalties, litigation, and lost revenue can be excessively high.
All of this simply makes equipment too costly to maintain, more so if things go unchecked.
Finally, there’s the issue of foregone production lines - if the product and its components are still manufactured. It’s no secret that original equipment manufacturers primarily focus on the development of service contracts and sales of new hardware. There is a real possibility the equipment you use is no longer manufactured, which means you may have problems acquiring new parts. If an OEM does have original parts and components, you’ll soon find those can be excessively overpriced due to their scarcity.
When to retire individual assets
As we mentioned before, IT asset retirement requires an evaluation on an asset-by-asset basis. The type of asset, its present degree of operation, and the circumstances under which it functions all influence the IT team’s decision on when to retire it.
The typical replacement cycle for servers is between three and five years, depending on the usage.
By and large, the duration of the warranty dictates how long you can expect your server to deliver dependable performance. The server's service fees increase significantly each year after the warranty expires. The device may also be more vulnerable to security threats, especially if it is no longer covered by firmware upgrades.
Hence, you should pay close attention to certain performance metrics to assess the server’s health. Server availability and uptime, together with capacity and load sharing metrics will provide a clear picture if the performance is deteriorating. Furthermore, a server's capacity to adequately fulfill current software and workload needs should also be assessed. A business may wish to update to a newer version of the current server operating system, switch to a different one, or perform data-intensive analytics, but the existing server may be incapable of supporting the desired OS or complex apps.
Managers should also analyze whether the server is encountering recurring issues with existing software. Despite appearing to be dealing with small issues, the time spent fixing them can pile up before you even realize it.
As with servers, network devices should also be replaced within three to five years.
In a similar fashion, the warranty period is arguably the best indicator of a device's recommended longevity. The key concern here is security and compliance for older assets as they indeed can function beyond the suggested lifespan. With prolonged usage comes higher risk as these devices tend to stop receiving software and firmware upgrades. As a rule of thumb, the longer a device ages, the more likely it is to be compromised by hackers.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of potential difficulties you could face. As the backbone of networking equipment, a router could be the culprit for lags and longer load times, for example. If your first instinct is to reset it to factory settings, you’d be partially right as it’s usually a band-aid solution that becomes more and more ineffectual the more frequently it’s used.
So, given the momentary circumstances, IT teams may need to prioritize certain network components for an upgrade, based on security and the network's reliance on the specific device.
This is a bit trickier ordeal as power is the crucial element that brings a data center to life and maintains the entire system up and running, even when there is a disruption. It doesn’t help that the assets that comprise the power infrastructure include a diverse spectrum of components with differing life expectancies.
For instance, a power distribution unit (PDU) may come with anywhere between a one-year and a lifetime guarantee (in some cases), which contrasts the recommended lifecycle of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that often comes with a one to three years limitation (even if the original manufacturer “guarantees” more than a decade of service).
Moreover, each component within the respective power asset should be assessed for retirement based on its distinct features. A UPS, for example, has multiple “moving parts” such as batteries, capacitors, fans, and a control logic board, all of which might fail while the UPS as a whole remains operational. The replacement of these specific parts avoids shutting down the complete UPS system. Still, retirement is unavoidable as the costs of those components can add up as years pass or they become unavailable at some point (when the manufacturer discontinues production).
Timely retirement is key
IT asset retirement is an important aspect of managing data centers, as it ensures that equipment that is no longer needed or has reached the end of its useful life is properly disposed of. In this way, data center managers can avoid unnecessary costs associated with maintaining and storing equipment that is no longer needed, while also ensuring that sensitive data is properly protected.
Knowing when to pull the plug avoids all the pitfalls that come with failing to retire IT assets such as increased expenditures, compromised security, drop in productivity, and poor application performance, to name a few. Finding that sweet spot between early retirement and jeopardizing application and operational procedures is key.
For that to happen, data center managers must have a comprehensive understanding of the process and work with experienced professionals to ensure that IT asset retirement is conducted efficiently and effectively. Anything else will likely bring more headaches.