How to Repurpose an Obsolete On-Premises Data Center

There comes a time in the life of every data center when its owner is faced with a stark choice: update the facility, reset its purpose, or empty it. In 2019, Gartner predicted that by 2025, 80% of companies will close their traditional data centers. Today, the trend shows no sign of slowing.

A “cloud first” mentality has taken over the IT world today, and one result has been the freeing up of physical data center space, notes Stephen Carlini, vice president of the Center for Innovation and Data at energy and automation technology provider Schneider Electric. “Similar to the evictions of office workers due to the pandemic, a lot of local IT equipment is no longer needed, which leads to vacant space in the data center.” He adds that this trend has stimulated an increasing number of companies to repurpose old and functionally outdated properties and spaces. “In real estate jargon it’s called adaptive reuse,” Carlini notes.

When it comes to reallocating an existing data center, the first step is to evaluate the facility and its assets. “You need to understand your current hardware lifecycle, power, cooling, and physical security before you embark on any changes,” says James Obockowski, associate director of cloud services at Netrix IT Services and Infrastructure Consulting.

multiple options

In most cases, management considers enterprise-owned data centers as cost centers. “Top management usually welcomes any conversion that leads to income-generating jobs,” says Carlini. “For example, if a retailer allocates valuable space for IT equipment that cannot be outsourced and/or consolidated, that space can be used to free up revenue-generating shelving space or additional storage space.” Another approach might be to lease or sell the unused data center to an organization that can use the facility as a warehouse or distribution facility.

Many data centers feature high ceilings, open spaces, and high power and cooling capabilities. All of these features can be attractive to potential buyers or renters, such as companies looking for a laboratory or testing facility. Another option might be to target manufacturers that specialize in some difficult industrial processing, such as desalination or electrolysis to produce hydrogen, Carlini suggests.

Obukhovsky notes that companies also have the option of converting an old data center into a disaster recovery facility. He recommends taking a look at the existing hardware and other resources to see what you can take advantage of. “Building a flexible, multi-stage approach will ensure that you have a way to centrally manage and automate across the old and new data center.”

If you want to reset the purpose of a data center for disaster recovery, the first thing you need to do is erase everything…so hackers can’t track the digital files, advises Ryan Fife, COO of Workpuls, a force analysis software company working. “The best way to do this is with zero encryption, which breaks clean data into unreadable codes.”

Equipment reuse

Once the data center is shut down, the servers and remaining storage resources can be repurposed for applications that are at the bottom of the business-critical chain. “Servers that no longer provide critical core functions may still serve other divisions within the organization as backups,” says Carlini. Administrators can then migrate less critical applications to legacy devices and the same IT devices can be located, powered, and cooled in a less abundant and secure way. He suggests that “old hardware can continue to function as backup/recovery systems, or ready-to-use backup systems when cloud-based platforms are not connected.”

recycling equipment

Besides reducing the need to purchase new hardware, resetting the last generation of data center equipment within the enterprise also increases the green appearance of the enterprise. It shows that the organization cares about the environment and doesn’t want to add to data equipment already in data centers, says Ruben Gamez, CEO of SignWell, developer of electronic signature tools. “It’s also very sustainable.”

When data center hardware becomes completely obsolete and unsuitable for any future use, it should be responsibly removed. Gamez recommends choosing a third-party vendor to handle the job. “A plan should be communicated in advance of how each step will be carried out,” he says. Ask the seller to outsource any part of the process and check their credibility. “Understand their security protocols for recycling,” advises Gamez.

Yet another option

While dedicated data centers are declining, there are many companies that, for one reason or another, still need to run their own facilities. “I think the best use of a data center is as a data center,” says Steve Padgett, CIO of Actian, a data management, cloud integration, and analytics solutions provider. “The equipment is somewhat specialized and shredding it for another purpose is very expensive,” he notes. “As a society, we’d be better off if all of this equipment didn’t end up in a landfill or in electronics recycling.”

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