As many school kids know, the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – are the fundamental building blocks for protecting the environment. Of course, the order is important. For instance, reducing energy use – convincing my teenagers to take shorter showers or turn off a light once in a while – has more “green” benefits than recycling.
The same approach that works around the house also works in the data center. Mastering the 3Rs is critical for any data center manger looking to improve sustainability – and efficiency. The first R – reduce – focuses mainly on cutting energy consumption through a variety of measures, including new software tools that are delivering documented savings.
The second R – reuse – has just as much potential to limit environmental impact and cut costs. As data centers regularly upgrade to keep pace with the latest technology, the question inevitably arises – “what do we do with the old gear?”
But as most of us know by now, computing equipment is full of toxic materials. You shouldn’t be putting it out with the trash, because the hazardous materials in that PC or server will leach through a conventional landfill and find its way into groundwater. You can even run afoul of the law, as more states are enacting e-waste legislation.
You can recycle the equipment, which protects the environment and reclaims some of the rare-earth precious metals and valuable commodities. But be careful to work with highly ethical, environmentally responsible recyclers – or your discarded gear might end up in a toxic dump overseas.
Reuse, on the other hand, extends the useful life of the equipment. This is better for the environment – and you can squeeze more mileage out of it while cutting energy use throughout your facilities.
Of course, you probably don’t want to mix the old equipment with your brand new servers – that’s not a recommended step for an enterprise-class data center. But they could do yeoman’s work in a new role outside the data center – where most companies have the most IT assets anyway.
Think about using them as print, storage, and email file servers. These typically abound in large companies, often pushed out into dark, dusty closets where they are out of sight, out of mind until the server dies (usually at just the wrong time). Since it is old equipment – and no one’s really paying attention to it – you don’t know when that might be.
With a little effort, you can replace these servers with your newer, “pre-owned” equipment that offers more performance and capacity with a lower power draw. It’s also less likely to break down, since it’s newer.
The first task is to simply find all your outside-the-data-center servers through an inventory process. Turn loose the network bots, deploy your sneaker net, or consider new licenses for your Aperture configuration tool. This is more than a counting process, of course. The inventory must include power draw and base-level performance characteristics.
The inventory might turn up some servers that can be removed, either through consolidation or virtualization. That’s a big plus for energy efficiency. But you’ll also find old servers that can be replaced with newer equipment redeployed from the data center refresh.
Remember that you only want to replace those servers where you can reduce power draw and/or improve performance. This process could add at least two to five years to the useful life of your former data center servers. The best part – there’s no additional cost other than the power, cooling and manpower required to support them and their hosted applications.
With data centers upgrading servers every three or four years, you might not be able to find a new home for everything you replace. But an accurate inventory of the servers you’re using now outside the data center will help you make the most of the equipment you have.
Reusing some of your data center servers is a great way to extend your IT budget while improving overall IT productivity, reducing energy consumption and changing the dynamics of your e-waste recycling program. Perhaps most important, you’ll score some valuable points for your corporate sustainability efforts.
Jack Pouchet is director of energy initiatives for Emerson Network Power.