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Storage going green

This July, storage manufacturers wishing to sell their products in European Union (EU) member countries will need to stop using substances harmful to humans or the environment, and ensure that their products can be properly recycled.

European Directive 2002/95/EC for the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) prohibits or limits the use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. Of those, lead is the most prevalent in storage systems, used for soldering circuit boards. The European Directive 2002/96/EC for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), meanwhile, requires manufacturers to finance the recycling of electronic equipment.

Some new environmentally friendly storage products are starting to emerge ahead of the July 1 deadline. For example, Dot Hill's new SANnet II U320, a SCSI U320 RAID array, is 100% RoHS- and WEEE-compliant, while older products are being reengineered to meet the standard, says Shaun Walsh, director of marketing at Dot Hill, which also supplies low-end arrays to Sun Microsystems.

RoHS is a big deal for storage vendors, says Walsh, because it requires them to change many components and alter their manufacturing processes. But it's a nonevent for storage buyers; "operationally, they'll see no impact," he notes. Nor does he expect storage vendors to pass along their costs to consumers.

IBM has been consumed with getting ready for RoHS for some time now, says Charlie Andrews, director of product marketing for IBM TotalStorage. "Most of the work is done at the manufacturing process level," he says, procuring new parts and testing the new components. "We don't want chips to be falling off the board --that would be upsetting."

According to Andrews, IBM plans to start introducing products this quarter, and the remainder before the July 1st deadline. "We want to be cautious with the cutover such that the customer experience is the same."

Of course, non-EU storage buyers aren't subject to these environmental laws, and as such, products that don't comply with RoHS may continue to be sold past July 1st. But in the long run, "our intention is to get everything on a single code base," he says.

The one thing that storage users may notice that's a result of RoHS is a relative slow-down in innovation. "Changing components is not a new concept; changing all of them all at once is a big challenge," Andrews says, adding "if we weren't doing this, we would be doing other things."

The WEEE directive, meanwhile, may have more of an impact on storage buyers --at least when it comes time to retire your equipment. By definition, WEEEcompliant products can be recycled at no charge to the consumer. The catch? Recycling is handled only by partner-certified recycling centers, which are few and far between. So far, Walsh counts only two of these centers in the U.S. On the bright side, Dot Hill will set aside a shipping reserve from each piece of equipment sold and apply it to the cost of shipping the equipment to the recycling center.

There's no law mandating that consumers need to properly dispose of used equipment, which may make WEEE somewhat of a lame duck, at least in the U.S. But Walsh believes storage consumers will still take advantage of WEEE. "They're going to have to get rid of the product one way or another," he says. "Here's an opportunity to do it in an environmentally friendly way."

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