All good things must come to an end, and data center hardware is no exception. Sooner or later, the servers, network switches, and other hardware resources that power your data center will need to be replaced.
But that doesn't mean the hardware you replace is worthless and should be thrown out. On the contrary, there are a variety of ways to put that hardware to use. There are also good reasons — which include but are not limited to increasing the sustainability of data center operations — for extending the life of outdated data center hardware.
Keep reading for guidance on what you can do with hardware when you decide it's outdated for its original purpose.
Why Does Data Center Hardware Become Outdated?
Before diving into ways to repurpose outdated data center hardware, let's say a few words about how hardware becomes outdated in the first place.
In many senses, "outdated" is a state of mind more than a tangible reality. Data center hardware becomes outdated when data center operators decide it is, not because the hardware has truly reached the end of its usable life. Replacing data center hardware too soon wastes money and is bad for the environment.
Understanding this fact is important because, arguably, the best thing you can do with seemingly outdated data center hardware is to decide it's not outdated at all. In other words, think critically about whether your hardware is just on the older side but is still capable of doing its job, or if it truly is no longer up to the task of hosting your workloads.
This is an especially important lesson today because data center hardware is no longer evolving at the pace it used to. Moore's Law is dead, and the servers you bought a few years ago probably deliver almost as much memory and computing power as ones you could buy today. You don't have to refresh hardware as frequently as you did in the past to ensure that it's up to date from a resource-capacity perspective.
Indeed, Microsoft last year decided to increase the official lifespan of its cloud data center servers to six years from four. If more data center operators do the same, there will be less outdated hardware to contend with in the first place.
Strategies for Repurposing Outdated Data Center Hardware
But sooner or later, of course, all hardware will become outdated. At that point, you should look for ways for it to keep delivering value — either at your own company or elsewhere — instead of sending it to the dump.
Here's a look at strategies for doing so.
Work with a hardware decommissioning vendor
Probably the simplest way to extend the usable life of old, outdated hardware is to partner with a company that specializes in repurposing data center equipment. Vendors like ITRenew have built businesses around reselling servers that data center operators have decided are outdated for their purposes but that remain valuable for others.
The result is a win-win-win for data center operators, resellers, and their customers. Data center operators get a streamlined means of repurposing outdated hardware, resellers get easy access to such hardware, and reseller customers get enterprise-grade equipment at a lower cost. It's also a win for the environment, since repurposing hardware is a lot more sustainable than tossing old servers in the dump and releasing the carbon necessary to build new ones
Repurpose the hardware in your business
Another obvious way to reuse outdated hardware is to repurpose it within your own business. Servers that are no longer up to the task of hosting production environments could power dev/testing environments, for example. Or a server that once hosted web apps inside a data center could have a second life serving thin client desktop environments inside your office.
To be sure, not all outdated hardware can serve a useful purpose inside a business, especially if your business already has the hardware it needs to power its operations. But the point here is that before you decide the dump is the only destiny possible for your outdated hardware, look for ways to keep using it inside your company.
Reuse hardware components
In some cases, old data center hardware as a whole may no longer be usable, but individual parts are.
You might have servers whose disk drives are too old to be reliable, for example. But replacing the disks while keeping other components in place might allow you to keep operating the hardware.
Or perhaps you have servers equipped with fancy GPUs. The servers might lack the CPUs or memory to use the GPUs to maximum effect, but you could resell just the GPUs, which might still command a good price on the market.
The auxiliary components that data center hardware requires to run — like cables and UPS units — can also often be reused for a much longer period than the servers they powered. If you're disassembling a server rack, then, be sure to hold onto any of the complementary equipment to use elsewhere in your data center or to resell.
Outdated data center hardware isn't the same as unusable data center hardware. On the contrary, businesses that want to optimize costs while also reducing their carbon footprints face an imperative to make sure that they operate their hardware as long as they reasonably can before deeming it outdated.
From there, they should look for creative ways to give the hardware a second life. Sending equipment to the dump is rarely necessary — and it's almost never the best option from a business or sustainability perspective.