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What do you do with old storage systems?

During a recent explanation I was giving on the lifespan of enterprise storage systems, I received an interesting question: what happens with systems taken out of service? There is a tendency to give a flip answer to that question, and it did bring laughter. But it is a legitimate issue, and I tried to explain what usually happens.

The most common option when replacing an enterprise disk-based system for primary storage for critical applications is to demote that system to usage for secondary storage. Secondary storage can mean less performance-critical application data storage, a backup disk target, or test/development data. The timing for replacing a system varies, but for larger enterprises the system is often used as primary storage for three years and is replaced after five years.  The cadence for replacement is usually dictated by maintenance costs, increasing failure/service rates, and technology change.

After that end of “useful life,” what happens to the old storage systems?   For systems that are purchased, a depreciation schedule is applied by the accountants and IT does not usually expend the time and effort to challenge accounting practices. If it is a leased storage system, the system “disappears.”  The “disappears” statement is one of those flip answers.  Decommissioning or demoting storage is a big effort for IT.  Data has to be migrated and procedures have to be changed.  There is potential for big problems, because these changes introduce risk.  But the storage system is taken out of service, out of the data center, and out of the building.

A leasing company may sell the system to a company that uses it for repair parts for other companies that want to hold on to systems for a longer period of time. An organization can save money if it is willing to use out-of-date with technology. However, not only will new storage systems get faster in that time, there will be savings in space, power, and cooling with new technology that could make the old systems more expensive than new models.

A purchased system can be sent to a recycling company.  A recycling company will recover components that have value and make a profit from selling the extracted elements. It’s not always clear where these recycling companies are located and how they dispose of the systems.

Another way storage systems may be disposed of is by paying a company to haul them away. That company will sell the systems by the pound to a company that sees value in the metal pieces –- racks, doors, slides, chassis, etc.

There aren’t many other options, although a few other ideas came up during our conversation:

  • Start more computing museums.  It seems that when people have old cars they love, but not enough to continue driving them because their useful life has ended, they put them in car museums. Why not do more of this with technology systems?
  • Give them to art schools so they can create some modern art sculptures out of them.
  • Give them to universities for educational purpose.

There are probably some other clever and funny ideas. Maybe the best solution is to invest in systems with greater longevity or with architectures where technology updates can be applied independently.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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