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End-Of-Life Strategies: Data Center Decommissioning Best Practices

End-Of-Life Strategies: Data Center Decommissioning Best Practices

Data centers are, generally, major investments. This means that they are usually expected to have a long working lifespan. That lifespan may be extended by the astute use of upgrades. Sometimes, however, data centers have to be decommissioned. With that in mind, here is a guide to data center decommissioning best practices.

Understanding data centers

Data centers are facilities used to store and/or process data, often in large quantities. To do this, they need appropriate IT equipment (e.g. servers, storage, networking equipment). This in turn needs appropriate infrastructure (e.g. power, cooling, security).

To minimize costs, data center operators generally try to pack all of this equipment and infrastructure into as small a space as possible. This means that most data centers are very densely packed and, hence, very complicated both to navigate and to manage.

Understanding data center decommissioning

Data center decommissioning is the process of systematically shutting down and dismantling a data center facility or (part thereof). It has to be done in an order that respects the dependencies between different components in the data center.

For example, all servers have to be cleared from a rack before the rack itself can be removed. All racks in a specific area need to be cleared and removed before the climate control in that area can be removed.

This means that the final part of any data center decommissioning process will be to decommission the building itself (or part thereof). Depending on the plans for the building, this could mean thoroughly cleaning it so it can be repurposed or preparing it for demolition.

Security and compliance in the data center decomissioning process

It’s vital to remember that security and compliance considerations apply to data regardless of where it is stored or what else is happening in the storage environment. In other words, businesses are required to maintain their standard security and compliance measures regardless of the fact that a data center is being decommissioned.

Removing equipment used to store data should, therefore, generally be a high priority. While this process is ongoing, businesses may need to update their security and compliance protocols. These will probably have been created on the assumption that they would be applied in a business-as-usual situation. Data center decommissioning will inevitably be disruptive and, hence, create a particular set of potential hazards.

Data center decommissioning best practices

Here are 10 data center decommissioning best practices. Following these will help the data center decommissioning process to run as smoothly as possible.

Comprehensive inventory and documentation

Maintain detailed records of all hardware, software, and infrastructure components present in the data center. Accurate inventory and documentation facilitate efficient decommissioning by ensuring nothing is overlooked or left behind.

Data backup and migration strategies

Implement robust data backup procedures to safeguard critical information before decommissioning. Utilize data migration techniques to transfer data securely to new systems or storage facilities, minimizing the risk of data loss or corruption.

Secure data destruction methods

Utilize certified data destruction methods to ensure complete erasure or destruction of sensitive data stored on decommissioned hardware. This includes employing techniques such as overwriting, degaussing, or physical destruction to prevent unauthorized access or data breaches.

Environmental impact assessment

Conduct an environmental impact assessment to identify potential risks and develop strategies for minimizing the ecological footprint of decommissioning activities. Consider factors such as e-waste disposal, energy consumption, and carbon emissions.

Equipment recycling and disposal

Prioritize the recycling or responsible disposal of decommissioned hardware and materials to reduce environmental impact. Partner with certified e-waste recycling facilities to ensure proper handling and recycling of electronic components.

Secure logistics and chain of custody

Establish secure logistics protocols to track the movement of decommissioned hardware throughout the decommissioning process. Maintain a chain of custody to ensure accountability and prevent unauthorized access or tampering.

Physical infrastructure decommissioning

Properly decommission power and cooling infrastructure, including UPS units, HVAC systems, and generators, to minimize energy consumption and ensure safety. Disconnect and remove all electrical and mechanical components according to industry best practices.

Employee training and awareness

Provide comprehensive training to employees involved in the decommissioning process to ensure they understand and adhere to best practices. Increase awareness of data security protocols, environmental responsibilities, and safety procedures to minimize risks and errors during decommissioning activities. Regularly update training materials to reflect changes in regulations, technologies, and industry standards.

Documentation retention and audit trail

Maintain comprehensive documentation of the decommissioning process, including records of data sanitization, hardware disposal, and environmental compliance. Retain audit trails to demonstrate adherence to best practices and regulatory requirements.

Continuous improvement and lessons learned

Conduct post-decommissioning reviews to identify areas for improvement and capture lessons learned for future projects. Implement feedback mechanisms to incorporate your implementation of data center decommissioning best practices and optimize decommissioning processes over time.


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