Data Center Decommissioning: Guide and Best Practices

Sooner or later a data centre will need to be partially or fully decommissioned, whether to retire the data centre or to upgrade the existing equipment to make sure it stays relevant with current technology demands and ensure reliability and data security. 

In decommissioning older IT equipment, storage equipment like hard drives, SSDs, and backup tapes deserve special attention. It’s obviously important to protect the security and integrity of critical data and sensitive consumer data stored within these storage devices, but depending on your industry, ensuring secure data destruction during decommissioning may also be legally required.

With that being said, in practice data centre decommissioning can be very challenging, and without a comprehensive plan, it’s close to impossible to perform. It’s crucial to first develop a comprehensive plan that is custom-tailored to the unique needs of the data centre itself to ensure a smooth decommissioning process. 

Why Data Centre Decommissioning

A data centre has a relatively short lifespan when compared to typical buildings, only 15-20 years, while a standard building can have a standard lifespan of up to 100 years. 

While the building itself and physical infrastructure like panelling can last more than 60 years, the IT assets and equipment that are crucial for the data centre’s operation must be updated every three to four years, or else it may compromise the data centre’s performance and the security of data stored and transported to/from the data centre.

When the IT equipment within the data centre is already out of date, it’s only sensible to decommission the data centre and the IT assets. 

Data centre decommissioning can be required due to two main reasons: 

  1. Upgrading older IT assets

Removal of older IT equipment and replacing it with a new one can be more challenging than it looks. While this is a regular practice in many organisations, it still needs careful planning to ensure smooth transition and integrity of data migrated to new equipment. 

  1. Retiring the data centre

Shutting down an existing data centre will also require a careful decommissioning process that in practice can be quite complex. There may be a lot of different systems and IT assets that need to be taken into account during the decommissioning process, and there may also be local, state, and federal regulations that may be followed depending on your location and industry.

Depending on the size of the data centre and the complexity of the decommissioning project, the assistance of certified professionals may be required to ensure compliance with relevant regulations. 

Appropriate decommissioning of the data centre is important due to four main reasons: 

  1. Ensuring the integrity of data

A key function of decommissioning is to ensure crucial data is properly backed up to prevent loss of critical information. This is also important if you plan to physically destroy the IT equipment, as a backup may also serve as proof of what data was stored on the IT equipment disposed of. 

  1. Authentication management

Transferring user IDs from older IT assets to new ones. In cases of data centre shutdown, user IDs must also be removed from the system so they can no longer access your network. 

  1. Keeping an audit trail

An appropriate decommissioning process will also ensure a comprehensive and centralised audit trail. It’s crucial to maintain a list of all decommissioned equipment, decommissioning date, what process has been performed, and so on.

  1. Compliance with relevant regulations

Depending on your location and the industry your organisation is in, you may be required to stay compliant with local, state, and federal regulations when decommissioning IT Assets. You may be required to keep an accurate and comprehensive record of every IT asset from purchase to data eradication to disposal/sales/recycling.

Developing a Data Centre Decommissioning Plan

Due to the potential complexity of the decommissioning process, a robust and comprehensive data centre decommissioning plan is needed to ensure a smooth decommissioning process while maximising the value of each decommissioned IT asset. 

A data centre decommissioning plan should focus on several key areas: 

  1. Identifying the right course of action for each of the decommissioned IT assets (sale, reuse, disposal, recycle, etc. )
  2. When the purpose is to upgrade older IT assets, it’s crucial to plan how the equipment will be removed to give space to the new assets
  3. Ensure environmentally-friendly and secure IT asset disposition
  4. When it involves storage devices (or IT assets that store data), secure data wiping should be considered

Since, again, the focus of a data centre decommissioning plan is to maximise value, each step within the decommissioning plan should be based on:

  • The potential resale value of the decommissioned IT asset
  • Whether the decommissioned IT asset is still in good condition to be reused
  • Whether the decommissioned IT asset store sensitive/regulated data
  • The cost of the new IT asset that will be used to upgrade the older IT asset

For example, if the resale value of the asset is still fairly high relative to the upgrade cost, then selling the asset may be the best course of action. However, if the said asset contains sensitive/regulated data, secure data eradication must be planned before the sale process can go through. If you are working with an ITAD specialist company to execute the decommissioning process, then this wouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

A comprehensive data centre decommissioning plan should include the details of different courses of action that will be taken to the decommissioned IT assets, whether it’s a sale, disposal, or removal. The plan should also be custom-tailored to the unique needs of the data centre to ensure the smooth execution of the decommissioning project. 

Closing Thoughts

Besides careful planning of the data centre decommissioning project, it’s also crucial to

 choose the right partner that can help you in securely executing the decommissioning project. 

Look for an IT asset disposition specialist that offers holistic data center decommissioning service as your partner. Big Data Supply Inc. is an R2 (Responsible Recycler) certified IT asset deposition service that can be your partner in ensuring an environmentally friendly and data security-compliant decommissioning process for your data centre. 

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