In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Knoxville, Tennessee, decided it was time to retire the Cray XK7 “Titan” supercomputer, which was the fastest supercomputer in the world at one point. Disassembling and recycling the electronics, components, and cabinets required more than 40 individuals from Cray, ORNL, and other outside companies. When all was said and done, the team hauled off and/or repurposed 350 tons of equipment.

Shutting down 9 MW of data center capacity at once is a titanic-sized task, but even smaller decommissioning projects can prove challenging. With more capacity shifting to the cloud, the challenges and costs associated with decommissioning are on the rise. 

The Value-Based Approach   

Historically, data center decommissioning projects centered around recapturing as much residual value as possible from unneeded equipment with less focus on the cost of the decommissioning process. 

The concept of value-based decommissioning breaks down the project into its primary phases, outlining the steps in each stage to help make the entire process as efficient and streamlined as possible. Some specific value opportunities include:  

  • Accurately identifying right-size resources needed up front;
  • Reduced shipping rates  of old and new equipment through consolidation ;
  • Accurately testing to identify if equipment can be redeployed;
  • Reconfiguring material to a higher spec (to offset the cost of a full replacement); and
  • Improving future deployment time by properly labeling stored equipment.

Best Practices to Recapture Value

  1. Know what you’ve got

Begin with getting to know the topology connecting core and leaf switches to the servers as well as what applications are hosted across devices or compute clusters. Typically, this type of information is contained within a configuration management database (CMDB), but it is only as useful as its latest update. In other words, make sure the CMDB is current and accurate.  Furthermore, utilize the decommissioning team for full system audits of other racks in the data center space.

  1. What’s your reclamation strategy?

Answering the following questions around what to do with your old equipment before it is decommissioned is necessary for a complete reclamation strategy. What’s it worth? What are the options for resell, reuse, salvage, or disposal? Does the potential value outweigh the direct and indirect cost to store, sell, or dispose of it?  Whether you partner with a reputable third-party provider or go it alone, you need to know what you’re doing with the unused equipment before you start.  

  1. Understand the dependencies

To avoid disrupting any live, revenue-generating connections, you need to understand how everything is connected. As equipment ages, it tends to become more embedded in the architecture, and the number of dependencies that rely on it typically increases. Successful decommissioning involves understanding, mapping and prioritizing the dependencies that exist between data, apps, and devices. 

What is your logistics plan? Will you be moving decommissioned material to a centralized warehousing facility and, if so, does this require export licenses?  

  1. Securely decommission the data

It is critical to properly remove any network information (user names, IP addresses, device identities, etc.) that can create vulnerabilities if it falls into the wrong hands.  A simple reformatting of a server or using consumer-grade erasure software isn’t enough to securely delete your data, especially if you plan to resell or reuse the equipment. It is recommended to use enterprise-level data erasure software for any piece of decommissioned hardware and to follow up with a data audit of the hardware after scrubbing to provide an extra level of security. 

  1. Measure twice, cut once

While it sounds cliché, reviewing the process and the resources needed prior to starting a decommissioning project can save time and headaches. 

By thoroughly thinking through every step (and associated costs) and lining up all required resources ahead of time, you can ensure a faster, smoother decommissioning project that yields maximum value.